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Institutionalizing global wars: state transformations in Colombia, 1978-2002: Colombian policy directed at its wars, paradoxically, narrows the government's margin of maneuver even as it tries to expand it.

Colombia has been waging two interrelated but distinct wars since the late 1970s: its civil conflict and the war on drugs. On both accounts it is difficult to tell internal from external factors, but the distinction is important. (1) In Colombia, where democracy has coexisted with war for at least two decades, it is crucial to know if global variables have been instrumental in the persistence of democracy, or if, on the contrary, they have drained democratic resources. And then, in one case or another, how have they done it?

This set of what and how questions has three possible answers. First, the torch of contemporary democracy may be in the hands of cosmopolitan communities that oppose reactionary nationalist forces. So politically, globalization is synonymous with democracy. This is part of Kaldor's "new wars" thesis, which in turn has its antecedents in previous waves of globalization. (2) Constant, for one, believed that commerce and the universalization of rights and tolerance would begin an era of peace that only primitive nationalists would reject. (3) Second, global actors may hinder development, or promote self-serving policies that destroy, or severely undermine, democracy. Several works have strongly made this case regarding economic globalization or the war on drugs. (4) They argue that it is not strictly the objectives that may be wrong, but the unintended consequences might be so large and so negative that they call into question the entire enterprise. Third, global actors may promote democracy only to have national actors appropriate it in unexpected ways. Robert Friman has argued that when national policy makers confront great external pressure and have only a narrow margin in which to maneuver, they may resort to deception, appearing to agree to international demands while in fact serving national--or their own--interests. (5) However, by doing so they might engage in a process in which they progress from opposition to simulation, then to imitation and finally to internalization. The canonical example of this is "human rights diplomacy," and certainly part of the Colombian government's reaction to the international human rights community fits into this model.

These perspectives can co-exist, since each of them might simply be highlighting particular aspects of the very complex relationship between internal conflict and external factors affecting it. However, in each case we are essentially examining only whether global forces are promoting or undermining democracy. It is possible to take another stance altogether. Instead of wondering about the sign and quantum of democracy contributed by global forces--positive or negative, large or small--we can ask about the changes in the nature and structure of the state and the political regime when it faces war and must incorporate new stakeholders while possibly losing old ones. It is this set of chemical changes in the nature of the state and the regime that will be the focus of this paper.

I will confine myself to the role of the United States government in setting policies and fostering institutional innovations related to both Colombian wars, the one on drugs and the one against guerrillas. The U.S. role has two aspects. On one hand, it defends democracy. Were it not for U.S. pressure, it is doubtful that the Colombian military would have tried to combat the paramilitary groups that, in collusion with the army, were committing atrocities against civilians. Figures show that it was only after pressure became intolerable, in the midst of a serious Colombia-U.S. conflict, that the paramilitary started to be harassed. (6) In the war on drugs, the U.S. has combated the penetration of organized crime into politics, a noxious phenomenon for any democracy. (7) On the other hand, it has severely distorted some basic democratic mechanisms, abducting them from public deliberation and creating reserved domains that are not only undemocratic, but also allow the growth of authoritarian tendencies within the state, as in the aerial fumigation of illicit crops. So here we have a case of defense and deformation, leading to a rather simple hypothesis. While trying to defend simultaneously its war agendas and basic democratic institutions and procedures in Colombia, U.S. government activity was a catalyst for two fundamental changes in the Colombian polity: a radical increase in the thickness, the opacity and the inconsistency of the state; and the substitution of party pluralism for agency pluralism. By thickness and opacity, I mean the proliferation of agencies with juxtaposed and possibly contradictory mandates that lack both mechanisms for accountability and a clear line of command. Agency pluralism refers to the competition between different state agencies with at least partially contradictory objectives over issues abducted from public deliberation. How has this happened? Through a "paradoxical loop": Both U.S. and Colombian policy makers make decisions to address specific challenges related to global wars, sometimes preventing catastrophic outcomes. The solutions, however, do not completely solve the original problem, but create new ones. Each run of the loop produces a more complicated landscape, higher levels of intervention and the juxtaposition of old and new problems--making the situation more complex while simultaneously limiting the power of the state to act.


The Colombian Wars

Colombia experienced a bloody civil war from 1948 until the mid 1950s. A subsequent pact, the National Front, which lasted from 1958 to 1974, calmed political passions at the cost of political stagnation, but it was relatively successful in maintaining basic democratic institutions and peace. Colombia has had revolutionary guerrillas since at least 1964: the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), the Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional (ELN), the Ejercito Popular de Liberacion (EPL) and other minor groups. However, they waged what Broderick called an "imaginary war." (8) The official story of forty years of uninterrupted armed conflict, supported by both governments and guerrillas, is difficult to accept in the face of evidence. Fighting was scarce and there was a very small number of guerrillas--in 1978, today's main organization, the FARC, had at most 500 soldiers--and they prowled the most isolated areas of the country. By quantitative criteria, Colombia's war officially began by 1983 or 1984, though guerrillas posed a political threat to the government by the late 1970s, when a group known as the M-19 passed to the center stage of public debate. Popular dissatisfaction was growing, and the country was evidently--speaking with retrospective wisdom--in a process of heating up. By then, drug trafficking had become a key problem for Colombian society. Two booms, first marijuana, then cocaine and poppy, gave rise to huge fortunes that soon penetrated the realms of war and politics. Colombian traffickers were at first only processors and middlemen; but by the late 1980s Colombia became an important producer. Today, it is the world's largest coca grower, though aerial fumigation may change that.

