Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution 2.1 - March 1999

Psychosocial Dynamics of the Armed Conflict in Colombia

Camilo A. Azcarate

To my beloved father, victim of violence.


Colombia is a country of contradictions. Hard working and business-minded, Colombians can be described as intelligent, and resourceful but also as individualistic, rugged and intense. The country is suffering a destructive protracted social conflict that every day weakens further its institutions(1) preventing a much-needed widespread economic development. Violence in Colombia is a very old pattern of interaction between social actors. It can be traced to the nineteen century. It also includes periods of political cleansing as the period between 1948-1959 in which ten years of political confrontation left 300,000 civilians dead and countless widows and orphans.

Violence is permanent in the confrontation between the guerrilla, the government, the mob and paramilitaries. This undeclared civil war has taken the life of 70,000 people and displaced 600,000 in 40 years of war.(2) But these are just the direct victims of the conflict. Indirectly, the conflict has exacerbated the widespread violence of every day life in Colombia: 30,000 people or so are murdered each year in the streets of the principal cities of the country. In 1997, Cali -the second biggest city of the country- recorded 90 murders per 100,000 people; Bogota, the capital, recorded 49 murders per 100,000. These figures outrun even Caracas's 48, Rio de Janeiro's 34, Mexico City' s 12 and Chicago's 30. Some minor cities do far worse. (3)

The ability of the Colombian State to provide for the well being and the security of its citizens has been deteriorating dramatically during the last twenty years. Today, violence in general is a far-reaching illness in Colombia.

The oldest Colombian guerrilla movement, the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) (4), has its roots in the bloody civil war of the 1950's. During the 1960's the communism influence of the Cuban revolution and the cold war created the ideological background for other insurgency groups. By the 1980's the absence of state control over large parts of the country and the real challenge presented by over half a dozen guerrillas were reason enough to initiate a peace process that ended in 1985 in the spectacular failure known as the tragedy of the Palace of justice. A second round of negotiations held between 1989-90 was more successful. The M-19, one of the most controversial and internationally connected guerrilla groups laid down their arms and transformed themselves into a political party. Although rounds of direct negotiations between the Government and representatives of the largest guerrilla groups took place after the first successful process, in 1992 negotiations stalled. The Colombian government insisted on its view of the insurgencies as a domestic issue and it did not want international recognition extended to the guerrillas. The lack of a third party was the most important obstacle of this process.

During the five years that followed 1992 the war escalated both in scope and cruelty. By 1997, citizen-based initiatives like the "vote for peace" and the Commission of National Commission for Conciliation (CCN) provided the parties with a much needed channel of communication and a new peace process was initiated with the Viana accord and, more recently with the Maintz meeting between representatives of the government, the civil society and the second-largest guerrilla movement, the National Liberation Army (ELN) (5). This has facilitated unilateral initiatives such as the meeting between the newly elected president Andres Pastrana and the directives of the largest guerrilla, FARC.

After many years of war a solution to the armed conflict is the biggest challenge facing the new government and the entire Colombian society. The development of a citizen-based peace process was a good way to start. It has created a peace constituency and the parties will be accountable to it.(6) These initiatives filled a very important gap between the parties, avoiding one of the most important "design flaws" that doomed some past peace processes. The long-term success of this process involves bringing together a variety of conceptual and organizational elements in a bold strategy that addresses not only the well identified objective conditions of the conflict but also factors related to the perceptions of the parties, their values, goals and modes of interaction. The purpose of this work is to highlight these factors that have been underlying on the historical patterns of the Colombian conflict and to propose a prescriptive approach that addresses them.


The first chapter of this paper is the product of an historical research of the three armed conflict of the twentieth century in Colombia:

Some of the texts used for this historical research were in English (Bergquist, 1978; Braun, 1985; Srong, S, 1994) but most of them were originally in Spanish (Lara, 1982; Pardo, 1996; Palacios, 1996; Garcia, 1992). Due to their weight in the actual peace process in Colombia, three documents were translated and included in the appendix of this paper. They are the "Inform of the peace exploratory commission" (Rios & Pena, 1997) and the two pacts known as The Viana pact (February 1998) and the Maitz accord (July 1998).

The second chapter is dedicated to the analysis of the socio-psychological patterns of the interaction between the parties using three main sources. The first one is a research of the bibliography available in the fields of conflict resolution and peace studies. The second source used were quotes of different actors of the conflict taken from several Colombian newspapers, especially "El Tiempo". The last source were interviews conducted during 1998 both inside and outside of Colombia with some actors in the two institutional parties of the conflict: guerrilla and government. Although these interviews constitute an additional source of information for the analysis of the attitudes, the perceptions and interactions of the parties, this paper is not a qualitative research of the information gathered during the interviews.

The third chapter is a prescription of some of the solutions that might treat the underlying problems of the parties' perceptions and attitudes as well as the way that they react and interact with each other. These interventions are the product of many years of research and practice of scholars and practitioners of the conflict resolution and peace studies fields. They do not pretend to be panaceas. They are long-term commitments that require political and economical support but overall patience and professionalism.

Chapter 1 - History

"Those who do not know history are predestined to repeat it."



