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Volume 61 / Social Sciences

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS: COLOMBIA


STEVEN L. TAYLOR, Associate Professor of Political Science, Troy State University


The primary topics of research concerning Colombian politics continue to be violence, drug trafficking, and governability. These three areas are all linked, as the war among guerrillas, paramilitaries, and the state is also intertwined with, and often fueled by, the conflict over illicit drugs. As expected, the ongoing quest of the Colombian state to assert full control over its territory is made manifestly more difficult by the violence. These issues are further complicated by the increased internationalization of the hostilities, especially vis-à-vis the US.

Violence, as a general area of research and discourse, continues to dominate the literature on Colombia. Although many of the works on the violence are not particularly original, and tend to be descriptive rather than analytical, they are nonetheless useful to students of Colombian politics as their main function is to provide updated information on the topic. There are, however, some noteworthy exceptions. The more provocative and useful books on the subject include Roldán's political history, Blood and Fire: La Violencia in Antioquia, Colombia, 1946–1953 (item #bi2004002585#), and the volumes edited by Pécaut (item #bi2002002718#), Camacho and Leal (item #bi2001007685#), and Bergquist, Peñaranda, and Sánchez G. (item #bi2004002584#). Each of these books contains high-level scholarship on the ongoing conflict and goes beyond simply offering a chronicle of events. Roldán's book is especially outstanding as it challenges existing theories concerning the origins of violence in Colombia and the role of the state in the conflict thus offering an understanding of both the past and the present. As such, it could easily spur further worthwhile research.

Drug trafficking is tied to the internationalization of the conflict, and is well illustrated by Crandall's Driven by Drugs: U.S. Policy Toward Colombia (item #bi2004001449#), and Rojas Rivera's La internacionalización de la política doméstica en Colombia (item #bi2001000273#). While it is certain that the conflicts in Colombia have always had international elements to them—whether it be the US and its drug policies, or external support for leftist guerrillas—the violence had been primarily contained within the borders of Colombia. Not only has there been some recent spillage into neighboring countries (such as Ecuador and especially Venezuela), but the growing convergence of the US drug policy and the guerrilla war has caused a great deal of attention to be focused on this issue. Further, the Pastrana administration's "Plan Colombia" explicitly requested monetary and other aid from the US, Europe, and other allies to fight the war on drugs, which is inextricably linked to the war against the FARC and ELN. This aspect of the violence will become a larger area of study for at least three major reasons: 1) the election of President Alvaro Uribe in 2002, given his policy of greater confrontation with the guerrillas; 2) the post-9/11 world, with its focus on antiterrorism, and commensurate heightened rhetoric by both the George W. Bush and the Uribe administrations' labeling of the FARC, ELN, AUC, and other groups in Colombia as "terrorists," and 3) the spillover of narco-guerrilla violence into states bordering Colombia.

The ongoing difficulty of governing the territory of Colombia is the root problem, and encompasses both general violence and drug trafficking. A number of works explore questions of governability. Cepeda, for example, continues to do excellent work on the key problem of corruption (items #bi2001007677# and #bi2001007675#). Works on municipal government and decentralization are also well represented, such as the compilation by García and Zamudio, Bajo la lupa: descentralización en Bogotá, 1992–1996 (item #bi2001007706#), and Dávila and Gilbert's Los alcaldes mayores y la gestión de Bogotá, 1961–2000 (item #bi2002002896#).

Works worthy of attention that do not fit easily into the above categories include two works by Dugas: his study of the role of the Conservative Party in Colombian politics is a contribution to the literature (item #bi2004001450#), and especially noteworthy is his article on the origin, role, and demise of the student movement during the constitutional reform process (item #bi2002002204#).


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