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Negotiating with Terrorists
A Reassessment of Colombia's Peace Policy
by Nicolas Urrutia

"Should I negotiate with terrorists or someone like Hitler?” ask the authors of one of the most respected books on negotiation theory.1 The answer, they respond, is yes. Negotiation is a mechanism for influencing other parties’ decisions, and given adverse or sub-optimal circumstances, negotiation may be the best, if not the only, way of avoiding an undesirable outcome. Furthermore, negotiation with an unsavory party can serve as a means of constructing an outcome that is better than the status quo.2 Because negotiation is a promising tool for maximizing collective utility, the prospect of negotiating with “terrorists or someone like Hitler” should always be left as a possible course of action, and seldom ruled out on the basis of pre-existing policy or principle.

Unfortunately, as often happens in a complex world, significant gaps exist between theory and practice. Many modern-day governments have insisted time after time that they will not negotiate with terrorists.3 Similarly, international justice organizations have indicated that certain forms of violence are not subject to negotiation,4 pledging that the full weight of the law shall be borne by any and all who transgress it. Over the past decade, most notably, organizations and individuals with records of terrorist activities or human rights violations have been widely denounced for their practices. Some have been brought to trial before international courts, despite attempts to negotiate an amnesty or pardon in their home countries.5 And so, even though negotiation with unsavory parties is praised at a theoretical level, current international judicial and political practices seem to point the other way.

In light of this apparent conflict between theoretical postulates and real-life practices, this article concerns itself with a contemporary dilemma in international affairs. Since 1998, the Colombian government under President Andr?s Pastrana has held formal peace talks with the country’s two socialist guerrilla groups, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucion?rias de Colombia ? Ej?rcito del Pueblo (FARC-EP)6 and the Ej?rcito de Liberaci?n Nacional (ELN).7 Though largely viewed as inefficient and poorly conducted,8 the negotiations have drawn much international support from governments and non-governmental organizations that perceive them as a long-overdue historical and political necessity. This article explores the emerging debate regarding the inclusion of the country’s illegal paramilitary groups ? collectively referred to as Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC)9 ? at the ongoing government-guerrilla talks. From early on, the Pastrana administration echoed the opinion of guerrilla leaders on the matter, ruling out the possibility of including the AUC in the negotiations because of their lack of political legitimacy and notoriously poor human rights record. However, increasing public debate seems to indicate that such a precipitous policy decision may prove contrary to the national quest for lasting peace, and thereby warrants careful consideration and continuous review.

The question addressed herein is whether the Pastrana administration should include the AUC in the current peace talks with the FARC and the ELN. It has become increasingly clear that the international community generally opposes the AUC’s inclusion, but no such consensus on the matter exists within Colombia. Fairly sophisticated political, legal, and ethical debates do not seem to have brought the nation any closer to agreement on the most desirable policy, often putting the administration at odds with public opinion and other influential sectors of government. In light of this scenario, this article seeks to contribute to the debate by sketching the blueprint of an independent form of analysis that may prove a useful approximation to a seemingly elusive answer.

This article is divided into five main sections. The first section will provide the necessary background on the conflict’s development and dynamics, focusing on the history of each of the three parties: state, guerrillas, and paramilitaries. The second section will review the record of past peace-making efforts in Colombia, highlight the government’s preferred negotiation strategy thus far, and incorporate a brief review of the theoretical premises that have been proposed by negotiation specialists as criteria for the inclusion of a party in a negotiation. The third section will spell out in greater detail the arguments for and against the inclusion of the paramilitaries. The fourth section will then reflect on the merits of each side’s arguments in the current debate, and from that reflection it will go on to advance the central analysis herein. As will be seen further on, this analysis frames the question around the valuation of the government’s BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement) rather than insisting on previous beliefs or state policies. Finally, the fifth section will review the context, theoretical assumptions, and findings made herein, and bring this exercise to a conclusion.