The first part of this paper will be dedicated to the study and analysis of the historic patterns of violence in Colombia. The purpose is to provide the reader with the essential historical background about violence in Colombia in this century. Although it does not pretend to be a complete historical analysis, the accounts were as detailed as possible, given the limits and purpose of this work.

The history of the last century in Colombia is deeply connected with the levels of violence developed during the last decade. Recurrent patterns of repression, political assassinations and institutional chaos are historically correlated. The parties of the actual conflict inherited perceptions, values and interaction patterns from the civil wars that preceded them.

Intolerance in the interaction is one of the main patterns of Colombia's society. Pluralism is still a value to be developed. Extremists deploy silent but brutally effective campaigns against anyone that dares to think different to them. In the past, many peace efforts and their protagonists have found themselves against a wall of intolerance, and the result has been a continuing, devastating state of war without winners and losers, only death, tears and destruction.

Colombia in the Nineteenth Century

Since the end of the independence wars (1821), Colombia has been rife with civil war and internal unrest. The "Great Colombia", the dream of the 'libertator' Simon Bolivar, included what is today Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela. Secessionism and political ambitions soon dismembered this union.

The first controversies between federalist and centralist evolved in "caudillos" (strongmen) wars between Liberals and Conservatives, political parties founded in the mid-nineteenth century. In the last three decades of that century, Colombia had a federal Constitution, abolished slavery, separated the roles of the State and the Church and was dominated by a Creole adaptation of "laissez-fare, laissez-passer" politics inherited from the classic Manchester school. The period is historically known as the 'Radical Liberal' republic. The effect of this federalist system was a central government that was too weak to control the armies of strongmen from the province. As a reaction to the fragility of the federal government, a conservative political movement (called "the regeneration") led by Rafael Nunez advocated the centralization of the political system among other political reforms. The Conservatives of the regeneration took power in 1885.

By the end of the nineteen century the Conservatives maintained their power by "systematically repressing dissent through arbitrary press decrees and excluding the Liberal party from government through electoral abuses and the unrestrained use of the extraordinary faculties granted to the executive" (7).

Although composed of different actors coming from all levels of society, the conservative and liberal parties represented different interests of the society. In addition to a centralized political system, the conservative party protected the status-quo, traditional values, close relations between the church and the state, the centralization of government, the creation of a central bank, and taxing exports as an important source of income for the state revenue. Its members were mainly landowners and rich patriarchs that dominated much of the countryside, aided by the church. On the other hand, the liberal party defended the separation of powers, liberty of commerce, non-interventionism, decentralization of government and banned taxation of exports. Liberals were mainly merchants and entrepreneurs with high interest in the coffee and tobacco export business.

During the last decade of the nineteen-century, the ruling party (conservatives) through fraudulent elections limited access to power for the liberal party. This situation was worsened by the economic and the fiscal crisis that came with the falling of the coffee prices in the international market, which affected mainly the interest of the liberals.

"Throughout the regeneration attempts at coalition between upper-class factions through compromise and reform were unsuccessful. Deepening divisions within the upper class and the strident public controversy helped to undermine the authority and consensus enjoyed by Nunez at the start of the regeneration. The coffee crisis combined with the political crisis left unresolved throughout the regeneration to cripple government effectiveness while simultaneously augmenting unrest around the country, especially in the coffee zones"(8)

In 1899 a civil war broke between the liberal rebels and the conservative government.

The Civil War of 1900

The first months of the war were not different from the countless short conflicts of the nineteen-century. This phase is known as the gentlemen's war. But this was about to end after the first months: the liberals were outgunned and outnumbered and the course of events favored the government forces. Liberal armies were defeated at several battles in Antioquia, and Cundinamarca; but it was the battle of Palonegro in the Santander's coffee region that proved to be the turning point of the war and the bloodiest battle ever fought on Colombian soil. After twelve days of fighting the liberal army retreated. For the rest of the more than two years of the war, the rebel's strategy rested mainly on guerrilla warfare. The 'gentlemen's' war was over. From that moment on the initiative of the war was less in the hands of 'political' patriarchs like Rafael Uribe or president Jose Manuel Marroquin and more in those of mid-level ruthless leaders like the liberal guerrilla fighter Cesareo Pulido and the Minister of War, Aristide Fernandez.

Major foci of guerrilla activity were in coffee zones of the states of Santander and Cundinamarca, in the provinces of Sumapaz and Tequendama. Government 'victories' in these areas turned on to be chimerical. After a while, the guerrillas would regroup. In their desperation military commanders resorted to mass arrests. In a letter to the Minister of war, a government military commander described the prisoners of a massive raid:

"Both the men and the women are accomplices and auxiliaries of bandits who they hide in their houses; as a result I am sending all of them to Bogota believing that the men should be sent as recruits to the coast and the women punished as Your Excellency sees fit, since they are very bad breed." (9)

A few of the guerrilla leaders were acquainted with the "Codigo de Maceo", a code that covered all the aspect of the guerrilla warfare. The "Codigo de Maceo" was one of the products of the Cuban independence war at the end of the XIX century. The cruelty of the guerrilla incursions could only be matched by the heavy measures taken by the government forces against the civil population. This situation created a painful stalemate. Only after the capitulation in 1903 of Rafael Uribe, the political leader of the liberals with the signing of the treaty of Neerlandia did the war end.

