The Colombian conflict began approximately in 1964 or 1966 and is a low-intensity asymmetric war between the Colombian government, paramilitary groups, crime syndicates and left-wing guerrillas such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the National Liberation Army (ELN), fighting each other to increase their influence in Colombian territory. It is historically rooted in the conflict known as La Violencia, which was triggered by the 1948 assassination of populist political leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, and in the aftermath of United States-backed strong anti-communist repression in rural Colombia in the 1960s that led liberal and communist militants to re-organize into FARC.
The reasons for fighting vary from group to group. The FARC and other guerrilla movements claim to be fighting for the rights of the poor in Colombia to protect them from government violence and to provide social justice through communism. The Colombian government claims to be fighting for order and stability, and seeking to protect the rights and interests of its citizens. The paramilitary groups claim to be reacting to perceived threats by guerrilla movements. Both guerrilla and paramilitary groups have been accused of engaging in drug trafficking and terrorism. All of the parties engaged in the conflict have been criticized for numerous human rights violations.
According to a study by Colombia’s National Centre for Historical Memory, 220,000 people have died in the conflict between 1958 and 2013, most of them civilians (177,307 civilians and 40,787 fighters) and more than five million civilians were forced from their homes between 1985 – 2012, generating the world’s second largest population of internally displaced persons (IDPs). 15% of the population in Colombia has been a direct victim of the war. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said that a peace deal by 20 July 2016 would end the conflict if the talks which started in 2012 were successfully concluded. On 23 June 2016, The Colombian government and the Farc rebels have signed a historic ceasefire deal, bringing them closer to ending more than five decades of conflict.
The armed conflict in Colombia is rooted in a combination of causes that are based on the economic, political and social situation in the country 60 years ago. In the early period (1974-1982), guerrilla groups like the FARC, the ELN and others focused on slogan of greater equality through ommunism, and they came to have support from some sections of the local population. However, the armed action changed since the mid-1980s when Colombia granted greater political independence and strengthened fiscal policy of local governments, that is why the Colombian Government strengthened its institutional presence in the country. In 1985, the FARC co-created the left-wing Patriotic Union (UP) political party. Eventually, the UP distanced itself from insurgent groups. However, “right-wing paramilitaries apparently linked to the armed forces” committed a mass murder of the party members during the 1980s and 90s.
The origin of the armed conflict in Colombia goes back to 1920 with agrarian disputes over the Sumapaz and Tequendama regions. Peasants at the time fought over ownership of coffee lands which caused the liberals and conservative parties to take sides in the conflict, worsening it. In 1948 the assassination of populist Jorge Eliécer Gaitán radically stirred up the armed conflict. It led to the Bogotazo, an urban riot killing more than 4,000 people, and subsequently to ten years of sustained rural warfare between members of Colombian Liberal Party and the Colombian Conservative Party, a period known as La Violencia (“The Violence”), which took the lives of more than 200,000 people throughout the countryside.
Use of landmines
Since 1990 over 11,000 people have been killed or wounded by landmines in Colombia. Between 1982 and the end of 2012, 2,038 people have been killed by landmines, according to the Presidential Program for Mine Action. Since 2000, casualties from landmines in Colombia have ranged from 1,300 a year to just around 550. In the past, the Colombian government laid landmines around 34 military bases to protect key infrastructure, but it renounced their use in 1997. Landmines are primarily used by the rebel groups to protect their home bases and illegal drug crops, which fund the conflict. FARC and ELN have deployed antipersonnel mines throughout an estimated area of up to 100 square kilometers. In March 2015, FARC stated that it would begin humanitarian demining in selected parts of Colombia.