The narcotics economy and the growth of conflict became tangled early on. By 1978, the FARC had already assumed control over illegal crops, (9) and its giddy growth--at present it numbers 20,000 members--cannot be separated from its ability to extract rent from illegal markets. However, at the same time narcotics and the conflict are distinct, and there are many differences between guerrillas and traffickers. Some guerrilla leaders were sympathetic to traffickers and their nationalist leanings, but often there have been ferocious confrontation between them. The structures, operations, objectives and timing of organized crime are different from those of political subversion. In the first case they are fundamentally urban, small, segmental and networked, keen on short-term results and economically driven. In the second case they are rural, large and highly bureaucratic, focused on protracted warfare and ideologically driven. Guerrilla expansion has been constant, while organized crime appears to have peaked more or less between 1984 and 1996. While not a main player, it was a very significant force. For example, to finance their war, guerrillas extract revenue from trafficking, taxing crops and sales, but have no explicit or apparently implicit collusion with organized crime in their opposition to the state. This can be tested empirically. Since sectors of trafficking have, at times, declared war on the state, it is easy to check if their armed efforts or peace negotiations have coincided with those of the guerrillas. The answer is no. (10) Using the famous and flawed dichotomy of "greed and grievance," Colombia's subversive war is both greedy and angry; the guerrillas are deeply involved in criminal economies, but simultaneously try to advance their own political objectives. They combine "small motivations and big opportunities," the latter being illegal global markets, and the former stemming from the decay of peasant economies. (11)

Government Responses

The administration of Julio Cesar Turbay Ayala (1978-1982) reacted to the challenges of trafficking and subversion in a varied manner. While his answer to the guerrillas was heavy-handed, his anti-drug and anti-corruption record was moot. His defensive reply to international human rights critics received strong U.S. support, but probably under discreet U.S. pressure (12) he adopted several anti-drug policies, among them an extradition treaty in 1979 that would become a key weapon against traffickers. The intensity of the wars, however, grew ceaselessly, and in 1982 a dovish president, Belisario Betancur, was elected. Betancur sought a peace agreement with the guerrillas, and due to his mildly nationalist stance was rather resistant to using the extradition treaty that his predecessor put in place. (13)

Betancur's peace efforts advanced in the midst of interminable difficulties and opposition. The first problem, as discussed above, was that the guerrillas and the narcotics economy were linked. A few important guerrilla leaders were discovering that traffickers, due to their fight against the extradition treaty, could be nationalist allies. Second, the army took an overtly hawkish stance, clearly opposed to the president. This tension caused the resignation of the minister of defense, General Landazabal. However, his successor Matamoros, though less talkative than Landazabal, held the same views. Third, in more remote regions of the country, and partly in response to the government's peace policy, paramilitary bands funded by traffickers were starting to develop a "dirty war" against the guerrillas, the population that supposedly supported them, and the political left. (14)

The U.S. attitude toward Betancur's peace efforts and his reluctance to extradite was at best tepid, but the deterioration of the relation between government and guerrillas, the dramatic weakening of Betancur, and the terrorist attacks on the state by traffickers and guerrillas completely changed the situation. After the killing of Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla by traffickers in 1984, Betancur began extraditing. By the end of his term, the illusion of coming to a peace agreement with the guerrillas was dead.

The Virgilio Barco administration (1986-1990) that followed embarked on a full-fledged war against the flourishing Medellin cartel. In the meantime, however, it suffered serious penetration from the Cali cartel, that was, according to intellectuals and officials, "narcotrafficker but not narcoterrorist." (15) An important sector of the political class was on the payroll of the cartels, or had a relation with them verging on complicity. This triggered all the alarms in the U.S. government. Pressures on the Barco administration mounted, (16) while Colombia protested the lack of U.S. reciprocity on two accounts: poor results dealing with its own drug problem--Colombia was the world's largest cocaine producer, but the U.S. was its main consumer--and the closure of legal economic alternatives for Colombia. (17)

Drug war tensions were paralleled by an agreement about how to deal with subversion. Barco claimed that Betancur had erred by offering the guerrillas excessively generous conditions, and developed a firmer stance: Conversations would depend on the readiness of the guerrillas to give up their arms. (18) This allowed him to strike peace agreements with some groups, but the FARC and ELN remained recalcitrant. In the meantime, ominous developments were taking place within the state: the growth of the paramilitary groups, which then-government minister Cesar Gaviria Trujillo had denounced, and the generalized infiltration of organized crime in politics. The huge inroads that the Cali cartel had made in the police were complemented by the more or less open complicity between paramilitaries and the army in the field, despite some governmental efforts to turn the tide. The preoccupation of United States officials and members of Congress preoccupation with this set of problems intensified.

In 1990, after the assassination of the main candidate, Luis Carlos Galan, by drug traffickers, Cesar Gaviria was elected president. Galan had been a hardliner regarding organized crime, but Gaviria, supposedly his political heir, was more open to negotiations. (19) He was only reflecting Colombian public opinion on the war on drugs. Barco had waged war to the bitter end, with back-patting from the U.S., but Colombians had paid prohibitive costs and were simply fed up. Asked in an opinion poll about how large the concessions given to the narcos to reach a peace agreement could be, 85 percent of the respondents declared themselves ready to give them a ministry in government. (20)

Taking into account international constraints and voters' perceptions, Gaviria rebuked both negotiations and a full-fledged war, trying instead to adapt the judicial system to satisfy some of the Medellin cartel's major demands. (21) Additionally, the Constitutional Assembly that Barco and he had summoned--and whose task was to modernize the Colombian state--decided to suspend the extradition treaty of 1979. The U.S. swallowed this bitter pill with equanimity, in part because by then Gaviria was promoting a process of liberal modernization, (22) and in part because the strategy of inconsiderate pressures on a close ally like Barco had been counterproductive. However, Gaviria still confronted at least two possible institutional sources of friction with the U.S.. The Fiscalia (General Prosecution) created by the new constitution rapidly became a paragon of law enforcement. But at the end of Gaviria's administration, the prosecutor, Gustavo De Greiff, declared his opposition to the war on drugs on the grounds that it was lost, and that Colombia was taking the worst of it. Thus, he initiated what in practice meant peace talks with the Cali cartel. This incensed U.S. officials enormously. Meanwhile, the newly created Constitutional Court decided to legalize carrying a small amount of illicit substances without being jailed. In both cases, the Colombian government promoted campaigns of moral panic, combating the Fiscalia and the Constitutional Court to show its good faith in the war on drugs.