The civil war lasted two and a half years; thus historians named it the "1,000 days war". The government forces were victorious but their political position was weak both internally and abroad.

The Independence of Panama

At the beginning of the century, Colombia was in the middle of controversy due to the United States' strong commitment to build an inter-oceanic channel in Panama, then part of Colombia. This project was perceived as vital for American interests worldwide. The Colombian Senate rejected a treaty with the American government containing conditions that from the Colombian Senate point of view "compromised Colombia's sovereignty". By the end of the civil war in Colombia, a small liberal army remained rebellious in Panama. The president of the United States decided to induce and support a secessionist movement that ended in the independence of Panama.

"The loss of Panama was partly a consequence of the War of the Thousand Days, for the war had gravely weakened and complicated the Colombians' negotiating position and stimulated separatist sentiments" (10) Arguably, the secession of Panama was the highest cost paid by Colombia as a result of the 1,000 days war.

The Coexistence (1904-1944)

The horrors of the civil war were deeply imprinted in the minds of a generation of Colombians. During the first half of the twentieth century a more conciliatory style of doing politics came to be known as "coexistence".

"The liberal and conservative leaders called their form of rule 'coexistence', the politics of civility. In the term they revealed their commitment to a distinct public life and to peace… Their aim was to coexist, to live together in a realm of power they felt ideally suited to inhabit." (11)

Coexistence called then for the sharing of power between the two elites that fought the civil war: conservatives and liberals. This was possible largely thanks to the government of Rafael Reyes (1904-1909). Reyes's inclusion of liberals in his government institutionalized the practice. Moreover, minority representation in the legislative bodies was possible after the principle was introduced in the national constitution as an amendment in 1905. This amendment granted liberals a third of the seats of the legislative bodies. Reyes program of "national concord" created a period of peace that lasted for more than forty years.

The Conservative Hegemony (1904-1930)

Under the conservative governments of Jose Vicente Concha, Marco Fidel Suarez, Pedro Nel Ospina and Miguel Abadia Mendez the new breed of politicians had an opportunity to exercise power. But the lesson about the need to 'live together' was learned only in part. Liberals and conservatives coexisted among them, but showed chronic despise for the 'ignorant masses' to be guided by the enlightened elite. These politicians saw themselves as a benevolent ruler class with superior education and moral values. They saw the 'pueblo' more as plebs than as populus, more as laborers than as the soul of the nation. (12)

Therefore, theoretical convictions of 'service' held by coexisting politicians included self-rightness convictions and morally exclusive thinking. This patronizing, dis-empowering point of view was most shockingly clear in the personality of Laureano Gomez, a conservative leader. On June 8, 1928, in an address to the Bogota's elite at the Municipal Theater, Gomez said that Colombia had little chance of ever becoming a civilized nation. He maintained that "the racial mixture of fanatical Spaniards, savage Indians, and primitive Negroes combined with climatic and geographic handicaps, had proven fatal for Colombia".(13)

Meanwhile, Colombia's integration into the world market was slow but steady economic growth allowed the country to prosper. With prosperity came confrontation not at the political but at a social level. The labor movement was growing in the 1920's, especially in the North coast and Antioquia. The 'peaceful' political environment was facing steady levels of protest from newborn labor unions.

The most remembered confrontation took place in 1928, between the government forces and banana workers in the plantations of American owned 'United Fruit Company' in the state of Magdalena. The company owned the local fruit plantation and was the most powerful actor of the region. When workers met to protest the company's policies, police opened fire killing hundreds of workers. This is known as "the banana massacre" and was a scandal of great proportions for the conservative government. Several young liberal politicians made the incident their 'launch platform' to national notoriety, especially Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, then running for Congress, who expressed his criticism against the government. From now on, and for twenty years, the public life of Gaitan and the destiny of Colombia were going to walk side by side.

The Liberal Hegemony (1930 -1944)

In 1930, confronting a divided conservative party, the liberal candidate Enrique Olaya, won the presidential election. This was the first liberal government since 1885. Olaya's government and the two progressive liberal governments that followed introduced economic and political reforms. These reforms included the participation of labor leaders in government, the opening of the economy and the initiation of public works around the country.

The coexistence was at its height. Jorge Eliecer Gaitan was molded in the coexistence school and was very much part of its tradition. This brilliant orator, criminal lawyer and liberal politician became a Congressman in 1931 and helped to design the most important reform of the Constitution.

