Is Narco Terrorism In Colombia History Essay

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Narcoterrorism is a term coined by former President Fernando Belaúnde Terry of Peru in 1983 when describing terrorist-type attacks against his nation’s anti-narcotics police. In the original context, narcoterrorism is understood to mean the attempts of narcotics traffickers to influence the policies of a government or a society through violence and intimidation and to hinder the enforcement of the law and the administration of justice by the systematic threat or use of such violence. The term is being increasingly used for known terrorist organizations that engage in drug trafficking activity to fund their operations and gain recruits and expertise. [1] 


Since the beginning of the 1960’s, land of Colombia has been exploited and abused with production and trafficking of drugs. By the early 1970’s, cultivation of marijuana was well established. In the mid 1970’s, marijuana eradication programs promoted by U.S. government in Mexico using paraquat, an herbicide know to have harmful effects which drew away U.S. customers and marijuana cultivation moved to Colombia. [2] The marijuana business accelerated by the late 1970’s and marijuana plantations had appeared in several isolated and recently settled areas. Marijuana business was relatively simple; peasants sold the crops to local exporter who sold to the U.S. importers. In 1978, Colombian government engaged in a vigorous marijuana eradication campaign after facing political pressure from the U.S government and U.S. undertook interdiction at the border and on the sea [3] . These developments made Colombian traffickers to switch their focus to cocaine, which was harder to detect and more profitable. Initially Colombian traffickers obtained most of the coca paste and leaf from Peru and Bolivia but domestic cultivation was growing at a steady pace. Cocaine trafficking is more appealing than the marijuana trade because it has much higher value to weight and volume ratio. Coca was easy to produce and required very less capital investment and expertise. The shrub is very strong and grows well on fragile tropical soils. In 1970s, illegal entrepreneurs began to export small quantity of cocaine to the United States [4] . High revenue allowed the business to flourish and expand. Number of farmers participating in coca cultivation grew from perhaps 25,000 in the early 1980s to 300,000 by the late 1990s. [5] Many parts of the south were transformed into a pure coca economy. Between 1978 and 2001, when cultivation peaked, the area cultivated with coca in Colombia increased by reached 169,800 hectares in 2001, which is almost 500% boom. [6] 


Well established producers and traffickers formed armed and clandestine cartels. During the 1980s, as demand increased, the cartels expanded and organized into major criminal conglomerates. Medellin and Cali cartels rose with the rising drug economy, two of the largest and most notorious criminal organisation in the history. They were tightly controlled and hierarchically organised, however, were also relied on the layers of subcontractors and freelancers. [7] 

The Medellin Cartel was an organized network of “drug suppliers and smugglers” originating in the city of Medellin, Colombia. It was organised and run by Ochoa Vazquez brothers Jorge Luis, Juan David, and Fabio together with Pablo Escobar. [8] The men from Medellin joined together with a young marijuana smuggler named Carlos Lehder, who convinced the leaders that they could fly cocaine in small airplanes directly into the United States thereby avoiding the need for countless suitcase trips. The large quantities and the growing appetite for cocaine in the United States led to huge profits, which the cartel began re-investing into more sophisticated labs, better airplanes and even an island in the Caribbean where the planes could refuel. Pablo Escobar, the leader of the cartel, was incredibly violent and his quest for power within the Colombian government led to a stand-off between the cartel and the government. During the 1980’s, the cartel stood against the government’s threats to extradite the traffickers to the U.S. Pablo Escobar is thought to be responsible for the murder of hundreds of government officials, police, prosecutors, judges, and journalists. The cartel began to self-destruct as the violence and power grew. Pablo Escobar was hunted down and killed by the Colombian police after a long series of battles. [9] After Escobar’s death and the fragmentation of the Medellín Cartel, the cocaine market soon became dominated by the rival Cali cartel, until the mid-1990s when its leaders, too, were either killed or captured by the Colombian government. [10] 

Part of the downfall of the Medellin cartel was due to their main rivals in the Colombian city of Cali, the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers and Santacruz Londono. The men from Cali were more subtle and less flashy than their counterparts in Medellin. They conducted their smuggling as a sophisticated business, quietly re-investing their profits in legitimate businesses. The Cali cartel began to attack the Medellin cartel, particularly Pablo Escobar, as their competition became more and more violent. They eventually would form the PEPES, or People against Pablo Escobar, which specifically targeted Escobar’s homes, businesses and lieutenants. The Cali cartel also began secretly supplying the Colombian police and the DEA with information about Pablo Escobar’s actions and whereabouts. [11] The Cali Cartel operated as a consolidated group of independent criminal organisations. Each criminal organisation would report to the larger group deputed for the function, who would then report to the leader of the cartel. As cited by the former Cali accountant Guillermo Pallomari, the larger groups that reported to the cartel were: [12] 

Narco trafficking: Controls the labs where the coca was processed and shipping the cocaine to the destination.