Colombia Since the 1950s

Colombia has spent the last fifty years fighting itself. Perhaps one of the most indicative symptoms of this is that there is no easy way to explain the interaction of the various levels of violence in the nation;in attempting to summarize the history of the Colombian conflict, one frequently has difficulty even knowing where to begin. In a recent compilation entitled Violence in Colombia: 1990 ? 2000, Gonzalo S?nchez indicates that: “violence has become the reference point for Colombian politics, society, and economy during the second half of the twentieth century.”10 Having said that, let the reader be warned that the historical summary below is based on a number of generalizations and simplifications, as well as on some instances of intentional oversight, without which it would be impossible to write this piece in less than two or three books.

Following the assassination of popular Liberal leader Jorge Eli?cer Gait?n on April 9, 1948,11 the Colombian state spent a decade fighting for its existence against a complex phenomenon of widespread political confrontation know as “the Violence.”12 A mix of exploding hatreds between traditional political parties, a repressive Conservative government, and widespread popular aspirations for economic and social betterment, the Violence claimed around 200,000 lives, mostly through selective assassinations and small-scale clashes in rural towns across the country. Seeing the devastating consequences of the ongoing low-intensity conflict,13 the traditional Liberal and Conservative parties brought an end to hostilities through the adoption of a shared-power agreement known as the Frente Nacional14 in 1958. From then until 1974, Liberals and Conservatives alternated four-year presidential terms under general conditions of national peace.15

The political exclusion that resulted from the Frente Nacional, however, led to the rise of rural guerrilla groups in the 1960s. The guerrillas were to a large extent organized by disenchanted liberal leaders who had grown weary of the monopoly of power exerted by the two traditional parties. In time, the guerrilla groups lost most of their founding ideologues, gradually trusting their leadership to a limited number of poorly educated peasants who, for the most part, have spent all of their adult lives fighting the government under one banner or another.16 The guerrillas enjoyed covert military and economic support from the Soviet Union during the Cold War, as did other Marxist-inspired insurgent groups in Latin America. With the crumbling of the Soviet bloc in the early 1990s, most small guerrilla groups (i.e. M-19, PRT, CRS, EPL and the Qu?nt?n Lame) were weakened, while the two large groups (FARC and ELN) were forced to look for alternative sources of funding. Given the rise of illegal drug-trafficking in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the guerrillas built a productive working relationship with Colombia’s major drug barons, initially ‘taxing’ them for protecting coca fields, and eventually integrating drug-traffic into their own operations.17 As an additional source of funding, as well as a means of gaining political ground, the guerrillas also became notorious for kidnapping Colombia’s wealthy social and political leaders, which they continue to do at record levels, although their victims are no longer limited to the national elites.18 To this day, the guerrillas base their political agenda on the need for substantial agrarian reform, redistribution of wealth, state ownership and exploitation of natural resources, and higher investment in education and health sectors.

The guerrillas’ financing practices, besides ‘taxing’ drug crops and kidnapping civilians, also include extortion of multinational corporations and large cattle ranchers. As guerrilla demands for a ‘revolutionary tax’ became ever more frequent during the 1980s and early 1990s, extortion and kidnapping victims ? some of them emerging drug barons ? decided to organize and fund private defense squads to counter the insurgents’ pressure. The arming of civilians for self-defense purposes had been permitted under Colombian law since the 1960s, so the newly-organized “self-defense forces” were able to hire top international mercenaries to recruit and train their troops. By 1989 the government recognized that said forces were in fact responsible for unacceptable abuses of power, and outlawed them in a bid to regain the monopoly of force. The government decision, however, proved too little, too late: What had begun as a scattered group of ‘self-defense’ organizations had developed into a highly organized coalition of counter-insurgency forces. In 1993, the major groups came together under the umbrella organization known as AUC. Claiming to have entered the state-guerrilla conflict in response to the armed forces’ inability to crush the insurgent groups once and for all, the AUC have brutally earned a reputation for effectively combating the guerrillas in strategic insurgent strongholds, while simultaneously developing a political agenda comparable to that of their enemies. A summary review of AUC concerns reveals striking similarities with the insurgent agenda: the need for agrarian reform, state exploitation of natural resources, and higher investments in the education and health sectors.