Gaitan was part of the left wing of the liberal party. His thesis, "The socialist ideas in Colombia" condensed his political ideals. From this work, the historian Herbert Braun concludes:

"He [Gaitan] saw social conflict through the eyes of a positivist. His notion of conflict was not one of two antagonistic forces coming together in struggle. Quite the contrary, he saw conflict as emerging from two separating forces. In Gaitan's view of strife in Colombia, the capitalist had turned his back on the worker, leaving him with arms stretched out, looking abjectly in the direction of the departed protector. It was in the subsequent absence of reciprocity and cooperation that a conflict between the capitalist and the worker ensued. Gaitan's inclination was to bring the parts together to search for harmony rather than to pit them against each other" (14)

Gaitan's meritocracy ideals opposed all hierarchies that did not rest on hard work. During the thirties the young Gaitan was supported and nurtured by Liberal traditions and directives but soon, his raise in popularity gained him enemies within and outside the Liberal party. He was never accepted into the Gun Club, the social club of Bogota. He could move among the political elite, but could not be accepted completely as one of them. (15)

By the mid-forties Gaitan was much more confrontational, defiant and aggressive. His new style was not acceptable for coexistence traditions. Moreover, for them it was a confirmation of the lack of class and chivalry of the popular leader. On the other hand, Gaitan's political force in the liberal party grew due in part to his charismatic personality, powerful oratory, brilliant intellect and organizational skills but mainly because he was the only politician that could claim being a 'son of the pueblo'. Many of his followers were fanatic promoted him aggressively in the streets of the cities and towns of the country, creating a very tense political environment.

Many conservative and liberal traditional leaders view these campaigns as a direct threat against them and the status quo of the coexistence. This perception triggered a chain reaction that submerged Colombia in another partisan civil war.

The Assassination of Gaitan.

The liberal party went into the 1946 presidential elections divided in two candidates: Jorge E. Gaitan and Gabriel Turbay. The conservative candidate, Mariano Ospina, defeated them. The liberal hegemony of sixteen years ended. Many liberal politicians saw in Gaitan's ambitions the destruction of the liberal party .In 1947 on the national congressional election; Gaitan's victory over the other factions of the liberal party left him elected unique chief of the liberal party. He won the election with his own structure and did not control the official machinery of the traditional liberal party. By 1948 it was clear for everyone that Gaitan had enough political power to become president in the next presidential elections of 1950.

Feeling their status in danger, the convivialistas openly displayed their anger against Gaitan. They felt that Gaitan was pursuing a campaign of hatred between races and social classes.(16) The Conservative government also feared that their victory in the 1946 elections was going to be temporary in the hands of such a powerful liberal leader.

Gaitan was assassinated on April 9 1,948 by a hit man who approached him outside his office and shoot him three times in the back. Analyzed in the political context of the moment and after forty years have passed, Gaitan's assassination is somehow easier to understand. But for his contemporaries and especially for the poorest people of the country who had all their hopes invested in the popular leader, this was a great, unexplainable tragedy. Their reaction was the explosion of uncontrolled violence that drowned Bogota and the country in fear and blood. The people of Bogota lynched Gaitan's assassin, then looted and destroyed the city for two days. This is known as "El Bogotazo". During the ten years that followed 300.000 people -mostly civilians- died in the political cleansing of the countryside.

Arguably, the assassination of Gaitan is for Colombia the most important single event of the century, and its consequences are very much part of the actual confrontation. It was a real event of relative deprivation for the Colombian people. That day the country witnessed the rupture of the social fabric and the beginning of a long period of political frustration that drowned the country in blood.

"The Violence" (1946-1959)

The Assassination of Gaitan was followed by a violent rage that destroyed Bogota and cornered the conservative government of Ospina. A group of Gaitanistas went to the palace with the body of the killer and remained in front of the palace for hours. Inside, the president was entrenched and ready to fight. The Pan-American conference was taking place in the city. Frightened representatives of countries around the world remained in their Hotels. On his way to meet Gaitan that afternoon of April 9 1,948 was a 22-year old law student from Cuba. His name is Fidel Castro. He was among the witnesses of the destruction and pillages that destroyed downtown Bogota. (17)

No connection with the traditional parties or with the government has ever been established in the death of Jorge E. Gaitan. Officially, the gunman acted alone and all other hypotheses have remained largely unproven. The perception of many Gaitanistas was very different. For them, and in the future for everyone leftist in Colombia (including the guerrilla group), Gaitan was the real leader of the people assassinated by the Colombian economic and political elite.

Following Gaitan's assassination the weakened conservative government, trying to recover political and armed control over the country took desperate measures of repression that worsened even further the situation:

"In November Ospina closed the Congress. Unopposed, Laureano Gomez reached the presidency. The conservatives taking advantage of the moment and seeking power, influence and resources that were in the hands of the liberals. In Gomez first year in office, 50.000 lost their lives to La Violence. In 1952, adherents of the Conservative Party burned the buildings that housed 'El Tiempo' and 'El Espectador' [liberal newspapers]. The Liberal Party ceased to function. Members of the liberal and Gaitanista rank and file became guerrillas. Democracy headed for the hills, not to return to the city until three decades later. It was war without beginning and almost without end. It had no caudillos, battles, ideals or glory." (18)

By 1950, the country was again deeply polarized between governing conservatives and rebels liberals. History repeated itself. A similar pattern of repression and political intolerance that fifty years before ignited civil war was again the main cause of an even worst civil confrontation that killed 300,000 people in the 1940's and 1950's. Once again, the defenseless civilian population was the main target of the political cleansing in the hand of ruthless liberal and conservative middlemen called 'birds'.

Laureano Gomez, the politician that sharply called for a divided, hierarchical society in which the 'pueblo' would have little or no influence in public life, found in The Violence the exalted values that he missed in day-to-day politics. In its excess and random killing, he no doubt saw his own beliefs confirmed: Colombia would indeed never become a civilized society. His self-fulfilling prophecy was finally completed.