Regarding guerrillas, Gaviria tried yet another round of negotiations that failed miserably. Total war ensued, and Gaviria and his defense minister claimed that the guerrillas had lost their original ideals and acted as common criminals. Gaviria pressed for the institutionalization of human rights that had begun with his predecessor, but massive and severe violations of human rights continued. Part of the failure of Gaviria's human rights policy stemmed from his poor results with the paramilitaries. The record was bleak--not a single paramilitary casualty, total impunity to people involved in massacres--and Gaviria was unable to disentangle the armed forces and police from their thick web of relations with them. The administration of Ernesto Samper Pizano (1994-1998) was a major departure from those who had gone before. Samper received five million dollars from traffickers in his presidential campaign, and had no redeeming virtue: he was tepid towards economic liberalism and prone to nationalist rhetoric. Meanwhile, the fall of the Berlin Wall removed a fundamental constraint on U.S. policy makers. During the Cold War the leftist guerrillas posed a credible threat on the regime--however small the real probability of a takeover--after it, they were only a nuisance. This allowed the U.S. to focus all of its attention on the issue of drugs.

The U.S. implemented three new tactics towards the Samper government. Its ambassador in Bogota intervened openly in Colombian public affairs, criticizing the government and putting permanent pressure on it, acting in practice as the spokesperson for an opposition party. An unprecedented escalation of Colombia-U.S. tensions followed that included the humiliating removal of Samper's U.S. visa along with those of a score of high officials, some of them accused of human rights offenses. The U.S. also activated a certification mechanism that had been created in 1986 and enforced in 1988 on the grounds of the "threat to national security" that trafficking posed on the U.S. (23) It included human rights provisos by which units of the army that incurred human rights violations were disqualified from receiving U.S. funds. However, the probability of using the mechanism rose qualitatively under Samper, so the threat of economic sanctions seemed very real, and cast a shadow over the Colombian economy. (24) Finally, though Samper was elected as an enthusiast of peace, military resistance and guerrilla aloofness soon broke his resolve, and his escalation of the war involved very serious human rights violations. United States officials were outspoken in their criticism and denunciations.

The two main fronts of attack for the U.S. government were thus drugs and human rights. The Colombian government answered by trying to show spectacular results against the Cali cartel, which by then had become the main source of problems, and by 1995 it could already claim to have captured the cartel's major leaders. In other domains, however, progress was more sluggish. Nonetheless, some aspects of the human rights record started to improve, however mildly. It was in this period of intense pressure, and of a conscious effort by the Colombian government to "do its homework" and save its skin, that we find the first captures and casualties of paramilitaries, to their great consternation. The U.S. also demanded a set of institutional reforms, such as changes in the penal code and the police, abolition of Article 35 of the 1991 constitution, which banned extradition, and enforcement of severe laws against money laundering. In some domains, especially the extradition issue, Samper tried in vain to present a front of passive resistance, simply covering the issue with a veil of silence. When this rather naive behavior failed, the constitutional reform of Article 35 was finally approved, although not retroactively, as the most heated partisans of extradition proposed. This gave the U.S. the tool it wanted, but blocked the possibility of extraditing the Call cartel leaders, who had committed their crimes before the constitutional reform.

Meanwhile, Samper's domestic front was falling to pieces. The public was disillusioned by the blatant corruption of politicians and the army was publicly distancing itself from the president, while friends of Samper within the military were suspected of shady businesses and entrepreneurs were declaring their open opposition to the administration. (25) Political polarization was becoming more acute. In this already heated context, the American ambassador declared he had been approached by persons interested in knowing what the U.S. thought of a military coup. The ambassador expressed the negative stance of his government towards a coup, and the initiative was put on file. (26)

During the Samper administration, though, the heads of the Cali cartel were jailed, and their influence in the state shrank. How could the Cali cartel be punished by a government with so many links to organized crime? On the one hand, Samper needed the heads of the cartel to save his skin. On the other hand, the U.S. developed privileged relationships with several Colombian law enforcement agencies, particularly the police. The Colombian police had become exceedingly corrupt; in Cali, the most of it was on the cartel's payroll. At the same time, it was more permeable to all external forces than the army. The complex police reform that started during Gaviria was continued by Samper, and according to independent accounts it produced limited but real progresses. (27) Dozens of corrupt officers were expelled. (28) The human rights record improved, though in the context of very low standards to begin with. The reformed police force was given to Rosso Jose Serrano, who directly answered to the United States. Serrano was the icon of the police reform, which involved further progresses in human rights, measures against trafficking and the quest for improved efficiency. Another key actor in the shaping of U.S. policy was the Fiscalia. (29) A legalism allowed the shortening of De Greiff's term. Alfonso Valdivieso, who opened the Proceso 8000 and jailed dozens of corrupt politicians, replaced him. Of course, the situation was completely different than Serrano's because Valdivieso was in the judicial branch, and thus independent from Samper. But even within the government some ministers were moving away from the president.

Samper tried to contain and respond to all the pressures placed upon him, which according to him was what allowed him to remain in power. At the same time, this very behavior made him untrustworthy to everybody. The end of his administration, and of the poisonous atmosphere that characterized it, was received by almost everyone with a sigh of relief.

The new president, Andres Pastrana Arango, combined strong pro-U.S. and pro-peace feelings. He stated that Colombia needed a Marshall Plan to escape the quagmire of civil war--this was the origin of Plan Colombia--and he tried to shift attention from trafficking to the political war, "de-narcotizing" Colombia-U.S. relations and internationalizing peace-making all at the same time. Contrary to Betancur's policies, a key part of Pastrana's peace machinery was the use of international actors as negotiators and funders. Plan Colombia dominated both the drug and anti-subversive agendas, but failed to denarcotize U.S.-Colombia relations or solve human rights problems, as we shall see further on. The lack of results in the peace process, and the events of September 11th, opened the doors to a new wave of war without mercy.