Political: Managed Congressional members, police officials and government links.

Legal: Hiring of lobbyist and managing overseas representation.

Financial: Legitimising funds (Money Laundering).

Military: Responsible for the security, bribing the military/federal officials and assassinating uncooperative subordinates and anyone they viewed as a threat.

At one time, the Cali organization was responsible for roughly 80% of the cocaine coming into the United States – a staggering proportion. They had billions of dollars and a virtual army at their command, which they used to target their competitors and political opponents, subjecting Colombia to a bloody reign of terror. [13] The reign of Cali cartel was brought down by the U.S. initiated “Operation Cornerstone” in 1991 with the seizure of 12,000 Kg of cocaine followed by many crackdown on the cartel’s consignments. [14] Between June and July 1995, six of the seven heads of the cartel were arrested. [15] 

Both of the world’s most notorious criminal gangs had come to an end. Fairly new and young cartels realised that larger organisation are extremely prone to the U.S and Colombian authorities crack down. They formed smaller, more controllable groups. One group take the responsibility of shipping and smuggling the drugs from Colombia. Another group controls the labs where the processing of coca takes place. Smaller criminal organisations still exist which are secured, guided and also extorted by the Guerrillas and the Paramilitaries.


Colombian Marxist Guerrilla known as Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) , M-19 and National Liberation Army (ELN) are the three major revolutionary organisations.

The FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo) also known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces Of Colombia was a result of the La Voilencia ; A civil war between the Colombian Liberal and the Conservative Party, triggered by the assassination of the leader of the Liberal Party, Jorge Eliecer Gaitan in 1948. FARC originally sought to establish socialism, empower the peasants and bring economic development to the remote and rural areas where the state was missing and the where poor had no participation in the political representation. [16] The FARC spent the first decade of its existence handicapped by its lack of resources, freedom of action and political capital. The group number remained low and engaged mainly in long walks in the jungle to avoid detection by the military units and providing protection to the small peasants from unscrupulous land owners. [17] FARC embraced the illicit economy in the late 1970s and reversed its original aim to protect the coca production, tax traffickers and recruit those involved in the lower levels of the drug business. By the early 1990s, FARC expanded by participating directly in the production, processing and controlling the traffickers. FARC also provided protection against government attempts to eradicate illicit crops by shooting at the aerial spraying planes using the latest weapons acquired from the international arms smugglers. The FARC also converted its profits from coca business in its fighting capacity. [18] The military capabilities of the group had incredible increase from 3,600 fighters in 1986 to approx.20, 000 fighters in 2000. [19] Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) use drug money to acquire weapons they need to fight established governments in an effort to achieve their own political interests. It is estimated that the FARC receives as much as $300 million annually from the drug trade. [20] In October 2002, a Colombian courier for the FARC was arrested in the United States for transporting 182,000 Euros into the country. [21] Terrorist tactics employed by the FARC since 2002 include bombing the Colombian Presidential Palace, assassinations of key government officials, shooting at a civilian aircraft, and the bombing of a social club, which resulted in the death of 36 people and injury to 160 more. [22] On the other hand, Colombian government claims to be fighting for bringing order, stability, protect rights and interests of its citizens and private & multinational organisations.

Movimiento 19 de Abril (M-19), another prominent guerrilla group, operated in the urban theatre, with a strong presence mainly in Bagota, where the state of the local economy was considerably better than elsewhere in the country. However, its focus was on the extortion of drug traffickers which produced neither financial nor political gains. M-19 espoused a nationalist agenda and opposed political fraud and corruption but never embraced any traditional left wing or Marxist orthodoxy. [23] M-19 was a mixture of populism and nationalistic revolutionary socialism. M-19 did not seek to challenge state authority by holding territory; instead, in classic urban guerrilla style, it engaged with attention getting operations in urban centres. The weapons came from occasional robberies of military arsenals. Initially acquiring funds from kidnapping later shifted focus to extorting money from the major narco-iefes. The extortion scheme failed to generate any political support neither for M-19 since it produced neither jobs nor resources for hand-outs for the population at large. [24] Conceding defeat, in mid 1980s M-19 changed strategy once again, eventually striking a cooperative deal with the traffickers. During the same time the Supreme court was supposed to rule on the extradition treaty with the United States. The M-19 stormed the Court of Justice and took 400 people hostage, even the President of the Court of Justice. The actions failed to gain any political support again. In the Late 1980s, M-19 gave up its weapons, received pardons and became a political party, the M-19 Democratic Alliance.