According to the contemporary analyst Monsignor German Guzman Campos, the causes of the violence were clear in 1949 presidential campaign:

"a) Stabilization of the conservative group in power, with the violent exclusion of the liberal contender;

b) Use of politics in a campaign of persecution, without a doubt planned from the higher spheres of the government;

c) Declaration of civil resistance by the liberal Party, than soon would be translated into armed groups."

The resentment of a new breed of Colombians was being created in the midst of the dirty war. Most of the guerrilla leaders of the following decades will be direct or indirect descendents of the Gaitanista's liberals. Many of them recall as their childhood's most vivid memory the moment they heard the cry: "Gaitan was killed!" The following is part of an interview with Ivan Marino Ospina, a guerrilla leader of the M-19:

"The day Gaitan was killed, I was gathering guavas in Tulua. The bullets started to fly. Liberals and conservatives started to shoot each other…My uncle; Juan Martin talked to me a lot about him [Gaitan]. He was my idol. When he was killed I was very sad. But I was sadder when I saw my father running to the forest to hide his horse and cart so that it wouldn't be destroyed by the liberals ... The conservative 'pajaros' killed three of my uncles: Daniel, Juan and Antonio Marin. Daniel was assassinated with rifle and machete. He was killed in front of his eleven children."(19)

With the exception of the initial violent reaction to Gaitan's assassination, which was called "The Bogotazo", Bogota and other capital cities were not touched by the violence as it remained very much in the countryside and small towns of Tolima, Huila, Valle, Antioquia and Santander. In the city the rural strife was accepted as a sociological phenomenon: The Violence was something that just happened and was not under anyone's control. The name of The Violence was accepted as a way to objectify it.

The National Front

On June 13, 1953 General Gustavo Rojas took power deposing the conservative government in a military coup. Liberals -and some conservatives- justified the coup as a necessity for the country in that moment of history. Rojas initiated a campaign of peace and gave a general, unconditional amnesty to the liberal guerrillas as well as to the conservative paramilitaries. Some of the strongmen deposed their weapons to a government that promised protection to their lives and reinsertion to civil life. But in 1954 an accidental confrontation between the army and peasants restarted the violence. In 1957 a conspiracy of the traditional parties and a group of army officials deposed General Rojas. He was replaced by an army board of five generals that acted as temporary government with the intention to return power to a civil government. This situation added to the immense cost in lives and resources of The Violence and created the right environment for a political pact between the parties. This pact is known as "The national front".

Alberto Lleras and Laureano Gomez, heads of the liberal and conservative parties, once sworn enemies, met in Benidorm (Spain) to create a political pact that was designed to last sixteen years - four governments periods. During this time, the parties would alternate power and divide the bureaucratic quota between them. Alberto Lleras was going to be the first president of the front. He offered also a general amnesty to the liberal guerrillas. This time the amnesty was not very successful. The fear to reprisals and in some cases the ideological convictions of guerrilla leaders prevented them to accept the amnesty offered by the government. By the second presidential term of the national front (this time the turn was for conservative Guillermo Valencia) the guerrillas were reactivated backed by the communism party.

This time the inspiration was not the liberal or conservative traditional ideology, but the triumphs of Fidel Castro and his guerrilla fighters in the mountains of Cuba. These guerrillas transformed the party strife into a 'class struggle' and established themselves in several regions of the country: Marquetalia in the south of the state of Tolima; El Pato and Guayabero between Huila and Caqueta; and Riochiquito in the Cauca. The guerrillas organized the population politically and socially, developed an agrarian movement, and a self-defense system.

Worried about the turn of events in Cuba, president Valencia declared war on the so-called 'independent republics'. An American plan called LASO (Latin America Security Operation) backed the action in Marquetalia and successfully recovered the government's control of the zone but failed to kill or capture the self-defense peasant guerrillas. They moved to Riochiquito and created the first organized guerrilla movement of Marxist-Leninist orientation: The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP), with a peasant orientation. Soon after, the National Liberation Army (ELN) a guerrilla movement inspired by the Cuban model and with more intellectuals in its ranks started operations. Today, these armies are the largest and strongest guerrillas in Colombia.

During the sixties, the guerrilla movements were fed with many young students moved by the example and ideals of the Cuban revolution. The most famous figure to join the ranks of the ELN was Camilo Torres, a young priest and teacher of sociology in the National University. After losing his ecclesiastic investiture, he announced his decision to join the guerrillas with a text that he called "Proclamation to the Colombians". In it he said that he was willing to sacrifice himself so that the future generations could have "education, shelter, food, clothing and, above all, DIGNITY." He died in his first battle against the government forces.

The third guerrilla movement with its roots in the sixties is the EPL (Popular Liberation Army). The EPL had influence in the North coast, where other guerrillas were not present at the time. As the ELN, the EPL was inspired by the "foci" theory developed by Ernesto 'Che' Guevara in his book "The Guerrilla War". This was the second time that a Cuban guerrilla handbook had inspired Colombians. The first one was the "Codigo de Maceo" during the war of the 1,000 days at the beginning of the century.

