Colombian Civil War


From its founding, Colombia inherited two features that catalysed violence: deep land access inequality and profound political fragmentation. The civil war between the Colombian government and the FARC has been ongoing since 1964, when the rebel group was founded. Rural farmers and land workers with a Marxist vision banded together to fight for radical land redistribution. The conflict peaked in the nineties and early 2000s after several failed peace agreements. However, a new peace deal has been reached between the sides. Though the 2016 peace agreement has gone into effect, the FARC has since rearmed and reignited the conflict, accusing the Colombian government of noncompliance. It is the oldest ongoing armed conflict in the hemisphere.

Current Situation

Since members of the FARC announced their remilitarization, fighting has resumed between the Colombian government and rebel groups. Efforts to integrate former members of insurgent groups into civil society continue, although they remain rather unsuccessful and are largely underfunded. The ELN, who never signed an official peace agreement, continues operations in Colombia.
Classification: Localized Insurgency





Where: Colombia 

Population: 51 million (2020)

Projected Population: 53 million by 2030

Deaths: 262,000 (2019)

Internally Displaced People: 8.1 million (2020)

Disappearances: >150,000 (2019)

Extrajudicial Killings: 4,475 confirmed (2015), as many as 10,000 (2018)

Homicide Rate (per 100,000 people): 25.4 (2019)

Poverty Rate: 27.8%

COVID-19 Infections: 784,268 (2020)

COVID-19 Deaths: 24,746 (2020)

Key actors

For decades, it has been embroiled in conflict with internal rebel groups. With the help of the United States, it has poured billions of dollars into security forces through Plan Colombia. The conflict has also severely harmed their relationship with Venezuela, who they have accused of harboring and strengthening guerrillas.

Founded in 1964, this guerrilla paramilitary group was one of two main organizations opposing the Colombian government in their internal conflict. It operated under Marxist-Leninist liberation ideology and was initially formed mostly of campesino guerrillas, though it has frequently engaged in drug trafficking to fund its operations.

In 2017, it was militarily dissolved and reformed as a political party called the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force which won 5 seats in the Colombian Congress.

Founded in 1964, it is the other main Marxist guerrilla group fighting against the Colombian government. It is estimated to have between 1,200 to 3,000 guerilla fighters in Colombia.  Unlike the FARC, it never signed an official peace agreement and continues to fight to this day. It has been classified as a terrorist organization by Colombia, the US, Peru, Canada, and the European Union. The ELN continues to receive support and sympathy from the Venezuelan government.

Monitored the implementation of the 2016 peace agreement. It has frequently spoken out against the rebels and the violence’s effect on rural indigenous communities. The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner in their 2019 report made several recommendations including that the Colombian government must strengthen guarantees for the work of human rights defenders.

It has supported the Colombian Government, logistically and militarily, to defeat rebel groups as a part of the War on Drugs. Since 2000, Washington has spent several billions of dollars to help train and equip Colombian forces, while also providing intelligence to help tackle drug traffickers.

Timeline of the crisis

Popular socialist presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán is murdered in Bogotá, triggering a riots and uprisings known as the Bogotazo. Juan Roa Sierra, Gaitán’s alleged murderer is later killed by a violent mob.

The assassination of Gaitán is the start of a period known as La Violencia. The Conservative Party arms bandits and assassins, known as Chulavitas and Los Pájaros, clash with the first Liberal Party guerrillas, known as Cachiporros and Bandoleros 

Inspired by the Cuban Revolution, a group of farmers establish an agricultural commune in the province of Marquetalia in central Tolima region. Other agricultural communes begin to emerge in other regions of the country.

Concerned about the rise of communism, the conservative president, Guillermo León Valencia, decides to use the military to intervene in these agricultural communes. Survivors of the military attack decide to form groups of mobile guerrillas and to arm against the state. One of the survivors is Pedro Marín, later known as Manuel Marulanda, who would become the main leader of the FARC.

The FARC, mainly formed by poor rural farmers, do not have the strength yet to challenge the state. The group only causes small skirmishes in remote areas of the country. Other, more powerful rebel groups like M-19 are highly supported in the regions and take all the attention of the state.

President Belisario Betancourt reaches a ceasefire with FARC. The group agrees with the government to form a political party, known as the Patriotic Union (UP by its name in Spanish).

Successive governments maintain peace negotiations with different rebel groups. During this period, groups like M-19, the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), the Workers’ Revolutionary Party (PRT), the Autodefensa Obrera (ADO) are fully demobilized and returned to civilian life. In 1991, Colombia write a new constitution to incorporate these groups and modernize political life.