The third leftist group called Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional (ELN), emerged in 1965. ELN was inspired by both the Cuban revolution and Christian liberation theology. ELN lacked both physical resources and political support; the group failed to mount military operations of any consequence and spent most of its energy conducting internal purges. [25] The major setback was when several commanders surrendered and gave intelligence to the military and large number of ELN members were captured by the end of 1960s. [26] The third leftist group,), unlike FARC showed great reluctance to enter the drug business, due in part to its religious roots. [27] After the setback in the 1960s, in mid 1980s ELN shifted its focus to extortion as its main source of income. Their main targets were to kidnapping the executives of the large oil companies and holding them for ransom; the funds generated helped the group to expand geographically. The multinational oil companies were also forced to invest in basic facilities for the residents. ELN was only able to survive and was not able to do anything considerable to get recognised. Following guerrilla priest Manuel Perez’s death in December 1997, ELN embraced the drug economy. They gave paid protection to the coca farmers and extorted money from the narco traffickers. ELN’s Introduction to narco economy was late and in early 2000s it went into negotiations with the government and they failed. Later, kept a low profile and joined hands with FARC in December 2009.

Right-wing paramilitaries were formed in the 1980s when wealthy landowners organized armed groups to protect themselves from the leftist guerrillas. The shift of cocaine production from Peru and Bolivia to Colombia in the 1980s increased drug violence, and provided a new source of revenue for both guerrillas and paramilitaries. The main paramilitary organization, the AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia) or United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia was formed in 1997 as an umbrella organization for a number of local and regional paramilitary groups operating in the country. The AUC conducted massacres and assassinations of suspected insurgent supporters and directly engaged the FARC and ELN in military battles. [28] The AUC unified what had been a disparate array of paramilitary groups. Under the leadership of Carlos Castano, the organization expanded in numbers and diversified its revenue streams. It also became increasingly entwined with the drug trade. Within three years of its formation, the AUC’s numbers had doubled and it had made significant inroads into the cocaine trade. It tapped fuel pipelines to sell oil on the black market, extorted payments from multinational corporations such as Chiquita, and expanded into the gambling and construction industries. In 2001, the U.S. government designated the AUC a foreign terrorist organization. [29] 

Beginning of the 1980s the paramilitaries realised the profitability and the advantages of the illicit drug trade. Apart from charging the protection money from the traffickers, they also started taxing the coca farmers and some also got involved in the production and the trafficking. After the fall of the Medellin and the Cali Cartel created more opportunities for the paramilitaries to get deeply involved into the trade. According to the former U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, William Wood, AUC controlled 40% of Colombia’s Drug trade [30] and also were selling drugs to other trafficking organisations in United States. In addition, the paramilitaries took over a large share of counterfeiting, prostitution, and urban gang activity. [31] AUC’s positive involvement in the drug trade resulted in large expansion of the military capabilities as well. Initially with only 93 members in 1986, it grew to 5000 in 1985 [32] and 29,000 in 2006. [33] AUC paid its soldiers regular salaries and acquired high end combat weapons, aircrafts and speed boats. [34] In July 2003, President Uribe administration began formal negotiation with the AUC for demobilizing and integrating the AUC member to the society.


Since disbanding of the AUC started in late 2003, the AUC formally remained inactive as the Colombian government continued to process and investigate demobilized AUC members under the Justice and Peace Law (JPL), which offers judicial benefits and reduced prison sentences for qualified demobilizing terrorists. The law requires all participants to confess fully to their crimes as members of a terrorist group and to return all illicit profits. More than 32,000 rank-and-file ex-AUC members who did not commit serious crimes have demobilized, and many were receiving benefits through the government’s reintegration program, including psychosocial attention, education, healthcare, and career development opportunities. More than 280,000 victims have registered under the JPL through December 2009, although Colombian government efforts to create measures to provide reparations to victims have not been as effective as hoped. Some former paramilitaries continued to engage in criminal activities after demobilization, mostly in drug trafficking. [35] The demobilization process was heavily criticized by national and international human rights organizations as well as by international entities citing its non-compliance with international standards on the rights of victims to seek justice and reparation and granting impunity to human rights violators. [36] 

Colombia’s armed conflict has undergone important changes. Demobilisation is the emergence of new armed groups using names such as Black Eagles and New Generation Organisation (Organización Nueva Generación, ONG). Operating in several regions, they are a great concern for the government as well as the Organization of American States (OAS) peace support mission (MAPP/OEA) and human rights and civil society organisations. While the government refers to them as “criminal gangs” (bandas criminales) and perceives them as a law enforcement issue, Colombian human rights groups and think-tanks and some international observers believe they are the continuation of the paramilitaries under a different guise. [37] It’s believed that some of these organisations are headed by the paramilitaries who did not demobilise and are believed to be acting on the orders from imprisoned AUC leaders. Estimates of total members vary widely, from 3,000 to 9,000.

