On militarisation in Colombia
The most recent manifestations of the conflict in Colombia date back to 1948, when the presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitán was assassinated, cutting off the possibility that socialist-leaning ideas might have a place of decision and power in the Colombian state.
During the following years, approximately 300,000 Colombians were murdered, mainly in rural areas in confrontations between the liberals and conservatives. In 1958, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party signed a bipartisan agreement to form a 'National Front'. In 1964, the government of Guillermo León Valencia approved Operation Marquetalia against the liberals and communists organised in Tolima, in the south of Colombia. Faced with the persecution and anti-communist policies of the Colombian state, the FARC-EP is founded the same year. Later, influenced by the Cuban Revolution, the ELN is founded in Santander; the EPL is established with Maoist inspiration in Antioquia; and the M-19 is established in 1970 in the face of that year's electoral fraud.
While the guerrilla organisations became stronger at the beginning of the 1980s in various parts of Colombia, armed right-wing factions created 'self-defense groups' to defend private property and conservative, religious, oligarchic and anticommunist values, financed by affluent families, political classes and drug traffickers in Córdoba, Antioquia and Chocó.
This social and armed conflict remains present in our country and is a factor that deepens and radicalises society's militarisation. This is not only because of the levels of conflict between the armed actors—army, paramilitaries guerrillas and common criminals—but also because of the biased view presented by the communications media. It is also due to the persecution and stigmatisation of social organisations, and the high levels of recruitment carried out by armed actors—both legal and illegal—increasings the participation of young men in the war. Adding to all this, long-standing problems such as political corruption, concentration of land and power, forced displacement, selective killings, rape and appropriation of women's bodies as war loot. Also, the polarisation of of the conflict blocks humanitarian routes that would allow for a negotiated settlement between the state and the guerrillas.
Colombia is an impoverished, militarised state with a strong right-wing ideology—Catholic and conservative in origin—that lives under the logic of the neoliberal model. According to the state's own statistics, in 2011, 34.1 percent of urban Colombians lived in poverty, while the figure rises to 46.1 percent in rural areas. Of these, 4.7 million are destitute. Also, the control exercised from the political establishment, and the policy of instrumentalising and institutionalising popular organisations, encourages the mere ability to demand rights without identifying the structural and cultural causes of the social conflict. On the other hand, the influence of police and military organisations on the social life of communities is reflected in the high rates of forced recruitment of low-income young people by the the army; in the expansion of the network of informers (created by the ex President Álvaro Uribe Vélez) and the growth of the Civic Youth Police (composed of girls and boys between 7 and 18 years old). On the other hand, paramilitary organisations are firmly entrenched (with regards to the territorial control that they exercise), especially in our context in the city of Medellín.
Phenomena such as land tenancy, growing inequality and poverty, political and military intervention by foreign militaries in the south of the country (where hand-to-hand combat occurs), mineral exploitation and extraction of natural resources, free trade agreements, drug trafficking and the debate over the legalisation of drugs; the incorporation of many citizens of Latin American and African ancestry into the militaries of the United States and Spain, the incorporation of women into military and police institutions; food security and biofuels and reforms to the pension, health and educational systems. These are expressions of colonial exploitation that impose the economic, political and military logic of capitalism on countries that lack stability, according to the logic of the current economic system. Colombia cannot escape these demands.
The development of these problems is not just due to the dynamics of war itself in a country like Colombia. Similar phenomena can be observed in the Middle East, Africa and, closer to home, in Mexico (with the havoc generated by the cartels and drug traffickers). It's necessary to mention every one of these phenomena, since the movements and political ties that, globally, have become quite established in the South tend to have political, economic and military repercussions in the way they ingrain culturally hegemonic values—such as competitiveness, virility, elimination, sexism, misogyny, racism and heteronormativity—and are reproduced by militarism, capitalism and patriarchy.
The demilitarisation of societies should begin with a transformation of values and subjectivities that embody colonialism and patriarchy, which favour the continuation of war and reproduce a culture of resignation when faced with economic, racial and sexual violence.
Youth Network of Medellín