The growth of the UP raises the alarms in the most conservative and violent sector of the country. During this period, assassins, paramilitary forces and some agents of the Colombian state, murder more than 3,000 people linked to the UP, including two presidential candidates (Jaime Pardo Leal and Bernardo Jaramillo) 7 Congressmen, 11 Mayors and 70 City council members. In response, the FARC returns to the armed fight in the country and sues the Colombian state in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The FARC uses drug trafficking and kidnapping to fund their efforts. Cocaine smuggling makes the guerrilla group one of the richest in the world. The FARC grows considerably and the fight against the state gets more violent, reaching the cities.

Andrés Pastrana wins the presidential election and promises to reach a peace deal with the FARC.

The Colombian government and the FARC hold peace talks in the municipality of El Caguán. As a prerequisite to hold the talks, the FARC demands a demilitarized zone the size of Switzerland in the Departments of Meta and Caqueta.

US Congress officially passes Public Law 106-246, granting $1.3 billion to the Colombian government in the first aid installment of Plan Colombia, a bilateral security agreement aimed at eliminating Colombian insurgent groups like the FARC.

The FARC kidnaps presidential candidate Íngrid Betancourt, who had strongly criticized the demilitarized zone.

The FARC hijacks an airplane and kidnaps Senator Jorge Géchem. After this event, President Pastrana orders the military to regain control of the demilitarized zone, breaking down the peace process.

Minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos announces that Íngrid Betancourt, a former presidential candidate kidnapped in 2002, has been rescued my military intelligence after years of negotiation with the FARC. With her, they rescue 14 other captives.

Álvaro Uribe wins the presidency, promising to defeat the FARC. During his eight years in office, the FARC suffers the most important military defeats with the neutralization of some important leaders. However, during this period the number of civilian casualties peaks, making Colombia the country with the most internally displaced population in the world. The government is accused of extrajudicial killings and is exposed by the opposition as having ties to various paramilitary forces

A new process of peace talks with the FARC begins under the presidency of Juan Manuel Santos.

The Colombian population rejects the peace agreement in a plebiscite, with 50.2% of the vote going to the “no” option. Among the political leaders that promote the rejection is the former president Álvaro Uribe.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his effort to end 50 years of war with the FARC.

The FARC completes the disarmament process. The United Nations Mission in Colombia certifies the storage of more than 7,000 arms.

The FARC unveils its new political party. The group decided to keep its initials in the new party name, the  Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común in Spanish).

Rank and file members of the FARC start their education and resocialization programs to return to civilian life.

Congress discusses the transitional justice scheme for individuals and groups involved in the conflict, known as Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz JEP in Spanish).

The FARC announces Rodrigo Londoño, known as “Timochenko,” as the presidential candidate of their party for the 2018 elections.

Former FARC commander Seauxis Hernandez is arrested on American drug-trafficking charges in what is potentially a huge blow to the fragile peace process. The FARC struggles to gain political relevance — they gain 0.4% of the vote during Colombia’s parliamentary elections.

Colombian citizens go to the polls and elect Iván Duque in the first election since the peace pact signed two years ago.

The newly appointed president swears to unite the country by changing the peace deal with the FARC rebel group, accusing the previous deal of being too lenient on former rebel fighters.

A New York Times report finds that despite the 2016 peace treaty, many former FARC fighters are unable to adapt to civilian life and are being threatened by paramilitaries. In response, many are choosing to join violent dissident groups.

Mass demonstrations occur against President Duque, who is already extremely unpopular. Though protests were incited by inaction over social policies, much of it is also motivated by frustration over inaction on legislation that would solidify a democratic justice system to handle reintegration and punishment of former FARC rebels.

FARC rebel leader Walter Patricio Arízala is killed by the Colombian military during a raid operation. The Colombian government previously deployed more than 3,000 troops to hunt down the rebel leader.

Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo announces that the Colombian government has found evidence of plans to assassinate President Duque, offering little detail other than the fact that three Venezuelans have been arrested.

22 people are killed after a suicide bomber drives a truck containing 80 kilograms of explosives into the General Santander National Police Academy in Bogotá. The ELN claims responsibility and attributes it to government violation of previous ceasefire agreements.

Venezuela officially cuts ties with Colombia following multiple border clashes injuring 285 Colombians and killing 5. Aid transport has been halted at Venezuela’s border after Maduro’s decision to prevent aid from coming into the country.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announces plans to reopen the country’s border with Colombia. Due to the ongoing economic crisis, many Venezuelans illegally cross into Colombia to access food and medical supplies. The move could also be seen by some as an attempt to repair relations between the two countries following Colombia’s accusations of fugitive harboring against Maduro.

Protestors march against the increasing number of activists being killed in the country. Protesters argued that the country has struggled to take drastic measures following the 2016 peace deal between the FARC rebel group and have targeted their criticism at President Iván Duque.

According to a new report published by Human Rights Watch, more than 40,000 people have been killed by an upsurge in crime carried out by armed groups operating in rural areas. These groups have filled in the gap vacated by the FARC rebel group after the signing of the 2016 peace deal, facilitating an increase in illegality and instability within the ongoing drug war.