It is important to remember the different origins of the guerrilla movements. It would be improper to forget how different they are. One started as a peasant' self-defense movement (FARC-EP) very connected with the communism party; and therefore its inspiration is Marxist-Leninist. The ELN is more urban inspired by the Cuban experience.

Meanwhile, the third government of the national front that of the liberal Carlos Lleras Restrepo was successful stabilizing the economy and uniting the liberal party. He was widely respected for his honesty and commitment to the common good. But political apathy was growing steadily due to the pre-arranged results. Soon, new political movements dissidents from the traditional parties (like the liberal MRL) or completely independent from the parties (like the ANAPO) tried to lure these masses into their ranks.

The 1970's

The last term of the national front was reserved for the conservative official candidate, in this case Misael Pastrana. But the ANAPO (Popular National Alliance), the political movement created by the ex-dictator General Rojas in the sixties was gaining support from the left and many liberals. In 1966 the ANAPO candidate received a high vote. For the 1970 presidential run, Rojas himself presented his candidacy for the ANAPO and received the adhesion of many of the left forces that saw in him an opposition alternative to the liberal-conservative domination of political space. The preliminary results of the voting in April 19 1970 favored him. The broadcasting of the counting was suspended at night. In the morning, the Conservative candidate won the election by a close margin (40,000 votes). The official explanation was that while the first results in the cities gave Rojas a high voting, in the countryside the official machinery worked hard to elect Pastrana.

In the ranks of the ANAPO and the other movements behind Rojas the perception was that of an electoral fraud. That day a new guerrilla movement was born. They called themselves M-19 (short for Movement 19 of April) in remembrance of the alleged electoral fraud. The M-19 was the most ideological and urban guerrilla in Colombia. In January of 1974 the group made its entrance to the national life with a publicity stunt in the capital's newspapers, followed by the stealing of the sword used by the independence hero Simon Bolivar, a national treasure. In 1978, the group stole more than five thousand arms from a military post in Bogota. The government reacted with the capture of most of the leaders of the movement.

During the 70's the guerrillas were weakened by the opening of new channels of social communication, like the labor and the students' movements. These channels gave many an opportunity to voice their grievances and gain participation in the national scenario. But these movements and their members were easy target for the repressive dirty war that started by the end of the decade. Pressure was applied against anything that looked 'dissident'.

The fact that 'traditional' guerrillas survived and smaller 'second generation' guerrillas were born after 1978 (Quintin Lame, Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria, Patria Libre, Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores) can be explained with the closing of spaces that were open for opposition forces and the following increase of their recruiting capacity.(20)

The 1980's

In 1980, the M-19's careful planning and implementation of a massive kidnapping operation of diplomats in the Dominican Republic Embassy was a hard hit to the government. The world press covered extensively the long negotiations that followed. After two months, the kidnappers fled to Cuba with a ransom. By 1981 the M-19 was trying to use these resources and the past experience of some of their leaders (21) to create a third countryside guerrilla.

In 1982 the conservative candidate Belisario Betancourt was elected president of Colombia. His presidential campaign was based on a "peace process" platform that included general amnesty for political prisoners. The expectation and momentum that his proposal gained in the Colombian society was one of the main forces behind his election. President Betancourt was sincerely committed to the peace process. He decided to propose to the guerrilla an imaginative and daring process of peace that included a truce and the demobilization of the insurgency. Their reactions varied. While the ELN plainly rejected the process; the M-19, EPL and other smaller movements accepted it. The FARC took an intermediate path: they accepted the peace talks but acted cautiously.

First Peace Process with the M-19, EPL and Quintin Lame

The M-19 and EPL embraced with enthusiasm Betancourt's peace process. They tried but failed in creating a solid political base. An important obstacle was the permanent attacks and killing of the group's members. Intolerant right-wing sectors of the country decided to kill one by one the demobilized leaders of the groups. These sectors of society considered the peace process a sign of 'weakness' and were determined to continue a dirty war against their enemies. They succeeded. The M-19 declared the truce broken and went back to clandestine operations having lost many of their leaders and feeling deeply betrayed. The group planned its following action as a "judgment" to the president for his failure to deliver on his promises of peace. In November 6, 1985 a heavily armed M-19 commando stormed into the Supreme Court Palace. The M-19 was making headlines in the international news again with a daring action and the Colombian Supreme Court in their hands. The army planned and executed a frontal attack on the palace. The magistrates of the Supreme Court and many other hostages were killed along with the guerrilla commandos. The building was destroyed by fire.

First Peace Process with FARC: The "Uribe" pact.

The largest guerrilla army in Colombia (FARC) accepted Betancourt's peace process and signed a "cease fire" pact in the town of La Uribe, their center of operations in the state of Meta. They also created a "political wing" called, the Patriotic Union that successfully earned 4% of the national vote in 1986. But the same campaign of extermination suffered by the leaders of the M-19 was applied against the political leaders of the Patriotic Union. In six years 2,000 members of the new party were killed and the party disappeared from the political arena.

When President Virgilio Barco was elected in 1986, the initial part of Betancourt's peace process was over. The events of the 'Justice Palace' were a painful reminder of the risk of any peace process.

Between 1986 and 1988, the guerrilla movements decided to create the 'National Guerrilla Coordinator - Simon Bolivar' (22) and to take as much political and military advantage as possible from the ambiguities of the "Uribe" pacts. Indeed, the guerrilla benefited tactically.