Peace talks broke down because of the guerrilla's disinterest in them, but U.S. officials did not conceal their happiness. The president elected in 2002, Alvaro Uribe Velez, is a partisan of the internationalization of war and the last run of the paradoxical loop. Uribe initiated highly secretive peace negotiations with paramilitaries by practically guaranteeing impunity. Given the deep involvement of the paramilitaries in the drug economy, and their long record of atrocities, this was indeed a polemical move. The U.S. answered by demanding the extradition of paramilitary leaders, first as narcotraffickers, then as terrorists. This has somewhat tempered the enthusiasm of the Uribe administration, although it has not stopped the process. (30) Presently, the peace process with the paramilitaries is advancing. Though the United States recognized openly that it has improved conversations with the paramilitary, it continues to demand the extradition of its main leaders, which has a become a serious bottleneck for the Colombian government. Human rights pressure has also been brought to bear, for example, by asking for unbiased judgment of the military officials accused of bombing civilians and children in the 1995 Santo Domingo event. Yet, at the moment, the war on terrorism offers the conditions for a very good working relationship, with a full alignment of the Colombian government to the U.S. policy. Uribe in many regards, eerily resembles Turbay as they both initiated a war designed mainly in the U.S. but fought in Colombia, against drugs in the case of Turbay, and against terrorism in the case of Uribe. But the current levels of intervention, and the scale of problems, are much larger than before.


The War on Drugs

The first bureaucratic implementation of the war on drugs was the creation of the Consejo Nacional de Estupefacientes (National Council of Narcotics, CNE by its Spanish acronym) in 1974. Law 30 came about in 1986, known also as the Narcotics Statute; it enlarged and strengthened the CNE, and remains valid. In 1990, Decree 42 of 1990 created the Direccion Nacional de Estupefacientes (DNE). The composition of the CNE reflected its great bureaucratic weight: it included five ministries, a presidential department, the national director of the police, the general attorney and the director of a special program against narcotics consumption. (31) The CNE is the highest authority regarding control, prevention and repression of narcotics. Its proceedings are classified and can only be known by the president. Besides setting general policy, its functions include the destruction of illicit crops and the seizure of property from traffickers. However, Law 30 also created the Comite Tecnico Asesor de Prevencion de la Farmacodependencia (CTAPF), which has similar responsibilities at a vice-ministerial level. Both overlap with the ministry of agriculture.

The DNE, a special administrative unit of the Ministry of Justice, is the executive muscle of the CNE. (32) Though its director is an agent of the president, he gets the same salary as a minister (Decree 2271 of 1991), and though he is part of the hierarchy of the Ministry of Justice, he receives his instructions directly from the CNE, to which he answers.

Then comes the Antinarcotics Police (Policia Antinarcoticos, PA). The PA has existed since the early 1980s, but the police reform created a gaudy anti-drug bureaucratic structure. According to official figures, the Colombian government pays PA salaries, but its investment budget comes mainly from U.S. sources. (33) Thus, it also answers to U.S. constituencies. At the same time, corruption problems--easily predictable, given the nature of the activity--can create delicate problems in Colombia-U.S. relations. In 2001 and 2002, a major embezzlement scandal exploded, implying yet another adjustment in the top management of the police.

Plan Colombia added brand new creatures to this already baroque design. The organization behind Plan Colombia is a managing director assigned to the presidency (Consejeria Presidencial), and includes the National Department of Planning (DNP), and the Investment Fund for Peace (FIP). The managing director answers only to the presidency, and has so wide an array of attributions that in practice he can meddle in every single affair of the country (Decreto 127 de 2001). FIP, in turn, is managed by a council chosen by the president, and funds both old and new initiatives. (34) The bureaucratic fertility of the war on drugs has involved some agencies and spared others. For example, Plan Colombia as well as other measures and agencies not covered in this paper has clearly pushed the army towards an anti-narcotics agenda, creating a special task force dedicated to combating illicit crops. But the Environment Ministry does not have a seat in the DNE; the handling and management of the environment in illicit crops zones is devised and developed by DNE. (35)

The crucial importance of this is that aerial fumigation is one of the most contentious issues of the anti-narcotics policy of the Colombian state. The U.S. promoted it cautiously under Turbay's administration; (36) and the Betancur government implemented it only after the assassination of the minister of justice by traffickers. (37) The chemicals used in fumigation are prohibited in the U.S. and other developed countries, and there have been large peasant mobilizations, some with guerrilla involvement, against the practice. In some cases, as in the Pastrana administration, the official discourse pledged for social investment and negotiated substitution, but fumigation nonetheless continued despite (documented cases in which government and peasants agreed to destroy crops by hand. (38) No wonder even the institutions involved are concerned by their lack of coordination. (39)

Then there is the extradition treaty. Betancur, the first president that had to decide what to do with the treaty, at first opposed its implementation, but yielded later--touching off a brutal series of attacks and threats by traffickers. (40) The executive branch was unable to protect judges and magistrates from assassination. To defend the judiciary and prevent further killings, the Supreme Court twice found that the law implementing the treaty was unconstitutional. (41) To add insult to injury, another high court, the Consejo de Estado, (42) declared against the pleas of the president that though the extradition treaty with the U.S. remained valid, it required the approval of the Congress. (43)

But the Congress was reluctant to act in accord with the president and the United States. Many important members of Congress were on the payroll of the cartels, while others were threatened by them. The left and center-left had qualms regarding the loss of sovereignty that the treaty involved. For some members of Congress, all three motives met. (44) In 1989, the lower house put the question of the continuity of the extradition treaty to referendum. There is little doubt that at that moment the Colombians would have voted overwhelmingly against it, and the lower house vote produced an uproar among the "respectable" part of the Colombian establishment. Though the Senate reversed the vote, the president decided that Congress was untrustworthy, and through a cunning juridical formalism summoned his constitutional assembly, short-circuiting the congress. Using Decree 1860 of 1989, Barco tried to free the executive from the supervision of the judiciary, establishing that the president did not require the approval of the Supreme Court to extradite.

