Catholic Peacebuilding Network

Enhancing the study and practice of Catholic peacebuilding

Overview of the Conflict

Historical Background
During the first half of the 20th century, the economic growth (and especially the industrialization process), led to tumultuous political and social transformations. As a consequence of a rising demand of workforce during the 1940’s, migration increased and intensified social conflicts in the countryside and cities. As migration toward the cities increased, communist influence and state-sponsored oppression gave the conflict a different character. Thousands of families fled their land and were organized in the mountains as armed groups. Thus, contemporary expressions of violence began to emerge as the confrontation between Marxist Leninist-oriented guerrilla groups and the armed forces.The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) emerged in 1964, The ELN (Army of National Liberation) was formed in 1965, the EPL (Army of Popular Liberation) in 1967 and, finally, in 1973, the M-19 urban guerrilla movement made his first appearance.

A Changing Dynamic of Peace and War
During the 1982-1986 presidential term, the government carried out the first peace negotiations with guerrilla groups. During the administration of Virgilio Barco administration (1986-1990), members of the M-19 and the EPL agreed to a cease fire and returned to the civilian life ).

During the late eighties and early nineties, however, the Medellin drug trafficking cartel engaged in terrorist attacks to avoid extradition to the United States. As a result of this offensive, four presidential candidates were murdered. Between 1989 and 1991 the number of murders was around 25,000 per annum.

Having ordered a military attack against the FARC leaders in “Casa Verde,” the government of President César Gaviria (1990-1994) made a commitment to open various processes of negotiations in Caracas (Venezuela) and Tlaxcala ( Mexico). These negotiations, however, did not bear fruit. Responding to this defeat, the government declared a “whole war.”

The current armed conflict continues to have serious consequences on civilian populations and threatens the state’s stability. In fact, much of this decade reflects the territorial growth of armed groups and the consolidation of another warring actor that developed in the eighties: the paramilitaries. The concomitant and rapid growth of drug-trafficking organizations such as cartels complicated the political and military situation, as “drug lords” came onto the scene. Death squads linked to drug lords and paramilitaries killed thousands of FARC and other leftist groups. Paramilitaries and guerilla groups alike have been linked to the illicit drug-trade.

The first half of this decade reaffirmed a trend of a weakening state. It was in this context, however, that President Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002) placed peace negotiations at the center of the political agenda and opened a peace process with FARC by accepting the demilitarization of an area of 42,000 Km2. After 9/11 attacks on the United States, this process was interrupted, and the country has embraced a more militant posture relative to the country’s internal conflict.

The Conflict Today
The electoral victory of President Álvaro Uribe (2002-2006 and 2006-2010) can be explained by the profound distrust over political talks as a useful alternative. The priorities aim to protect the main roads of the country, the will to imprison the leaders of guerrilla groups, and a need to regain control over territories considered strategic.

A demobilization process with paramilitary groups proposed by the government as a step toward national reconciliation has been questioned by sectors of Colombian society because they do not dismantle economic and social structures that support paramilitary groups, nor do they provide effective mechanisms truth-telling, justice and integral reparation.

In this context, a so-called Justice and Peace Law, approved in June 2005, leaves much to be desired according to some NGOs. The development of judicial hearings based on the Justice and Peace law has generated concern, as some of the witnesses and victims linked to these judicial processes have been murdered. As a result, the state is being called upon to provide guarantees for the protection of the victims and organizations of victims. Some observers believe, however, that the Justice and Peace Law has been an important step in encouraging the combatants’ demobilization.

The road to peace in Colombia remains thorny today. Negotiations with armed factions continue to fail and peace dialogues between the Colombian Government and FARC have been difficult. Furthermore, even if the reinforcement of armed forces has weakened illegal armed factions, the conflict continues on a dangerous reconfiguration process with the emergence of new armed factions and unpredictable dynamics.


  • Colombian presidency website.
  • Contreras, Tito, Conflit armé et Territoires: Dinamiques et Manifestations de Restriction a l’Exercise de la Citoyenneté en Colombie 1990-2006 Mémoire de Recherche, Paris III Sorbonne-Nouvelle.
  • Maria Victoria Rivera Paez, School for Peace and Coexistence in the Archidiocese of Manizales, in Mark M. Rogers, Tom Bamat and Julie Ideh, eds. Pursuing Just Peace: An Overview and Case Studies for Faith-Based Peacebuilders (Baltimore: Catholic Relief Services, 2008): 117-13.