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Volume 63 / Social Sciences

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS: COLOMBIA


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

AS DRAMATIC AS GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS tend to be in Colombia, the basic themes in the literature remain rather constant: the challenges of governance and violence. Beyond the usual suspects of those themes, the literature covered here also focuses heavily on the early years of the presidential administration of Álvaro Uribe.

Questions of governance focus either on general questions of the ability of the state to fulfill its obligations (e.g., Moncayo, item #bi2006003294#) or on the question of the relationship between the center (the capital) and the periphery (the rest of Colombia). A number of works also raise the question of citizen participation. Also of relevance are several works on the politics and management of the capital city, Santafé de Bogotá (e.g., Velásquez, #bi2006003380#). One of the more interesting works on politics in Bogotá was the study of a specific clientele network by Rubio (item #bi2006003384#).

The literature on violence continues to cluster in three basic areas: studies of the armed groups themselves (guerrilla or paramilitary), the endemic nature of the violence, and proposed solutions. Of course, the discussion of violence in the context of Colombia is nothing new. However, the regular treatment of the subject as one of "terrorism" is. In the post-September 11, 2001 world, the equation of political violence with terrorism has significantly increased and this is certainly the case for Colombia. In the past it was not unusual for violence in Colombia to occasionally be called "narcoterrorism" but such references were not frequent, and it was especially rare for the guerrillas to be referred to as terrorists—especially in the academic literature.

As works such as Botero (item #bi2004001343#), Sancho (item #bi2006003377#), Taylor (items #bi2007002892# and #bi2007003013#), and Tickner (item #bi2007002893#) illustrate, the discussion of terrorism has become a more prominent one in the literature on Colombia. More importantly, the identification of the AUC, FARC, and the ELN as terrorist groups by the US State Department and the usage of "war on terror" rhetoric by the Bush administration have resulted in policy shifts vis-à-vis US-Colombian relations. This change should be an opportunity for future research, as the application of US funds and technical assistance has been altered as a result of these classifications. In the past, the US position had been that antidrug support was not to be applied to the counterguerrilla policies of the Colombian government, yet the two have now been merged.

Leal (item #bi2006003385#) ably explores the question of how to frame and understand the security situation in the post-Cold War era (i.e., the notion of national security in Latin American sans the threat of communism). Along with the notion of changes to context as a result of the end of the Cold War, Villamizar (item #bi2006003359#) argues for a reevaluation of intelligence in the post-9/11 context.

A subtheme to the question of violence and security has been the initial evaluations of President Álvaro Uribe's "democratic security" plan as well as the start of his tenure in office in general. Numerous works address these questions. General overview of Uribe's politics are offered by Dugas (item #bi2007002891#), Herrera (item #bi2006002153#), and Pécaut (item #bi2006003299#). For discussions of Uribe's security policies, see works such as Gutiérrez (item #bi2005001951#) and Pizarro (item #bi2005002204#).

Orejuela (item #bi2006003394#) provides a work of specific note that does not directly fit into the categories detailed above. He looks at the broad question of political development in the 1990s, including the new constitution and neoliberal reforms. The project by Barón (item #bi2006003360#) is also worthy of specific mention as it examines the new medium of the internet as a means of discourse and communication in the context of the ongoing conflict in Colombia. This is likely to be an area of general research in the future, as we have also seen the usage of the internet by groups such as al Qaeda as a direct channel for promotion and recruitment in recent years.

Research areas for Colombia in the coming years will continue to focus on the seemingly irresolvable questions of the ongoing violence and the problems of governance. However, recent reforms to the electoral system, specifically limiting political parties to one electoral list per office (as opposed to the list-making free-for-all that had reigned for decades) and shifting to the d'Hondt system for electing members of legislative bodies, have started Colombia's party system on a new evolutionary path which should spawn greater attention by political scientists. Additionally, the president can now be re-elected to a second term, which has allowed Álvaro Uribe to be the first Colombia president since the early 20th century to serve more than four years in office. Other areas of interest include the extension of Plan Colombia (the so-called Phase II of the process) and the parapolitics scandal (i.e., the linking of members of the Congress and government to paramilitary groups). The latter will, no doubt, generate great interest in terms of the political fallout, but should also create a new set of inquiries into the nature of the paramilitaries themselves.


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