These conflicts between the public powers proliferated in the 1990s. Gaviria in practice made a peace agreement with traffickers, adapting some aspects of the penal code to their demands (Decree 2047 of 1990 and further legal provisions), and accepted the banning of extradition by the Constitutional Assembly Perhaps in his heart, he was happy about this, but afterward he knew he had no more room to negotiate on the war on drugs. Thus, when the Constitutional Court decided that Colombian citizens could carry a small amount of narcotics without being jailed ("dosis personal"), he campaigned vigorously against the court, ostensibly to appease the United States.

The Samper government yielded to U.S. pressure regarding extradition. It was known that the government was divided between "decent" figures like the minister of justice--who favored extradition and was trusted by the U.S.--and others less likable figures. After the reform of Article 35, no important political force manifested any kind of criticism to the extradition treaty: narco-opposition, and also political opposition, practically disappeared. Agency pluralism developed further. As other police directors were suspect of relations with organized crime, the new police director, Serrano, was chosen through direct U.S. pressure. Serrano acted as a U.S. man, and frequently short-circuited higher authorities. In practice, he appeared independent from his theoretical superiors, the president and the army (many of whose generals were suspected of links to drug running and serious human rights violations), bringing army-police relations to a new low. Pastrana suppressed Serrano, but introduced new elements of incoherence to Plan Colombia.

The Uribe administration, over time, has begun to suffer the unintended consequences of previous state transformations. Under the legislation of the Gaviria administration, heads of organized crime, if they confessed and behaved well, could receive a mild sentence. The figurehead of the Cali cartel, Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela, was captured in 1995, but set free by a judge in early 2003. This created a worldwide scandal, and the minister of interior and justice denounced the judge who made the decision, painting him as a cartel man. The accusations were untrue: the judge had no other alternative under the law other than to release Rodriguez. Another high court, Consejo Superior de la Judicatura, created by the 1991 constitution, demanded that the minister withdraw his accusations, which he refused to do. Meanwhile, Uribe seeks to toughen drug-carrying laws through constitutional referendum.

The war on drugs has created a proliferation of agencies, the rupture of the line of command within the state, reserved domains, weakened accountability and strong tensions between the public powers. A division of labor has appeared, with the executive defending "decent" pro-U.S. positions, while the other powers behave in a more unpredictable fashion. (45) Political pluralism is damaged by conflict between the public powers, and democracy has shrunk: There are many decisions in which vitally concerned agencies cannot participate, let alone Colombian voters and affected citizens. (46)

The Political War

Between 1958 and 1974, Colombian governance was regulated by the National Front, which ensured the subordination of the military to civilians. Though the country remained in a semi-permanent state of emergency, the armed forces were effectively withdrawn from participation in politics. Even after the termination of the National Front, Alfonso Lopez Michelsen, president from 1974 to 1978, was able to dismiss the minister of defense for being too outspoken. With the beginning of the actual war, however, the military began to gain autonomy. The Turbay administration was a classic Cold War scenario in which the Colombian establishment and the U.S. formed a tight coalition that supported repressive measures. Turbay introduced new legislation--the so-called Estatuto de Seguridad, Decree 1923 of 1978--and gave wide de facto powers to his minister of defense, General Camacho Leyva. There were many human rights abuses, but the president dismissed them as communist propaganda. (47)

Even under Turbay, however, the military was formally subordinated to civilians. With Betancur this began to change. Betancur's peace effort was framed in a larger general thrust towards national autonomy. Betancur entered the non-aligned movement, founded the Contadora group that promoted autonomous peace talks in Central America against the will of the U.S., and criticized some U.S. policies. This ideological and national distance created tensions for Betancur's policies, and the friction between him and the U.S. was the window of opportunity that allowed the military to manifest its open opposition to the president. This cost Betancur's first defense minister his head, metaphorically, but his successor, General Victor Matamoros, kept harassing the government. In 1984, a large cocaine laboratory supposedly watched over by the FARC was destroyed. (48) The moment was very delicate, as a peace agreement between FARC and the government was finally becoming feasible. General Matamoros used it gleefully: "The narcoguerrilla," he declared, "is a new threat for democracy, and if we do not act fast and energetically, we will jeopardize our democratic and constitutional system." United States Ambassador Lewis Tambs echoed Matamoros' declaration. (49) In November 1985, M-19 guerrillas broke into the Palace of Justice, and the president, who wanted to negotiate, was energetically separated from the decision-making process by the military, who imposed a violent solution. If a coup is a knock-out, this was a technical equivalent of a knock-down. In his last year, the weakened president had no clout to develop his peace initiative. The nationalization of peace had failed.

In the meantime, the paramilitaries were thriving. The Turbay government had called for the combat against "armed and unarmed subversion," and with the entry of narcotraffickers into the political war, new methods were being used against both the guerrilla and the legal opposition, especially the party that resulted from the Betancur peace accords. Very early on the military was intimately linked with the paramilitary networks, and any concerns about human rights violations were overridden by the focus on narcoterrorism. (50) Barco embarked on a broad plan of reorganization of justice, including broadened powers to the military judiciary, a reduction of the rights of the defendants, and a limitation of the rights of labor to strike (Decree 1196 of 1987, Decree 182 of 1988, Decree 474 of 1988, and Decree 2200 of 1988). (51)

Gaviria started a vigorous modernization process to narrow military autonomy. He appointed a civilian as minister of defense, an important innovation, and began reforming the police, creating an ombudsman for it. (52) To calm down the military, however, he raised their salaries and let them operate freely in the field. The cost of the institutional innovations was too high to try their patience any further. Also, in the midst of his "total war" ("guerra integral"), he denounced the guerrillas as common criminals, giving no incentive to look after humanitarian concerns.

Only under Samper did the human rights agenda return to center stage. Concrete denunciations appeared: "In the 20th Brigada there were death squadron activities," declared the U.S. ambassador in Bogota. "This is a serious concern that probably will surface again [at the end of the year]." (53) In 1996, the Leahy amendment was approved, imposing further human rights conditions on military units that used U.S. anti-narcotics aid. (54) All this related to the certification process and thus to credible threats to the Colombian government. But the U.S. consistently distanced itself from the official position of the Colombian government that stated that FARC and ELN were narcoguerrillas, intent only on criminal and terrorist activities. In this context, some Colombian civilians and military personnel tried to advance a nationalization of war to escape U.S. human rights pressures.

