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Volume 59 / Social Sciences


STEVEN J. TAYLOR, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Troy State University

IF ONE HAD TO CHOOSE A SINGLE WORD to describe the most important factor that impacts Colombian politics and society, it would be "violence." Although selecting this concept is easy, understanding its implications for Colombia's political process is another matter. The principal source of violence is a decades-old insurgency being waged between several leftist guerrilla groups (chiefly the FARC and ELN) and the military. The conflict is greatly complicated both by the presence of paramilitary groups who oppose the guerillas and often work in concert with the military, as well as by the illicit activities of drug traffickers. The linkage of drug production to the funding of both guerrilla and paramilitary activity further confounds analysis. The ever-present combat highlights a central theme in Colombian politics: the weakness of the state. The state has been unable to quell the fighting, and hence does not fully control its own territory. Therefore, current scholarly writing on Colombian politics focuses on two broad, related themes: violence and governance. The general study of Colombian politics and society attempts to explain why specific circumstances exist and how they can be altered. The question of which reform should be a priority—the end of violence or the reform of the state—is an important one. Would the "right" reform lead to a reduction, or even cessation, of violence? Or, would an end to violence allow the state to effectively reform itself? The paradox of Colombia, however, is that despite significant failures, the state persists.

The current literature on violence is not aimed at issues of causation, as existing studies of Colombia view the conflict as an ongoing and endemic part of the background. Rather, most of the works included here focus on a specific element of the situation (e.g., a particular group, human rights, a specific incident, or series of events). One example is Valencia's Inseguridad y violencia en Colombia, written by a former member of the Colombian military, which offers a pessimistic view of the current clash of actors, and notes that the complex situation goes beyond the armed struggle itself (item #bi 99001265#). Paramilitary groups are major players in this conflict, and are in need of additional research.

Concerning governance, much of the literature reviewed here focuses on the general issue of public administration. González's aptly named El laberinto institucional colombiano illustrates the difficulties within the structure of the state itself (item #bi 99001241#). Wiesner's La efectividad de las políticas públicas en Colombia also provides useful insight into the general condition of the governing apparatus in Colombia (item #bi 99001252#). A recurring theme within the general topic of public administration is decentralization. The ongoing struggle to create effective local governance and the long-term, center-periphery struggles in Colombia continue to make this an important area for scholarly review. Moreno, in Procesos y tendencias de la descentralización en Colombia, argues that the decentralization process is fundamental to modernizing the Colombian state (item #bi 99001245#). Further, given that the majority of the violence and related issues take place outside of Bogotá, local governments and politicians face an additional set of burdens. Indeed, Castro's Descentralizar para pacificar argues that decentralization is potentially key to pacifying the country (item #bi 99001261#).

Additions to the scholarly literature, especially in the area of public policy evaluations of antidrug and antiviolence policies, are necessary. In the literature reviewed here, there is a noticeable lack of serious policy-oriented analysis of drug trafficking, although with the implementation of Plan Colombia, a great deal of literature most likely will be forthcoming. In this section, the work on drug trafficking is restricted to a review of Pablo Escobar's escape (item #bi 99001267#), journalistic accounts of the Cali Cartel (item #bi 99001253#), and a general critique of US drug policy (item #bi 99001275#). As such, there is a clear need for in-depth policy analysis of the "drug war" itself. Other areas of expected future research include an analysis of Pastrana's peace policies and the way in which guerrilla-controlled policies have affected both the military and the guerrillas.

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