With the gradual empowerment of insurgents and paramilitaries, the Colombian government’s attitude towards both groups changed significantly between the 1950s and the present. During the 1950s and 1960s, the guerrillas were not considered a serious threat to governance and national security, mostly because of their small numbers and dubious military potential. By the late 1980s, however, the government had to recognize the guerrillas’ power and presence over much of the national territory, and peace initiatives began. The early paramilitary groups, in turn, were viewed as a set of scattered and ‘permissible’ para-governmental forces that provided security for large landowners and corporations. In the minds of the general public, as well as those of top political leaders in the capital, the paramilitaries served a purpose no different than that of normal bodyguard squads. With the growth and integration of their ranks in the 1980s, however, the paramilitaries began to be recognized as an autonomous force that collaborated with the armed forces in complex counter-insurgency operations. Once the ‘self-defense’ legislation was overturned in 1989, such collaboration became politically inadmissible, and for the last five years the government has, at least on paper, actively fought against the paramilitaries. Increasing national and international pressure has come upon the government to sever all ties between its security forces and their former allies, whose critics have identified the existence of paramilitary groups as the most serious threat to Colombia’s democracy and governability.

Approaches to Peace Since 1982

In the succinct words of Gonzalo S?nchez, “one of the most surprising features of endemic violence in Colombia is that it has been accompanied by a permanent (indefinite) process of negotiation since the 1980s.”19 Twenty years of negotiation have yielded a mixed record of approaches, perspectives, and realities, both within and without Colombia’s territory. Peace agreements have been reached with some insurgent groups, but not all of them, and current levels of violence exceed those of the past. Without a doubt, many factors have played into the successes and failures of past and present peace initiatives, but for analytical purposes, it is helpful to underline the importance of the following two.

First, one must keep in mind the global repercussions of the Soviet Union’s collapse. The end of the Cold War signaled the beginning of the end of a lengthy ideological war in Colombia, as guerrilla leaders across the country were forced to face a doubly stern reality. On one hand, years of fighting had brought them no closer to their military or political objectives; in fact, their violent acts incited national repudiation rather than sympathy and support. On the other hand, the dissolution of the Soviet Union represented a most serious setback to the rebels’ military strength and ideological appeal: the once-fearful Red Army was in retreat, and the communist ideal had imploded. As a point of fact, the much-admired late commander of the M-19, Carlos Pizarro, conceded that the people were no longer with them, and that public opinion convinced them of the need to disarm and pursue their objectives through the traditional political process.20 It should be clear then, that past successes in peace efforts should be studied while keeping in mind the influence of macro developments in the international arena.

The second factor worth considering is the government’s predominant model of negotiation with the rebels. Given the complex circumstances in the early nineties, the question of whom the government should choose to negotiate with was by no means self-evident. The administration was confronted with a half-dozen different guerrilla groups, and it was fairly evident that far from being a cohesive group with widely shared homogenous goals, the rebels were marked by differences in interests, background, and inspiration. In this context, negotiation theory suggests that one should not focus on political positions in choosing whom to negotiate with. Instead, one should first look for parties with whom one has shared interests, and then clear the way for negotiations based on the pursuit of said interests.21 Fortunately for Colombia, this theoretical dictate seems to have been very well integrated into governmental peace policy over the last decade. Time after time, the government has manifested its willingness to negotiate individually with any rebel group with a clear interest in the pursuit of political goals through peaceful means. In essence, the door has been open for negotiating with those who want to negotiate,22 while taking into account the differences in background, inspiration, and demands of each rebel group. 23

This combination of international political factors and national negotiation strategy has had mixed results. On the positive side, the Soviet dissolution and the Colombian government’s willingness to negotiate with any interested party were essential to the signing of peace accords with the M-19 in 1990, with the EPL, the PRT, and the Qu?nt?n Lame in 1991, and with the CRS in 1994. On the negative side, the failure to embark on a comprehensive and centralized negotiation with all rebel groups has allowed fighting between the government, the FARC, and the ELN to escalate to higher levels, despite the existence of separate negotiations with each. It is also worth noting that despite its initial debilitating impact, the Soviet collapse has somewhat empowered the remaining guerrilla forces as they have come to perceive themselves as the world’s last genuine hope for a Marxist-Leninist revolution.æ These factors must be kept in mind as one considers the design and implementation of future peace policy.