Barco, Gaviria and Samper had suffered the internationalization of the war on drugs, and Betancur had not been able to nationalize peace-making. Pastrana thought that the internationalization of peace was the adequate formula. United States officials congratulated Pastrana, and replied to his peace initiatives with cautious optimism, audacious as they were (they included giving an initial guarantee of a demilitarized territory of 40,000 kilometers; in practice, the territory fell under the administration of the FARC). Evidence indicates that the U.S. seriously contemplated acting as a peacemaker until three American human rights defenders were assassinated by the FARC. This, plus the growing sensation that the guerrillas were not interested in a peace arrangement, caused the U.S. to withdraw from direct participation in the peace conversations. The U.S. presence was thus channeled through Plan Colombia and its focus on drugs.

From the first grandiose idea of a new version of the Marshall Plan to its actual realization, Plan Colombia has been subject to severe transformations. First, it was downsized, and though presently Colombia is estimated to be the third-largest receiver of U.S. aid in the world after Israel and Egypt, (55) the Plan did not contemplate the large-scale social investment that Pastrana anticipated. There was also an obvious tension between the main goal of the Colombian government--political peace--and the United States' goal of winning the war on drugs. A way to bridge the gap was to declare that guerrillas were like traffickers, and this was the discourse that surfaced when the initial enthusiasm for peace started to wane. (56) But this was only verbal. For the aid flowing to the Colombian military had restrictions, one of them being that hardware and funds given to combat trafficking could not be used against guerrillas. (57)

Pastrana was a staunch and sincere defender of a negotiated settlement with the FARC, but at the same time was basically uninterested in human rights. The army's semi-permanent opposition to peace further complicated the plan's implementation. Pastrana solved his political problem with the army in a typical fashion: he gave free rein to the military in the human rights domain to win time and latitude for peace. Very soon, Pastrana was asking the U.S. for more help in relaxing human rights conditions. "We still have several problems," he declared in his inimitable style, "but I do not believe it is good for the aid to put all class of conditions on it." (58) President Clinton agreed and waived the conditions. (59) Neither the reform of the army, a cherished U.S. program, nor substantial progress in the field was achieved.

The end of Pastrana's term, which coincided with the beginning of George W. Bush's, saw the rise of contentious issues. Rather than an internationalization of peace, Plan Colombia, transformed in Bush's Andean Initiative, would soon turn out to be another wave of internationalization of the war on drugs. Second, the obvious wearing out of Pastrana's peace process created discomfort among U.S. officials, especially after September 11th. The Colombian peace process survived it by only a couple of months, although the reasons it failed are basically domestic. Once again, the issue of extradition arose, as some Colombian congress members suggested that it could be used against insurgents. They received no support, but it was clear that a door had been opened. By the end of the Pastrana administration, the U.S. was asking Colombia to extradite FARC leaders on the grounds that they were involved in trafficking. (60) This meant a new and major obstruction to peace making.

Uribe is an advocate of the internationalization of war. He has suggested that the United Nations intervene in Colombia, and recently claimed that the Colombian conflict is a more serious terrorist threat than Iraq. The government has promised efficiency in the war on drugs and an end to dovish whims with the guerrillas; apparently, it is seeing results in some areas. But clearly the major shift came this time from the U.S. itself: with its new global war, this time on terrorism, the Bush administration offered the Colombian government three basic motives: first, to flame the Colombian conflict in terms of the war on terrorism, demanding more funds and privileged treatment (today, both governments are deeply convinced that they are dealing with "narcoterrorists"); second, to ask for a further relaxation of human rights standards to more easily confront the terrorist threat; and third, though in a rather oblique manner, to invite deeper intervention. Thus, the conflict is used to suggest that guerrillas threaten vital U.S. interests. As in the case of Betancur, the Uribe policy is part of a greater design, only symmetrically inverse: a complete alignment with the U.S. that includes a declaration of support to the war on Iraq, thus setting a policy trajectory from the nationalization of peace to the internationalization of war.

The political war gave the military the motives and the means for increasing its independence from civilians. However, the position of the U.S. was not constant, as the very history of the term "narcoterrorism" illustrates: first, under Betancur, the U.S. ambassador agreed with the defense minister against the president in tagging the guerrillas as narcoterrorists; then, under Samper, he turned against the president and the minister, expressing his skepticism towards the term; finally, all three agreed on it harmoniously. Until recently, human rights experienced a gradual ascension, from the U.S. showing no real interest in human rights, to human rights' growing importance, and later to its arrival as fundamental. In 1998, the Colombian government tried to shelve the issue, but was only partially able to do so. But since Betancur, Colombia's civil governments tried to buy the right to make institutional reforms and peace processes from the military--and, if needed, from the U.S.--by accepting their vital interests and turning a blind eye towards their offences. This fostered the creation and growth of reserved domains, and weakened civilian control of the military. Civil-military relations are quite different now than they were in the late 1970s: the military is much more autonomous and has won the right to protect its preserves.


Both Colombian wars were global from the beginning. (61) But each phase of globalization has perturbed the structure of the state. The role of cosmopolitan forces has been mixed. Naturally, those forces have, even in the most benevolent manifestations of their activism, a power agenda that does not necessarily foster democracy. (62) In Colombia, the institutionalization of global wars is associated with the fragmentation of the state, the creation of reserved domains for the military and other actors, and increasing conflicts between the public powers. (63) On the other hand, global actors have defended democracy from authoritarian and criminal challenges, and put a limit on noxious trends and forces within the state. War generates very powerful authoritarian--or simply murderous--forces, which have been curbed by the presence of global actors. The narrative thus seems to be a story of deforming democracy to defend it.

The ways in which the state has changed deserve closer scrutiny. The wars, and the policies addressing them, which result from the interaction between local and global actors, have had deep effects, clearly the result of adaptive processes. In each run of the paradoxical loop, however, Colombian policy makers have a narrower margin of maneuver, because of past decisions trying to expand or at least maintain it. In each run, as well, they buy time and political resources by admitting de facto realities that would allow them to advance in a given direction, but this limits future decision-making and makes the constraints larger and more contradictory. Agency pluralism does not appear by chance. It is an evolutionary solution to a situation in which decision makers have to address conflicting demands from powerful constituencies.

