Democracy, Political Participation and Paramilitaries

The impact of paramilitary groups on political life and democratic governance is one of the central issues in contemporary Colombian. Since the early 1990s, these forces grew exponentially in strength, creating a national coordinating body and carrying out military offensives that resulted in territorial expansion throughout the country and a peak in political violence typified by massacres from 1997-2003. Intimately connected to drug trafficking, paramilitary groups infiltrated political institutions and enjoyed significant political support even while employing extreme brutality.

After entering into negotiations with government officials, more than 32,000 troops passed through demobilization programs verified by the Organization of American States; much of the high profile leadership was subsequently extradited to the US to face drug trafficking charges. Revelations of electoral fraud resulted in the so-called parapolitica scandal, implicating hundreds politicians for collusion with paramilitary forces. U.S. and Colombian officials claim gains in the consolidation of Colombian democracy, even as journalists and others document the reorganization of paramilitary groups.

My account of the evolving political strategy of paramilitary forces and their public relations campaigns, Greed to Grievance, was published in the 2009 edited volume, Building Peace in a Time of War.

Photos and stories from my 2005 fieldwork on the demobilization of the bloque norte can be found on the demobilization page.