Perspectives on Negotiating with the AUC

Disagreement over how or whether to include the AUC in the Colombian peace talks abounds, and various sectors of Colombian society and the international community hold fast to differing beliefs.24 For the purposes herein, particular focus is given to the pros and cons that have been articulated in connection with four key aspects of the issue. First, consider the arguments proposed against the inclusion of the AUC in the negotiations.

In the opinion of the Colombian state and some international bodies, the AUC are not primarily a ‘political organization’ and as such they do not deserve any recognition of political legitimacy. They are viewed as a by-product of the war, not as one of the conflict’s principal or original actors, and therefore are not entitled to a seat at the negotiation table. In the words of Jan Egeland, the U.N. Secretary General’s special adviser on Colombia, the paramilitaries are “criminal terrorist organizations that should only be met with to discuss the laying down of arms.”25 Mr. Egeland’s stance is derived from the belief that “the random killing of fellow citizens in a society should not lead to negotiations in the presidential palace.”26

A second source of opposition against the prospect of negotiating with the AUC stems from the group’s disastrous human rights record. For a long time, the paramilitaries’ primary method of combating the guerrillas has been to target civilians whom they suspect of collaborating with the insurgents. This strategy stems from the belief of former AUC commander Carlos Casta?o, who maintains that every guerrilla soldier in uniform has about nine civilian supporters who provide food, communications, and assistance with general logistics. Guided by this belief, the paramilitary strategy has focused on ‘draining the water from the fish’ (i.e. intimidating and eliminating the civilian support networks of the guerrillas). The strategy has proved very effective indeed, but has resulted in systematic and widespread human rights abuses that render the AUC unsuitable for negotiation.

A third argument used against the inclusion of the AUC in the peace process stems from the organization’s close ties to Colombia’s drug barons. Given the extent and importance of U.S. aid to Colombia in the context of the ‘War on Drugs’, any links to drug producers and traffickers are publicly condemned as unacceptable. Drug-related crimes are, at least on paper, punishable with the highest sentences under Colombian law, and negotiating with the paramilitaries could be widely publicized as negotiating with common drug barons. Understandably, the Colombian government has a vested interest in not appearing ‘soft on drugs’, especially so in view of the government’s increased dependence on U.S. counter-narcotics aid for the strengthening of the armed forces and the national police.

Finally, there exists an important fourth argument against the inclusion of the AUC in the peace process, even if it is seldom articulated by government officials. Few doubt that inviting the paramilitaries to the peace negotiations would create significant obstacles to progress in negotiating with the two insurgent groups. Both the FARC and the ELN see the AUC as an illegitimate actor in the Colombian conflict, and one can imagine how both insurgent groups regard the AUC as an enemy with whom no common ground can be found. In this sense, inviting the AUC to take part in the negotiations would likely bring about yet another stalemate to the negotiations with the rebel groups, diminishing the government’s fragile support even further.

There are four main counterproposals to the above arguments.æ First, even though it is widely recognized that the paramilitaries were not a primarily political organization in their early days, in time they have adopted a political agenda, refined their political discourse, and shown increasing concern for their public image.27 The AUC publishes a monthly journal,28 maintains a well designed website,29 and its former commander, Carlos Casta?o, has held a number of high-profile interviews with some of Colombia’s most influential media representatives, as well as with many international news agencies. This is not to say that the AUC’s involvement in politics is a new phenomenon; two years after the self-defense legislation was reversed, “several representatives served as intermediaries for paramilitary interests during the 1991 Constitutional Convention and argued in favor of negotiations with them.”30 Since that time, the AUC has not stopped lobbying Congress and its peace-related committees. It is worth mentioning that the paramilitaries issued a comprehensive peace negotiation agenda at the beginning of the Pastrana administration, and have since insisted that its key points be considered in negotiations with the FARC and the ELN.