In 1985, the guerrillas had influence over 173 towns. By 1995 this influence had grown to 622 towns especially in the frontier-like regions of the East Plains. The ELN has grown from 4 fronts at the beginning of the decade to some 30 fronts today. They have blown thousands of times the pipeline that connects the oil fields of the East with the North coast crossing their area of influence in Santander, arguing that the international companies should not be allowed to 'steal' Colombia's oil. The FARC-EP increased also their fronts.

Finally the "Uribe" truce was going to be lost among mutual recriminations. On June 16, 1987 26 soldiers died in a FARC ambush in Puerto Rico (Caqueta), the president declared the truce broken in that region and made the commitment that any other attacks in other regions were going to be considered a regional declaration of war. (23) By 1989 the war was already at its peak and the "Uribe" pact was a thing of the past for the FARC. The first chapter of the peace negotiations in Colombia was over.

Second Peace Process with the M-19, EPL and Quintin Lame

By 1989, the catastrophic experiences of the first peace process, the decimation of their leaders and the Supreme Court Palace massacre, and hard evidence of the failure of the communism model in the Soviet Union, convinced the M-19, the PRT, Quintin Lame and part of the EPL about the need to demobilize their movements.

This new effort was initiated with yet another reminder of the M-19's tendency towards showmanship. On May 29, 1988 Alvaro Gomez, the son of Laureano Gomez (the right wing conservative president that was part of the official repression during the violence), and himself a very prominent political figure and presidential candidate, was kidnapped in the streets of Bogota. The idea was to bring the government to the negotiation table. At this stage, the government said that it was not going to participate forced by the kidnapping. But other social forces, represented mainly by Gomez political movement and the clergy were interested both in Gomez' liberation and in the M-19 proposal of a multi-party negotiation. The first meeting was held on June 15 in Panama and the second on July 29 in Usaquen. A Commission was established and the M-19 presented a peace plan that included:

This time private sectors of the society (the church among them) acted independently from the government and had the initiative in the design and implementation of a peace plan with the guerrilla. Criticized by sectors of the public opinion, president Barco presented an official peace plan that was named "peace initiative". The guerrillas perceived it more as an ultimatum than a peace proposal and rejected it. But the process designed by the independent commission continued and in December 16 1988 president Barco announces the initiation of direct dialogues with the M-19.(24)

The first "work table" was installed in April 3 1989 with the participation of representatives from the political forces (liberal, social- conservative, Patriotic Union) and the church. Later the U.P. will walk away as a way to protest the assassination of one of their leaders. The M-19 proposed negotiations in three levels: constitutional and electoral, justice and public order and socioeconomic.(25) The government considered that the purpose of the negotiation was the demobilization and incorporation of the movement and was not interested in the other themes. It was considered that the Constitutional reform that was taking place in Congress was enough. The government argued that the M-19 could talk to the political forces in the Congress as a way to introduce into the reform the group's proposals but that the government could not negotiate them at the table.

Meanwhile, the peace process was being targeted. Afranio Parra, a leader of the M-19 was assassinated in April 5. Another M-19 political activist was assassinated in June and three others in September. These actions had the precise intention to disrupt the process trying to provoke the M-19's reaction. The group's maturity and tactical understanding of the situation avoided a reaction to these killings.

In October 5th 1989, 227 delegates of the M-19 leave their arms and create a party called "Democratic Alliance - M-19" (26). In the first elections, the M-19 reached more than 10% of the voting. For a moment, the country saw in this process a light at the end of the tunnel. The M-19's decision was so strong that it prevailed even when the constitutional reform failed to pass in Congress. With the failure of the reform, the M-19 could have decided to go back to the war as the main part of the agreement was backed by the proposed constitutional reform. They decided to stay as a political party. Then, the M-19's presidential candidate Carlos Pizarro Leongomez was assassinated in a commercial plane while it was on flight. The M-19 continued and is today an important political movement in the national arena.

The peace process with the M-19 had several important consequences: the first was the peace processes with other 'second generation' insurgency groups that ended in the demobilization of the MAQL (Quintin Lame), the PRT (Revolutionary Party of the Workers) and most of the EPL. The second was the creation of a favorable environment for a Constitutional reform in 1991 that used the non-orthodox mechanism of a 'national assembly' instead of the Congress. Finally, the process acted as seed for the initiation of peace talks between representatives of the government and the CGSM (Guerrilla Coordinator Simon Bolivar) representing the FARC and, for the first time in their history, the ELN.

This peace process proved the importance of citizen based initiatives acting as facilitators of the communication between the parties. The need of a third party was not recognized the peace processes with the CGSM.

The 1990's

The presidential campaign of 1989 was the bloodiest in Colombian history. Several candidates were assassinated among them the U.P. presidential candidate Bernardo Ossa and the newly demobilized M-19 guerrilla leader Carlos Pizarro Leongomez. But it was the assassination of Luis Carlos Galan, a charismatic liberal leader with strong middle class support that changed the history of the campaign. After many years dissenting from the Liberal Party, Galan returned to its ranks to be proclaimed its official candidate. His past firm statements and acts against the drug cartels (especially against Pablo Escobar) and the fact that he was leading in the polls made him the most threatened -and protected- man in the country. In September 1989 he was assassinated in Soacha, a small town near the capital. Cesar Gaviria, the director of Galan's presidential campaign, took his place in the race and won the 1990 elections.

