Reflections on Colombia's "Narco-Paramilitary State"

05/14/2015 03:46 pm ET | Updated May 14, 2016

In his contribution to the recent report put together by the Historical Commission of the Colombian Armed Conflict and Its Victims (Feb. 2015), one of Colombia's bravest voices, Father Javier Giraldo, S.J., gives his take on "The Origins of The Armed Conflict, its Persistence and its Impacts."

Father Giraldo explains that the single biggest factor behind the armed conflict in Colombia is land and its unequal distribution. As he relates, though there have been various initiatives on the part of the Colombian government to redistribute land, these efforts have been a complete failure, with currently 4.2% of the land in Colombia in the hands of 67.6% of the population, while 46.5% of all land is in the hands of a mere .4% of the population. This unequal distribution of land, furthermore, has resulted in Colombia becoming one of the most unequal societies on earth with a Gini coefficient of 885.

While the foregoing may not come as too much of a surprise, what might is Father Giraldo's observation that the U.S. has contributed to the root cause of the conflict by siding for many decades with the small percent of the Colombia population that owns most of Colombia's land.
He relates that the U.S. -- through various means, including through the DEA and CIA -- have supported both the right-wing paramilitaries as well as drug cartels aligned with these paramilitaries in order to foster the unequal distribution of land in Colombia.

Father Giraldo indicates that these narco-paramilitaries -- which are rarely spoken of, as contrasted with the so-called "narco-guerillas" -- began a massive land grab by massacres and mass displacements of the population since the 1980's, and continuing to the current time. During the same period, of course, the U.S. supported the internal war on the side of these groups carrying out the displacements. And ironically, the U.S. did so on the basis of fighting so-called narco-guerillas.

In addition, as Father Geraldo explains, between 1997 and 2007 -- that is, roughly during the period of Plan Colombia in which the U.S. gave billions of dollars to the Colombian military -- the most intense period of AUC paramilitary activity occurred in which nearly 800,000 hectares of land were captured and one million peasants displaced by the paramilitaries. And, these paramilitaries carried out this reverse land reform program with material and logistical support from the U.S.-backed Colombian military.

These conclusions are supported by a recent study of Amnesty International (AI) which evaluates Colombia's land restitution process. The salient conclusions of this AI Report are as follows:

* "Almost six million people have been forcibly displaced since 1985, most of them as a consequence of Colombia's internal armed conflict - that is nearly 13% of country's population - and means Colombia has one of the highest forced displacement levels in the world."

* "It is estimated that some eight million hectares of land have been acquired illegally, equating to 14% of Colombia's territory."

* "The majority of those forcibly displaced have been peasant farmers, Indigenous People and Afro-descendant communities, and their lands are often of economic and political interest to the parties to the conflict."

*"Most forced displacement has been carried out by paramilitaries and the [U.S.-backed] security forces, either acting alone or in collusion with each other."

*"Land claimants, human rights defenders and state officials involved in the land restitution process have been threatened and killed, mostly by paramilitaries."

*"Forty-five percent of forcibly displaced households are headed by women, . . . [and] [f]orcibly displaced women are at far greater risk of being sexually abused, raped or forced into prostitution."

*"Since 2012, the Victims and Land Restitution Law (Law 1448) has sought to help return illegally acquired land to some of its rightful occupants. However, only a tiny percentage of the millions of hectares stolen has been returned."

*"Impunity is rife. The majority of those suspected of having criminal responsibility for forced displacement and related human rights abuses have never been brought to justice. This impunity has encouraged further forced displacements."

*"Very few land restitution cases have tackled land occupation by large national or international companies [many of these U.S. companies] or others who may have been responsible for the forced displacement and dispossession of the claimant. Instead the process has focused on the easy, small-scale cases."

Father Geraldo attributes such dire statistics to the phenomenon of the "narco-paramilitary state" which he argues is now fully in control of Colombia. He cites a report coordinated by Colombia Senator Alexander Lopez which concluded that "at the beginning of this research in 2008, . . . 264 civil servants, 83 of them Congressmen, had paramilitary ties." By the end of the publication in April 2010, the figure rose to 400 politicians, of which 102 are Congressmen, as well as 324 members of the security forces. In short, the Colombian state has successfully been co-opted by the paramilitaries for the purpose of taking the best land in Colombia.

And, Father Geraldo traces the rise and dominance of the paramilitaries back to the U.S. National Security Doctrine of President Kennedy which was formulated in response to Vatican II - an initiative which charted a new course for the Catholic Church by encouraging resistance to unjust social systems and to the unfair distribution of goods and land. While the National Security Doctrine was claimed to be about fighting Communism in Latin America, Father Geraldo rightly explains that we know from various journals of the armed forces, reports of high military commanders, as well as manuals from the School of the Americas, that the U.S., and consequently Colombia, have equated trade unionists the peasants, Liberation Theologians, human rights defenders and non-traditional political leaders with Communism, and, therefore, as legitimate military targets of the counter-insurgency.

It is also clear that none of this would have been possible without a compliant U.S. press which barely mentions the word, "Colombia," and certainly never mentions the U.S.'s decades-long terror campaign against that country.