In regard to the AUC’s disastrous human rights record, Mar?a Isabel Rueda, a well-known political columnist, has recently articulated a compelling, though unorthodox, rationale for including the AUC in the peace process. She acknowledges that the AUC’s actions are atrocious, but argues that the only difference between the paramilitaries and the guerrillas is that the former have been operating intensively for a decade, while the latter have operated on a smaller scale for 40 years.31 In the end, the level and impact of the atrocities attributed to both insurgents and paramilitaries is roughly the same, so negotiating with one of the groups but not the other is, at best, an act of political hypocrisy. This position is bound to attract much criticism from international human rights groups, and the international community is unlikely to support it. Within Colombia, however, public opinion has recently been characterized by a touch of strategic pragmatism with regard to the armed conflict, so Rueda’s position may find fairly widespread domestic support.

In connection with drug-related charges against the AUC, a condition that renders them ‘unsuitable’ for negotiation in the eyes of the Colombian state, critics of the Pastrana administration have repeatedly pointed out that the guerrillas are far more involved in the drug trade than the paramilitaries. The President’s Office has declared over and over that it will not negotiate with narco-guerrillas, and has systematically denied charges of the FARC’s or the ELN’s direct involvement in the productionæ and trade of narcotics. Nonetheless, there remains little doubt that both groups derive a very significant portion of their income from drug trafficking. Official estimates on the exact amounts of ‘narco-funds’ that go to benefit the FARC and ELN vary significantly, but by most accounts it seems safe to assume that the sums are in the hundreds of millions of dollars.32 In the eyes of most Colombians, it follows, the government’s refusal to negotiate with the AUC on account of their links to the drug trade is a contradictory policy.

Finally, a plausible counter-argument has been put forth in response to the objection about possible adverse effects on the government-guerrilla negotiations. Including the AUC in the process could conceivably force the FARC and the ELN to revise their calculations of power with regard to the negotiations and to the battlefield. The AUC have shown a sustained capability for combating and defeating the guerrillas.æ If the government began negotiating with the AUC, the guerillas wouldæ receive less of the government’s attention. The demands of both the FARC and the ELN would no longer be the only ones to be addressed by the government, thereby creating a negotiation dynamic that may push the insurgents to greater moderation and greater commitment to the process. If the government were to stop or diminish its efforts to combat the AUC, the insurgents’ valuation of alternatives to non-negotiation would very likely change accordingly, thereby providing a greater incentive for them to negotiate more seriously.

Lessons From Negotiation Theory

Having reviewed the above arguments, the reader will probably recognize that these two sets of arguments are mostly based on narrow political considerations, statements of principle, and personal opinions, rather than well-rounded, pragmatic recommendations regarding the advisability or non-advisability of negotiating with the AUC. Further, if one were to carefully follow each argument’s rationale, it is possible that it may, in practice, prove detached from or even opposite to the goal of achieving peace in Colombia. In a sense, some of these are arguments of pre-existing political principle more than contemporary solutions to the problem of war. Some others are tenets of past policy and criticisms thereof, and thus, taken individually they provide only partial justifications for the adoption of one policy over the other. In light of these arguments’ shortcomings, some commonly accepted principles of negotiation theory may reveal a more satisfying method for deciding whether or not to negotiate with the paramilitaries. Roger Fischer and William Ury have argued that, given unfavorable circumstances (i.e. the other side is more powerful, one’s interests cannot be satisfied through the status quo), one’s negotiation strategy and one’s decision to accept or reject a proposal should be based on the BATNA ? Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. In other words, a decision to accept or reject a negotiated agreement should be a function of one’s best alternative course of action.33 If the BATNA advances one’s interests to a greater degree than a negotiated agreement, or does so with comparably smaller costs, then one should not accept the said agreement.