Humanitarian groups have expressed concern over a new wave of Venezuelan migrants entering Colombia following recent US sanctions on the country. It is believed that Colombia currently is ill-equipped to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela as neighbouring countries shut their borders to migrants.

In a YouTube video, ex-FARC rebels announces that they are remilitarizing in response to the government’s inability to maintain their part of the 2016 peace agreement, especially since the beginning of the Duque administration.

In one of the biggest protests in recent years, an estimated 207,000 people take to the streets of Colombia in protest of President Iván Duque and the inequality, violence, and discontent that has thrived under his administration. The protests turn more active as the day goes on, and demonstrators even try to storm the congressional building by nightfall.

Over 35 people are killed in seven massacres over a two-week period, culminating in the forty-sixth massacre since the beginning of the year.

The Colombian government requests that the US extradite Salvatore Mancuso, the former-leader of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary group, who has been imprisoned near Washington DC since 2008. He previously confessed to carrying out hundreds of acts of violence over a 15-year period and was convicted of more than 1,500 murders and forced disappearances. Because he is a citizen of Italy, who does not share an extradition treaty with Colombia, the request is unlikely to be fulfilled.

The US government blocks the deportation of Salvatore Mancuso, former leader of United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia paramilitary group, to Italy. The US now intends to deport Mancuso back to Colombia where he can face charges for war crimes. A D.C Federal Court heard arguments from Mancuso’s lawyers and as well as US officials. US officials cited a provision which would allow Attorney General William Barr to disregard the country designated for the removal of an illegal immigrant. 

Heavily armed Colombian security forces arrest three Venezuelans who were part of the unsuccessful plot to overthrow the President of Venezuela, Nicholas Maduro. The plot is believed to have been organized by US Green Berets.

Violent clashes occur in Bogota, Colombia after a video of a 43-year-old man, Javier Ordóñe, showed that he was killed in police custody after being repeatedly tasered by two police officers while begging for his life. The protests call on regular use of excessive force by police. The clashes with police resulted in 7 deaths and 175 injured civilians.

On the second day of protests against the use of excessive force by police in the case of Javier Ordóñe, a total of 13 people have died and 209 civilians have been injured. Defence Minister Carlos Trujillo provided an apology on behalf of the police for any illegal act committed against Ordóñe while he has in custody. Furthermore, a disciplinary hearing will be held to determine if the two police officers committed a homicide.

An investigation by a local news agency reveals that 130 Colombian journalists and 3 American journalists have been under surveillance by the Colombian Military. The investigation shows that the military kept a profile on each journalist as well as information on their contacts, families, friends and political opinions

Colombia surpasses 800,000 cases of COVID-19 and as the country starts to slowly re-open businesses. Colombia now has the fifth largest number of COVID-19 cases worldwide.

The report released by Amnesty International states that at least 223 activists have been murdered in Colombia in the past year. It has also outlined the 4 most dangerous areas of Colombia for activists: Buenaventura, Catatumbo, Putumayo and Kubeo-Sikuani.

Andres Felipe Vanegas Londono also known as Uriel is killed in the coastal province of Choco. Uriel was the leader of Ejército de Liberación Nacional who has two-thousand fighters and has been responsible for kidnappings, the murder of human rights activists and security forces.

Colombia, Chile, Peru and Ecuador join forces to combat the illegal fishing off their coasts by Chinese fleets. These countries have threatened measures to “to prevent, discourage and jointly confront” illegal fishing. For example, in July 2020, Ecuador complained to the Chinese for having a fleet of 300 fishing boats on their coast, most of whom turned off their tracking.

President Iván Duque claims Venezuelan president Maduro is planning to influence Colombia’s presidential election in 2022. El Tiempo reports that he would coerce fleeing Venezuelans to vote against Duque in the election, using as proof photos of the special IDs granted to Venezuelan refugees that give them neither citizenship nor the right to vote. El Tiempo falsely reported that 300,000 Venezuelans could illegally vote. National Registrar Alexander Vega floated the idea of even disenfranchising Colombians citizens returning from Venezuela.

Category 5 Hurricane Iota made landfall on the Caribbean coast on 16th of November. Particularly hard-hit were the islands of Providencia and San Andrés. The hurricane destroyed 80% of houses on Providencia, and damaged the other 20%, including the hospital. 60% of San Andrés was left without power. The hurricane has killed two in Providencia, of around 40 across Colombia and Central America.

Thousands of students and others in Bogotá protested the Duque government’s social policies and handling of the Coronavirus crisis on Thursday. The protesters were appealing for more government assistance during lockdowns; such as guaranteed income for those unemployed, pensions, and access to healthcare. Many of those in attendance wore masks and practiced social distancing.

How can you help?

You have to be especially careful when donating to NGOs or other organizations in Colombia. Most of them are highly politicized and may promote only one biased vision of the conflict.

Below are some trustworthy organizations we recommend:

Leave a Reply