The story is, of course, much more complicated than the sketch I present here. Other modernization processes affect the war and add to this general landscape of changing stateness, and U.S. agencies also have particular agendas and compete between them. However, this simplified version offers a glimpse of the overall process: Colombia's government in the last two and half decades has witnessed mounting political costs. Many fundamental political decisions have been abducted from democratic deliberation and control. The presence of the U.S. in both wars has at times offered Colombians better levels of protection as human beings, but worsened their situation as citizens.

(1) Words like "intermestic" do not solve the problem. They embellish social scientific slang, but do not offer too many tools for understanding.

(2) Mary Kaldor, "Las nuevas guerras. Violencia organizada en la era global," Tusquets (Barcelona: 2001).

(3) Benjamin Constant, "Ecrits politiques," Gallimard (Paris : 1997).

(4) See Joseph Stiglitz, "El malestar en la globalizacion," Taurus (Bogota: 2002); Arlene Tickner, "Tensiones y contradicciones en los objetivos de la politica exterior estadounidense en Colombia: Consecuencias involuntarias de la politica antinarcoticos de Estados Unidos en un estado debil," Colombia Internaciona1 49/50 (Bogota: CEI, Febrero 2001).

(5) Robert Friman, Narcodiplomacy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996).

(6) It is not as if the Colombian military operated on a two fronts basis. There is still great tolerance towards the paramilitaries. However, "before 1995 practically no member of the paramilitary groups had ever been caught, so progress, though very incomplete, is there.

(7) I must stress that it is not the case that the country was saved by the US from becoming a "narcodemocracy". I have showed in detail why this point of view is indefensible in Francisco Gutierrez, "Organized crime and the political system in Colombia," Draft (2001).

(8) Walter Broderick, "El guerrillero invisible," Intermedio (Bogota: 2000).

(9) Juan Guillermo Ferro and Graciela Uribe, "El orden de la guerra. Las FARC-EP: entre la organizacion y la politica," CEJA (Bogota: 2002).

(10) On the other hand, there have been efforts--recognized publicly by all the involved actors--to achieve peace settlements advanced in common by the paramilitary groups, traffickers, and the Colombia and US governments. See for example Revista Semana, "Conversaciones con la mafia," Revista Semana, 21 April 2003, 22-27

(11) Francisco Gutierrez, "Criminal Rebels? A Discussion of War and Criminality from the Colombian Experience," Working Paper no. 27, Crisis States Program, London School of Economics (London: 2003).

(12) Soon the US would have to cope with the problem of authoritarian governments linked in one way or another with trafficking, for example the Banzer and Garcia Meza regimes in Bolivia and the Stroessner dictatorship in Paraguay See among others, Gregorio Selser, "Bolivia, el cuartelazo de los cocadolares," El dia de Mexico (1982); Jose Luis Simon, "Drug Addiction and Trafficking in Paraguay: An Approach to the Problem during Transition," Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs 34, no. 3 (1992): 155-201.

(13) The treaty allowed but did not force the government to extradite traffickers.

(14) This does not contradict the fact that traffickers, at one time or another, flirted and collaborated with the guerrillas.

(15) This distinction became a semi-official doctrine both in the Barco and in the following Gaviria administration.

(16) El Tiempo, "Uso de fuerza aeronaval no se ha descartado," El Tiempo, 3 January 1990, 6C; El Tiempo, "Protesta de Colombia ante USA" El Tiempo, 3 October 1990, 6B.

(17) Tatiana Matthiesen, "El arte politico de conciliar," Fescol-Cerec-Fedesarrollo (Bogota: 2000).

(18) The official motto was "mano tendida y pulso firme." During Betancur, FARC entered peace negotiations without never stating explicitly that it would abandon its arms in one moment or another.

(19) Tatiana Matthiesen, "El arte politico de conciliar," Fescol-Cerec-Fedesarrollo (Bogota: 2000).

(20) Revista Semana, "Todo tiempo pasado ..." Revista Semana, 24 January 1995, 22-27

(21) Ignacio Gomez and Juan Carlos Giraldo, "El retorno de Pablo Escobar," Editorial Oveja Negra (Bogota: 1992).

(22) Many Latin American liberal modernizers were spared by the US, though their corruption record was rather poor.

(23) Diana Pardo y Cardona Diego, "El procedimiento de la Certificacion y las relaciones entre Colombia y Estados Unidos," Colombia Internacional 29 (Bogota: January-May 1995).

(24) Colombia was certified with qualifications on 1995 and 1996, and de-certified in 1997, but sanctions were never applied.

(25) Revista Semana, "Se enreda la pita," Revista Semana, 10 October 1995, 38-46.

(26) The attempt undoubtedly existed, and involved prestigious figures. At least one of them, Alvaro Gomez Hurtado, was murdered apparently because of his refusal to participate in the coup.

(27) Alvaro Camacho, "La policia colombiana: los recorridos de una reforma," Analisis Politico 41 (2000): 104-124.

(28) Later allegations suggest that high corruption levels remained.

(29) A figure-analogous to the General Prosecution, the Fiscalia was introduced by the 1991 Constitution and obviously inspired in the American legal system. However, it differed from it in some substantial aspects.

(30) On the other hand, a shady figure, Baruch Vega, has claimed several times that the US has maintained for a long time under the table negotiations with the paramilitary. See for example Revista Semana, "Conversaciones con la mafia," Revista Semana, 21 April 2003: 22-27.

(31) The CNE was actually created in 1974, but only by the Narcotics Statute was it given such a high profile. Decree 994 of 1987 added two new ministries to the CNE composition. By Law 2159 of 1992, the CNE was adjusted to reflect the institutional landscape created by the new constitution, and the General Prosecutor was incorporated.

(32) CTAPF has its own committees in the regions.

