Colombia’s Recovery

The seeds of instability in Colombia were sown over a very long period. And, contrary to some contemporary polemics, the United States is not uniquely responsible for Colombia’s violent recent past. The good news, though, is that the Andean state is re-emerging from a long, difficult period of violence and instability.

As elsewhere in Latin American, colonial master Spain left behind a stark legacy of socio-economic inequality along ethnic lines. By the 1960s, conditions were ripe in Colombia for class-based armed conflict. It was during this decade that leftist groups like the FARC took up arms against the Colombian state.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is no longer primarily motivated by Marxist ideology. Long ago, they morphed into a narco-trafficking organization engaged in a type of “new war” described by Mary Kaldor. In 1998, the FARC was granted a huge safe haven by the government of Andres Pastrana Arango. In exchange for control of a territory the size of Switzerland, the rebels were expected to negotiate in good faith to end their part of Colombia turmoil.

Since 2002, a change in national leadership and a hard line on the rebels has led to a brighter future for Colombia. Though the FARC and other non-state armed groups still disrupt commerce and security in parts of the state, this pivotal state is seeing new foreign investment, the return of tourists, and better foreign press coverage. (Some friends of mine recently stopped in Colombia on a Caribbean cruise. They took a day trip onshore and had a great experience.)

This excerpt from a BBC profile of Colombia captures a sense of the progress:

[The Colombian government] says major advances have been made in security, demobilisation of illegal armed groups, drug eradication and economic development, and that by early 2012 only 6% of the country was under potential threat from terrorist groups or organised criminal bands.

While it is no longer accurate to call Colombia a failed state (or a critically weak state), its recovery is not yet complete. Even so, NGOs like the International Crisis Group now see positive momentum for a comprehensive peace. Later this month, the FARC and the government of Juan Manuel Santos are set to begin peace talks in Oslo, Norway. Once again, we are reminded that State failure is not a permanent condition.

*** Did you like what you read here? You might be interested in the new book by this blog’s author, Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses.

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