Drug Wars




The Drug cartels are busy defending their terrain. Conflicts based on drug turfs are being waged in many parts of the world today. This is especially true in Colombia where various paramilitary and guerilla groups are waging war against the government and against US policy, which is aimed at stemming the flow if cocaine in the US. Two major participants in the drug trade in Colombia are the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (National Liberation Army). These two groups have subverted local governments in rural areas and regularly stage attacks against government forces.  These two groups have increased their influence since the demise of the Medallin Cartel. Tactics include attacks on Columbian infrastructure such as oil pipelines, travel infrastructure, mass killings extortion, conscription, and compelling local farmers to grow cocaine. Rising violence in rural areas has posed a serious threat to Colombias democracy and long-term stability. The enormous revenue obtained through drug trafficking has brought with it the ability to purchases modern weapons, including surface to air missiles. Additionally these groups are fairly well disciplined and in some areas where they enjoy support, provide many public services to the local community which the government is unable or unwilling to provide However the scope and degree of non-compulsory supportthese groups enjoy is debatable.


Over the past two years the guerillas have launched a number of attacks against the Colombian Government showing a high degree of military prowess which surprised many analysts. A major government military base was destroyed and scores of other military bases were attacked, though not yet in urban areas. This does not mean that the guerillas lack the capability, indeed with funding estimates of over $1 billion a year from illegal drugs, such a capability if it does not exist presently, will exist in very short order. Other sources of revenue from these groups include kidnapping and robbery.


The military situation is complex, with other rightistgroups operating against the FARC and ELN. The largest of these is the AUC or United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia. This well paid force is also well equipped with various aircraft including reconnaissance helicopters. These groups are well organized and actively oppose the activities of the Guerillas. Unfortunately, it appears that at least some part of the revenues used to sustain the paramilitaries is also obtained from drug trafficking.  Peace talks with the Government have failed (conducted by Pastrana)  and fighting has since, predictably continued.


US Assistance


Most of US Assistance to Colombia is geared towards drug interdiction and counter narcotics efforts. Interestingly, it is the State department that is the primary agency in dealing with the counter narcotic efforts. The State Department provides the bulk of funding that is then administered to other agencies (DEA, FBI, AID and others). Efforts include but are not limited to:



The FARC and ELN


        These groups trace their beginnings to movements during the 1940s. Poverty and desperation seems to be an important factor in attracting recruits into these groups and land polices which expropriated land from the peasants which exacerbated the problem.


FARC: Organized in 1966 where the communist party had organized communities during the 40s and 50s. These communities later became independent republicsand communities where the government had little or no control . Its formation was a response to harsh labor conditions that was forced on peasants during the 1920and 30s by coffee plantation owners. During the 1940s and 50s it was largely seen as self-defense force whose task was to defend the rights of peasants and workers. FARC leadership is made up of those who were once members of the communist party, this includes the current leader (Manuel Marulanda Velez). Initially efforts revolved around legitimate means, of gaining power, but when the government began counterinsurgency operations, they formed an armed military movement. They began to become involved in the drug trade when farmers were needed to find a profitable crop to grow as traditional crops were largely unprofitable. Yet the FARC does not appear to be involved in drug trafficking per se. Instead, it extracts taxesfrom the drug industry in areas where it has control and uses those proceeds to fund its movement.


ELN: Organized in 1965. Leader involved in Student Workers Peasants movement (MOEC) the militants desired to bring about an armed struggle. In the Mid-1980s they began kidnapping executives, engineers of major petroleum companies. They also were involved in acts of sabotage and extortion. The ELN tapped into the same peasant discontent that was exploited by the FARC. It also was formed on communist principles.


What do the Rebels want?


The FARC main points for negotiating in peace talks are:


1.        Far reaching economic and political reform of a socialist nature.

2.        A political solution to the countries internal problems.

3.        Reorganization of various state institutions i.e., legislature, courts and the attorney generals office to allow for democratic representation in all areas of Colombia.

4.        State investment in strategic areas of the nations industry. Substantial increase in social spending.

5.        Agrarian Reform

6.        Reorganization of the security forces. Revision of military doctrine to reform it to defending the nations borders rather than internal policing/repression. Separation of police from military.

7.        Review of military treaties and international relations and renegotiation of foreign debt.

8.        Renegotiation of contracts with industries involved in the extraction of natural resources (Gas, Coal, Gold, minerals, etc).


Human Rights


There is much concern for the deterioration of the human rights condition in Colombia.  At least some of the US assistance in the past is suspected to have ended up in the hands of government forces responsible for gross violations of human rights. However, combatants are committing atrocities and all sides share some the blame. But these politically motivated killings have steadily risen over the past few years. However the paramilitaries, which receive support from the government, seem to be involved in some of the more egregious violations. However these activities should be viewed in light of a 30 year armed conflict that has taken many lives. Here is a list of the many of the types of human rights violations:


Murders and Coercion

Committed by the guerillas, include attacks on ambulances and hospitals attacks on officials and the use of land mines.



Committed by the guerillas about 66% of the times - leaders, jurists, journalists and businessmen are all targets


Child Recruitment.

Conscription of Children is a tactic used by the guerillas. Some children may join by choice but many are conscripted.


Killings and Torture

Committed by the paramilitaries. Summary executions and disappearances. Teachers, labor leaders, community activists, law enforcement, including jurists and  local officials are all targets. Used both as a tool of intimidation and as a way to extract revenue.



Burning villages is a way to move inhabitants out of an area and a method of intimidation. Moving people out of the area is a way to deprive the guerillas of any support they could receive from the local population.


Paramilitary Groups are responsible for many of the same violations as the guerillas there is a strong relationship between the paramilitaries and the police. This support includes the sharing of intelligence information, collusion in drawing up death listsand at times joint operations.




The Colombian nation is in crisis. It has been brewing for many years and the situation needs to be brought under control or the nation could conceivable disintegrate or its effects could spill into neighboring countries and cause serious problems for regional governments. The continuance of violence, financed with drug money is tragedy that could too easily embroil the region in proxy wars. And as the US experience has shown to date, America has no effective response to this tragic phenomenon.(Copyright 2000 Mark S. Watson)



Terrorist Group Profile

War on Drugs (Great Links)

FARC and the Illicit Drug Trade - Transnational Institute (NL)