In the case of the Colombian conflict and the government’s decision to negotiate with the paramilitaries or not, Fischer and Ury’s proposal needs a minor adaptation. The question becomes one of estimating the govern-ment’s BATNA in relation to beginning negotiations with the paramilitaries, instead of its BATNA to reaching a negotiated solution with them. Of course, beginning negotiations is not a foolproof guarantee that a negotiated solution will be reached, but it is a necessary and often profitable first step towards the achievement of such a solution. Thus, the analysis herein takes into account the various factors that comprise the government’s present BATNA, so that in light of the available alternatives one may decide whether it is advisable to negotiate or not.

Given the current status of the government-guerrilla negotiations and Colombia’s general public order situation, the Pastrana administration has two essential alternatives to negotiating with the AUC. The first alternative would be to satisfy guerrilla demands and submerge itself in a total confrontation against the paramilitaries, seek ing their comprehensive defeat or surrender. Let us refer to this policy option as the ‘Confrontation Policy’. The second option would be to ignore guerrilla demands and allow the AUC to operate freely, either in tacit conjunction with the armed forces or on their own. Let us in turn refer to this policy option as the ‘Coexistence Policy’. Clearly, these two options are at opposite ends of the decision-making spectrum, and some middle-ground options may be available. But given the sharp radicalization of all parties affected by the conflict, these middle-ground options are predictably very few, and they cannot be expected to satisfy even simple a majority of the parties whose interests are affected by the administration’s peace campaign. Let us refer to these parties as ‘Stakeholders’.

In light of these two primary options, there arises a need to identify the conflict’s primary stakeholders and predict their reactions to either policy decision. Based on the historical and political background delineated in the first section of this article, it is appropriate to categorize the conflict’s primary stakeholders into five major groups: i) the international community (understood as the group of sovereign states who have provided diplomatic support to the peace talks), ii) the Colombian public, iii) Colombia’s guerrilla groups (both the FARC and ELN), iv) the Colombian armed forces, and v) the AUC. All five of these groups have demonstrated active interest in the administration’s peace campaign, and although the stakes held by each are not necessarily shared with others, all of them have a clear interest in the fate of the peace talks. Having said that, each group’s reactions to both policies can be reasonably expected to bear the following traits:

i)æ International Community: in the interest of its human rights agenda, the international community can be expected to actively support a confrontation policy. On the other hand, a coexistence policy would likely bring about international disapproval for the administration’s peace campaign, possibly aggravating the situation by withdrawing existing economic aid packages.

ii) Colombian Public: given its increasing distaste for the ongoing carnage in the conflict, public opinion may actively support a confrontation policy, provided its execution contributes to a decrease in the paramilitary targeting of unarmed civilians. On the other hand, it may also passively approve a coexistence policy if it believes that confrontation will only bring about a radicalization of paramilitary views and tactics.

iii) Guerrilla Groups: all public statements and tacit indications point to the guerrillas’ willingness to provide active support for a confrontation strategy, while making it clear that a coexistence strategy would be readily disapproved of and bring about a further escalation of the conflict.

iv)National Armed Forces: given the security forces’ ambiguous record of collaborative coexistence with the AUC, it seems fair to predict that a confrontation policy would be implemented by the armed forces, albeit not without some internal opposition. A coexistence policy would predictably receive more generalized support.

v) The Paramilitaries: understandably enough, the AUC would resent and fervently disapprove of an official confrontation policy, expectedly leading to an escalation and radicalization of paramilitary views and rules of engagement versus government forces. A coexistence policy would undoubtedly receive broad support.

A simple valuation of stakeholder reactions seems to indicate that a confrontation policyæ would receive overall wider support than a coexistence policy. While the former would most likely enlist the active support of three out of the five stakeholders, the latter can only be predicted to receive support from two out of the five. Thus, the state’s best alternative to a non-negotiation policy seems to be the adoption of a confrontation policy. This, in sum, would be the government’s BATNA given current conditions.

