Guerrilla groups and the paramilitaries

Officially, the period of bloody turmoil known as ‘La Violencia’ ended in the 1960’s, but the country has been left in a state of chronic civil war with the army and its paramilitary support groups on the one hand, and the revolutionary groups on the other. A recent newspaper report refers to this time as ‘34 years of a guerrilla war that has cost 35,000 lives and turned large parts of the country into a killing field.’ This war gets very dirty, the army handing over to the paramilitaries those killings and abductions that the government wants no official connection with. At the time of writing this section - June 1998 - news has just reached the Trust that the cousin of Ramón Gil has been found murdered. In such cases, it is routinely assumed that either the revolutionaries or the paramilitaries are to blame. From the indigenous point of view, it makes no difference - both groups are ruthless and will sacrifice any indigenes’ life in the propaganda war between them.

The two principal guerrilla armies are Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and the Ejercito de Liberacion National ( ELN). FARC, which at least in its early days was linked to Moscow, is the 15,000-strong Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and the ELN is the 5,000 strong National Liberation Army. It is the latter which is responsible for the repeated bombings of the 490-mile long trans-Andean oil pipeline since its construction in 1986, bombings which have spilt 1.7 million barrels of oil in the Andes and wetlands. Both paramilitaries and guerrillas engage in political kidnappings.

The new President, Andrés Pastrana, succeeded Ernesto Samper whose final days were blighted by allegations of bribery by the drug cartels. Pastrana has been making a determined effort to break the political and military impasse by holding talks with both FARC and the ELN, the first President to meet with the rebels personally. All groups have been making concessions, and the ELN met with prominent civilian leaders at a conference in Germany in July 1998, a process which was followed closely by both Pastrana, and Nobel prize-winning novelist and native Colombian, Gabriel García Márquez.

There are further talks arranged for October 1998, and sixteen paramilitary leaders have agreed to lay down their weapons ‘once the guerrillas do’.

Señor Pastrana was once kidnapped by gunmen linked to the Medellín cocaine cartel, but was luckily quickly found and released by police. He was also, prior to his investiture, taken to to meet the Kogi Mamas to receive ‘aseguranzas and blessings’.

In July 1999 BBC Radio reports a full scale battle between FARC and Government forces in a mountainous region just 20 miles from Bogota. 52 are reported dead.

In March 2012 a Kogi town was burned by FARC (it is hard to get information about this, but it is suggested that this town was connected to Western “hippy” Kogi-enthusiasts), and in December an Arhouaco leader had his car shot up by paramilitaries, but survived.  Certainly the war between paramilitaries and government forces has intensified, and the region is still far from safe.