Since late 2005, Colombia has also witnessed the emergence of new armed groups. The non-governmental organisation Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FIP) was among the first to warn about the emergence of a “third generation of paramilitaries”.Articles about new groups with the name “Black Eagles” (Aguilas Negras) began to appear, mostly in the regional press. Subsequently an increasing number of testimonies and reports have been published in the media and by think-tanks, human rights organisations and international observers. It’s also believed by observers and policy makers that it might be a re-emergence of old-style paramilitary group, owing to the flaws in the demobilisation of the AUC and the Justice and Peace Law. The UN High commissioner for Human Rights refers to these groups as “New Illegal Armed Groups”. [38] A potential danger is the formation of the new criminal gangs and the some elements of the FARC. Such a federation could give birth to a new criminal actor which could cripple the government efforts to bring peace and harmony to the Colombian society. [39] Some analysts and Also, several congressmen and other politicians have been indicted for suspicions of colluding with the AUC.

All the new groups are some way or the other involved in the illicit drug trade, although connections to the organised crime varies from region to region. ONG is relatively autonomous, able both to forge drug alliances and fight rivals in its region. The Black Eagles in Norte de Santander, on the other hand, seem to be a part of an intricate criminal network, in which they sometimes engage in internecine struggles over smuggling. [40] 

Uribe’s sustained military campaign against FARC has produced tangible results but did not break the backbone of the 45-year old insurgency. Colombia increased its international counterterrorism cooperation and training efforts. The threat of extradition to the United States remained a strong weapon against drug traffickers and terrorists. At year’s end, Colombia extradited 186 defendants to the United States in 2009 for prosecution; most were Colombian nationals. [41] Colombian military have been able to substantially weaken the FARC even though eradication has not succeeded in bankrupting the group. Instead, success against the FARC came from the Colombian military’s improved tactics and strategy and from better resourcing its military campaign. Though the recent revelations of the so-called ‘false positives’, ie, poor Colombian men whom the Colombian military shot and then dressed up as guerrillas to be able to claim a greater body-count not only undermine the legitimacy of the Colombian government’s effort, but also raise doubts about the effectiveness of the strategy. [42] Despite the ongoing campaign against the FARC, the group continued a campaign of terrorist attacks, extortion, and kidnappings. The FARC continued narcotrafficking activities, bombed several military and civilian targets in urban areas, and targeted numerous rural outposts, police stations, infrastructure targets, and local political leaders in dozens of attacks. [43] 

Plan Colombia was designed in 1999, to strengthen the state along multiple dimensions. Both the capitals believed that FARC could be crippled if the source of the revenue be eradicated, so the counterinsurgency plan included at its core the most intensive aerial eradication effort ever undertaken. The Key objective was defined as neutralizing the drug economy by “reducing the cultivation, processing and distribution of narcotics by 50 per cent in six years” and providing alternative development opportunities; strengthening the judiciary and fighting corruption; bolstering the economy and improving governance. U.S. allocated $860 million to Colombia and eventually grew to $6 billion, including more than $4.3 billion that was allocated through the Andean Counterdrug initiative (ACI), new name given to Plan Colombia in 2001. [44] At first, the eradication campaign seemed to be generating the desired results but six years after its launch, both coca cultivation and cocaine production were higher than in 2000. Coca Cultivation has increased steadily since 2003 from 113,850 hectares to 167,000 in 2007. [45] The United States also provides support to improve the efficiency of Colombia’s new accusatory judicial system. U.S. programs help train judges, prosecutors, and police; promote timely and effective investigations and prosecutions of human rights violations; and support the identification and return of missing remains. Work with government and civil society to advance drug demand prevention programs in schools and communities is also an important part of U.S. assistance programs in Colombia.

The FARC continued a campaign of intimidation and violence against local leaders and communities. The FARC in March 2009 attempted to confront the Colombian Government with an offensive aimed at a wide range of military and civilian targets. Colombian security forces largely thwarted the attacks in another setback for the insurgent group by raiding a FARC camp in July 2009. The Colombian military discovered several man-portable antitank missiles that were manufactured in Sweden and sold to Venezuela in the late 1980s. [46] The FARC and ELN in December 2009 issued a joint decree claiming the two groups planned to unite to fight the Colombian government. The communiqué claimed leaders of the two groups had met and forged an agreement to focus on cooperating to defeat the government and end U.S. influence in Colombia.

In its current incarnation FARC is too weak to bring down the state or conquer large stretches of territory. Although, the new para groups pose threat that continue to prevent economic and social development in many rural regions. The underlying conditions that gave rise to the insurgency remain in place. The Colombian Economy has made significant improvement but it has not translated in reducing poverty and inequality. For many peasants coca cultivation or other illegal activities continue to be the only opportunity for social advancement or survival.

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