The decision of whether to negotiate with the paramilitaries, negotiation theorists would thus argue, should be made exclusively in consideration of this BATNA, even though its actual valuation is bound to involve far more intricate and detailed criteria than those presented herein. The probable result of this decision-making process and its implications are spelled out in the following section.

Concluding Remarks

Since reaching office, the Pastrana administration has received both increasing international support and decreasing domestic support for its peace campaign. The international community has become ever more involved and committed to the process, while domestic public opinion has shown increasing discontent with the manner in which negotiations with the FARC and the ELN have been handled. Prospects for peace, then, remain meager in the short run.

However, if the peace process is to regain some momentum and domestic credibility, the question of including the AUC in the negotiations needs to be reviewed and satisfactorily answered. Past government policies regarding the political illegitimacy of the AUC should give way to a more pragmatic approach to Colombia’s day-to-day public order situation, and the advisability of opening the negotiation table to this third unsavory party. As illustrated above, the BATNA to not including the AUC in the negotiations is to confront them with the full weight of the public force. However, this would be a very costly policy indeed. The paramilitaries, like the guerrillas, have become a highly trained, tightly organized and rapidly mobile force, and the Colombian security forces have shown no definite capability of comprehensively defeating any such adversary. Furthermore, a full-fledged government offensive against the AUC is bound to bring a further escalation of the conflict to a war-weary population. In light of such an unpromising BATNA, standard negotiation theory suggests that the best option is to abandon present official positions, focus on governmental interests of peace, and invite the AUC to the negotiation table. In the words of one analyst: “Negotiation is an intricate exercise that begins with utopia and that which is desirable, continues with that which is possible, and reaches that which is viable, passing by that which is necessary.”34 The paramilitaries, like the guerrillas, have become a centerpiece of Colombia’s political and military reality, and failing to acknowledge this fact will not alleviate the conflict or contribute to the building of a lasting peace.


1 Fischer, Roger and William Ury. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. 2nd ed. by Bruce Patton. New York: Penguin Books, 1991. See pp. 161.

2 Ibid. See pp. 15-81, 161-163.

3 The United States is probably the most commonly cited among these, albeit various of the European Union nations (among others), and most notably France, have long proclaimed an equal level of intolerance for terrorist activity.

4 The gross and systematic violation of international human rights through violent means jumps to mind in this respect. Since their introduction into the United Nations Charter, and increasingly so over the past decade, first-generation human rights have come to be viewed by International Courts as absolute rights. At least on paper, all violations of human rights are seen as absolute, inexcusable, and non-negotiable.

5 Such has been the case of former military officials accused of human rights violations in the Balkans. It is worth noting, also, that General Augusto Pinochet came very close to being put in a similar judicial situation, despite immunity and amnesty accorded to him in his own country.

6 Literally translated: “Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia ? People’s Army”.

7 Literally translated: “National Liberation Army”.

8 It seems worth noting that, as of this writing, the ELN and the Administration were finally agreed on resuming negotiations that had been called off since September 2001.

9 Literally translated: “United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia”.

10 S?nchez G., Gonzalo. “Problems of Violence, Prospects for Peace” in Charles Bergquist, Ricardo Pe?aranda and Gonzalo S?nchez G. eds. Violence in Colombia: 1990 ? 2000. Wilmington: Scholarly Resources, 2001. See pp. 1.

11 Gait?n was expected to win the upcoming national elections despite lack of support from the political establishment. His assassin was immediately lynched by a street mob. The assassin’s motives, and numerous rumors of international involvement linking the CIA to the events, remain obscure.

12“ The Violence” is known as a distinct period in Colombian history (1948-1958), and therefore is always spelled with a capital ‘V’.

