Colombia is rich in oil, gold, silver and coal. But its wealth is highly concentrated, and most of the population lives in misery. In the mid-1960s, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) arose as a peasant movement demanding land redistribution and social reform from the government.
In the 1990s, the conflict became more complex: today, the FARC seeks to overthrow the government and control the state; the government is fighting to retain power; and brutal paramilitary groups function symbiotically with the Army to protect the interests of powerful elites.
Civilians are not simply "caught in the crossfire" of Colombia's war: they are directly targeted in military and paramilitary operations. Instead of battling each other, Colombia’s armed groups usually attack civilians suspected of siding with their enemy. Indigenous and Afro-Colombian women and families are the main victims of the conflict.
The Role of the US in Colombia's ConflictThe rise of paramilitarism in Colombia can be traced directly to the United States. According to declassified State Department documents, a 1962 US Special Forces mission to Bogotá advised the Colombian military to use “paramilitary terror” against “communist proponents” (defined as virtually anyone who challenged the status quo).
Colombia is the largest recipient of US aid in the Western hemisphere. The US has given over three billion dollars since 2000 to “Plan Colombia,” more than 75 percent of it to fund the military and police.
Over the past decade, the US has lost much of its influence over countries surrounding Colombia, as progressive social movements gave rise to left-leaning governments in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil.
In response, the Obama Administration is shoring up relations with Colombia. In 2009, Colombia leased seven new military bases to the US, in a move that angered human rights activists in both countries. The Pentagon said the bases are needed to “expand expeditionary warfare capability” and counter threats from “anti-U.S. governments.”
Impact of the Conflict on Women and Families
There are as many as 3 million internally displaced people (IDP) as a result of the conflict, giving Colombia the third-largest displaced population in the world after Sudan and Angola. Violence against women, especially rape and forced servitude, is systematic and widespread in the shanty towns and camps where the displaced find refuge.
According to the Colombian government, 71 percent of all people forced from their homes were displaced by paramilitaries and about 14 percent by the guerrillas.
Most displaced families end up in overcrowded and impoverished urban slums. One quarter of all paramilitary and guerilla soldiers are under the age of 18—a total of 11,000 children and young people.
Conflict and Indigenous Peoples
High-ranking Government and other state officials regularly make statements linking Indigenous leaders and the communities they represent with guerrilla groups. Meanwhile, FARC claims that these groups closely collaborate with the army. This has encouraged a climate in which abuses against Indigenous Peoples are tolerated, encouraged or facilitated.
Oil is Colombia's most lucrative export, bringing in roughly $4.5 billion a year. Indigenous Peoples who have opposed oil exploration on their lands have been killed by paramilitaries said to be in the service of oil companies. Tens of thousands of Indigenous Colombians have been displaced from their ancestral lands, which are now controlled by oil companies including Occidental and British Petroleum.