(33) Luis Eduardo Alvarado, et al., "Comportamiento e impacto del gasto en la lucha contra las drogas 1995-1999" Direccion Nacional de Estupefacientes--Departamento Nacional de Planeacion (February 2001).

(34) For example, the DNE restructured itself with CP funds. Parallel to all this, the president initiated a new entity, "Empresa Colombia" (Enterprise Colombia), associated with but distinct from CP, linked to development and anti-corruption motives, that functioned independently of previous agencies and invaded their jurisdiction.

(35) Ministerio de Justicia y del Derecho y Direccion Nacional de Estupefacientes, "La lucha de colombia contra las drogas ilicitas. Acciones y resultados 2001," (December 2001).

(36) The US government itself was limited by the Percy amendment, which prevented the use of federal resources to promote abroad the use of domestically banned herbicides. Under Reagan's administration the Percy amendment was repealed.

(37) Juan Tokatlian, "Estados Unidos y los cultivos ilicitos en Colombia. Los tragicos equivocos de una fumigacion futil."

(38) Ibid.; El Espectador, "En riesgo pactos contra la coca en Putumayo," El Espectador, 25 November 2001, 8A; El Espectador, "Los vacios en la lucha contra los cultivos ilicitos," El Espectador, 4 January 1998: 9A

(39) Ministerio de Justicia y del Derecho y Direccion Nacional de Estupefacientes, "La lucha de Colombia contra las drogas ilicitas. Acciones y resultados 2001," (December 2001); Plan Nacional de Lucha Contra las Drogas 1998-2002.

(40) To make things worse, the judiciary was the object of a major assault by the M19 guerrilla in 1985.

(41) Tatiana Matthiesen, "El arte politico de conciliar," Fescol-Cerec-Fedesarrollo (Bogota: 2000).

(42) In charge of administrative law.

(43) Pedro Pablo Camargo, "La extradicion en Colombia," Revista de Derecho Penal 1 (Santa fe de Bogota: Grupo Editorial Leyer, June/July 1997).

(44) But they cannot be reduced to a single source of opposition. By the way, the same structure of motivations was observed during the 1991 Constitution. See Francisco" Gutierrez, "Organized crime and the political system in Colombia," Draft (2001).

(45) The same occurs, by the way, in economic affairs.

(46) Maria Clemencia Ramirez, "Entre el Estado y la guerrilla: identidad y ciudadania en el movimiento de los campesinos cocaleros del Putumayo," Icanh-Colciencias (Bogota: 2001).

(47) This included Amnesty International and other world human rights organizations.

(48) It appears that in this particular case the allegations of a FARC connection were false. On the other hand, the involvement of FARC in the illicit crops economy was by then pretty strong.

(49) Some people were so impressed by Tambs's words that they gave him the copyright of the expression. But in fact it belong to Matamoros. The narcoterrorism issue was broadly discussed in the Colombian press; cfr. D Atagnan, "[??]Existe la narcoguerrilla?" El Tiempo, 16 May 1984; Daniel Samper, "Narco-comentarios," El Tiempo, 18 May 1984. All this has its history. In 1977 the country's main daily editorialized on the "strange alliance" between "terrorists" and mafiosi, and asked rhetorically if the mob bosses and the guerrilla leaders were not becoming an "incredible" compound. See El Tiempo "Editorial: mafia y terrorismo en extrana alianza," El Tiempo 17 July 1977.

(50) Carlos Medina Gallego, "Autodefensas, paramilitares y narcotrafico. Origen, desarrollo y consolidacion. El caso 'Puerto Boyaca,'" Documentos Periodisticos (Bogota: 1990).

(51) This decree, limiting the rights of labor in the middle of combat against criminals, is not a Colombian rarity. It seems a natural result of a wave of moral panic. For the Russian case, see Tawnia Sanford, "The Creation of Criminal Russia," Canadian Slavonic Papers 41, no. 3/4 (1999): 391-413.

(52) cfr. Directiva Presidencial, March 1991.

(53) Revista Semana, "Contra la pared," Revista Semana, 17 November 1997, 48.

(54) Of course, there is no more relation than a general atmosphere of tension between the US government strategy and the Leahy amendment, a product of legislative initiative.

(55) Bruce Bagley, "Narcotrafico, violencia politica y politica exterior de Estados Unidos hacia Colombia en los noventa," Colombia Internacional 49/50 (Bogota: CEI, February 2001): 26.

(56) Jineth Bedoya, "Rutas y desafios del narcotrafico," El Espectador, 11 November 2001, 5A; El Espectador, "EU teme a narcodominios," El Espectador, 14 October 2000, 5A.

(57) Michael Evans, "Conditioning Security Assistance: Human Rights, End-Use Monitoring and the Government's Inability to Curb the Paramilitary Threat," in War in Colombia (Washington: George Washington University, 1997).

(58) Tim Golden, "Colombia Asks Congress for Aid Not Tied to Human Rights," New York Times, 26 February 2000.

(59) Human Rights Watch, 2000

(60) Fernando Bustos Alirio, "EU pedira guerrilleros y paras," El Tiempo, 24 October 2001, 1-11; El Tiempo, "Cupula de las Farc a responder por narcotrafico," El Tiempo, 23 October 2002, 1-2.

(61) However, a previous, wave of conflict, La Violencia (1948-1958) was basically local.

(62) Bertrand Badie, "La diplomatie des droits de l'homme." Entre ethique et volonte de puissance (Paris: Fayard, 2002).

(63) This is a simplification, because of the effects I just enumerated are unintended consequences.

Francisco Gutierrez is Professor at the Instituto de Estudios Politicos y Relaciones Internacionales, Universidad Nacional de Colombia. He thanks Cesar Alejandro Chaparro, Adriana Mera and Lariza Pizano for their valuable input. This paper presents research results of the project "Violence, Globalization and War" sponsored by the Crisis States Program of DFID-London School of Economics and Colciencias.
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Title Annotation:Strong and weak states: cases of governance
Author:Gutierrez, Francisco
Publication:Journal of International Affairs
Geographic Code:3COLO
Date:Sep 22, 2003
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