13 The term “low-intensity conflict” was coined only recently, and is used to describe the dynamics of day-to-day skirmishes between government forces, guerrillas, and paramilitaries. These encounters cause small numbers of low-profile casualties on any given day, but prove devastating in the aggregate. At any rate, it serves to describe the dynamics of confrontation during the Violence.

14 Literally translated: “National Front”.

15 This paragraph of the chronology is largely based on the writings of Bergquist, Pe?aranda and S?nchez. See S?nchez G., Gonzalo. “Problems of Violence, Prospects for Peace” in Charles Bergquist, Ricardo Pe?aranda and Gonzalo S?nchez G. eds. Violence in Colombia: 1990 ? 2000. Wilmington: Scholarly Resources, 2001. pp. xi-xii.

16 The most notable among these is, without a doubt, Manuel Marulanda V?lez, or “Tirofijo” (“Sureshot”), supreme commander of the FARC. Now in his seventies, Tirofijo has been a guerrilla fighter since age 14, has never been to a large city, has outlived three generations of Colombian political leaders, and has become the world’s oldest guerrilla fighter. He has been reported ‘killed’ in combat at least a dozen times over the last forty years.

17 The U.S. State Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency have estimated that the FARC alone obtain US$500 million in earnings from the drug trade each year. Information is readily available through the State Department’s homepage (

18 Colombia is the country with the most kidnappings in the world. Between January and December 2000, 3670 cases of kidnapping were reported to the Colombian authorities, according to Colombia’s leading anti-kidnapping NGO: “Fundaci?n Pa?s Libre”. The vast majority of the victims are supposedly held by the FARC. For further information, refer to Pa?s Libre’s website (

19 See “Partial Peace and Protracted War: The Changing Models of Negotiation” in Bergquist, Pe?aranda and S?nchez G. eds. Violence in Colombia. pp. 25.

20 Informal interview with Carlo Nasi, doctoral student at Stanford University. Mr. Nasi’s forthcoming thesis is on the Colombian peace process between 1990 and 1992. Stanford University, March 10th, 2001.

21 Ibid. See pp. 40-56.

22 Emphasis added.

23 See “Partial Peace and Protracted War: The Changing Models of Negotiation” in Bergquist, Pe?aranda and S?nchez G. eds. Violence in Colombia. pp. 25-26.

24 Downes, Richard. Landpower and Ambiguous Warfare: The Challenge of Colombia in the 21st Century ? Conference Report. Carlisle: Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College, 1998. See pp. 19-20.

25 “U.N. Envoy Tries to Aid Peace Effort in ‘Unique’ Colombia War”. By Larry Rohter, The New York Times. July 10, 2000.

26 Ibid.

27 S?nchez G., Gonzalo. “Problems of Violence, Prospects for Peace” in Charles Bergquist, Ricardo Pe?aranda and Gonzalo S?nchez G. eds. Violence in Colombia: 1990 ? 2000. Wilmington: Scholarly Resources, 2001. See pp. 22-23.

28 The journal, entitled “Colombia Libre”, circulates mostly in AUC-controlled zones, but occasionally issues are sent for distribution in big urban centers.

29 See for details.

30 Cubides C. Fernando. “From Private to Public Violence: The Paramilitaries” in Bergquist. Charles, Ricardo Pe?aranda and Gonzalo S?nchez G. eds. Violence in Colombia: 1990 ? 2000. Wilmington: Scholarly Resources, 2001. See pp. 139.

31 Rueda, Mar?a Isabel. “Lidiando con Dos Monstruos”. Semana. June 10th, 2001.

32 Recent official estimates on the guerrilla’s yearly profits from drug-related crimes can be found in the State Department’s webpage (, as well as in the Colombian Ministry of Defense’s webpage (

33, 34 Fischer, Roger and William Ury. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. 2nd ed. by Bruce Patton. New York: Penguin Books, 1991. See pp. 97-106.

35 V?lez Ram?rez, Humberto. El Conflicto Pol?tico Armado en Colombia: Negociaci?n o Guerra. Santiago de Cali: Editorial Universidad del Valle, 1998. See pp. 95.