After his election, Gaviria had peace initiatives that included not only the insurgency but also other violent actors such as the drug-lords. In 1991 the government was fighting two wars: one against the insurgency, another against the Medellin drug Cartel. Serious efforts to negotiate with these two parties were made by the government. Several rounds of direct conversations were held between the government and the guerrilla representatives between 1990 and 1992. These are known as the Caracas and the Tlaxcala rounds.

Dialogues in Caracas and Tlaxcala

President Gaviria's first months in power were characterized by the escalation of the war. The guerrilla intensified their attack and the government planned and executed an assault against the FARC central command: Casa Verde in La Uribe. The purpose of the operation was to capture the directives of the largest guerrilla in Colombia. It failed. The next day a communication of the FARC to the press said that the guerrilla "assumes that the government is canceling all the possibilities of a negotiated solution and that therefore it must assume the responsibilities."(27)

This stalemate was broken only months later when the guerrilla returned 16 prisoners. The government considered it a sign of good will and the possibility of direct conversations was open. This time, all the remaining parties were going to be present at the negotiation table. The CGSB representing FARC, ELN and the dissidence of the EPL and representatives of the government (Secretary of State and Peace Advisor).

From the beginning, this peace process was surrounded by controversy among social sectors that attacked it as a sign of weakness of the government. The parties used contentious tactics in and outside of the table. Heavy bargaining and increased fighting in the countryside slowed and complicated the process. The choosing of a location was one of the first impasses. While the government insisted on a neutral country, the CGSB wanted to talk in their traditional guerrilla stronghold of "La Uribe". The intervention of the Church did not move the parties from their positions. Then, three representatives of the CGSB asked for political asylum in the Venenzuelan Embasy. This action moved the parties to accept Caracas as the location for the first round of negotiations.

Caracas: June to November 1991.

The parties were represented by Humberto de la Calle for the government and Alfonso Cano for the CGSB, the institution coordinating the efforts of the FARC, ELN and a dissident sector of EPL. The insurgency insisted on opening the process to a discussion of the social and political conditions of the conflict, not only the demobilization. They wanted to go to the "National Assembly" to present their viewpoint. The government refused.

Nevertheless the two representatives agreed on a 10 point agenda that included: Formula for cease-fire and hostilities; paramilitaries; impunity and the doctrine of National Security; human rights and ethnic minorities; state, democracy and political system; national sovereignty and the use of natural resources; democratization of national economy and politics; overcoming the armed conflict and guaranteeing the exercise of politics; neutrals in the process; and procedures and methodology.(28)

The parties could not agree about a procedure for a cease-fire. While the government insisted on designated areas of 'distention' the CGSB wanted to keep their mobility. By the third meeting, the parties were closer on the issue. The government presented a list of 60 "neutral" sites while the CGSB asked for 96, each one composed of at least two towns. Again, heavy bargaining characterized the negotiations and during the recesses the armies escalated the conflict further. As stated by Garcia (1992):

"Both parties tried to show strength in their positions in front of the public opinion and therefore gain influence at the negotiation table."(29)

By the third meeting the government representative made a threatening unilateral commitment: if the guerrillas insisted on terrorist actions against the civil population, the conversations were going to be suspended. Given the anarchy reigning in some parts of the country, a terrorist attack attributed to the guerrilla was very likely to happen. That circumstance came when the ex-president of the Senate was attacked in the mountains of the state of Cauca. The government left the table of negotiations and the CGSM declared the lack of commitment of the government arguing that other past events against them did not cause the break of the negotiations.

After five months of public recriminations and bargaining between the government and the guerrilla, the environment for the peace process in Colombia deteriorated dramatically. A columnist called the peace process "a nameless joke".

Only marginal agreements were achieved in Caracas among them the presence of international and national witnesses, the supervision by a third party of any eventual pact and the issuance of a daily communication to the press. As Garcia states, at this point became clear that the bargaining was more a show of force than an instrument of peace:

"Most of the discrepancies are connected with the logic of the war: paramilitaries, kidnappings, and localization of the guerrilla, presence of the armed forces. And it was so because in a veiled way both parties are betting for the war. Thus there is a mutual resistance to yielding on themes that might affect their respective 'military strength'."(30)

Tlaxcala - March to June 1992

After the failure of the Caracas rounds, some of the most important commercial and industrial associations of the country were against continuing the negotiation with the insurgency. Despite the opposition the two parties agreed to a new round of negotiations in Mexico. The government appointed a new negotiator, Horacio Serpa, who declared to the press that "we are not going to give everything in exchange of peace".(31) The CGSN ordered the suspension of attacks against military targets and the economy in order to create a favorable climate of negotiation. But on March 21, 1992 the death of a kidnapped ex-member of the cabinet Argemiro Duran, disrupted the negotiations. The government suspended negotiations and ordered the return of the commission. Only after the mediation of the Church, on April 21 the parties returned to the table. This time it was the guerrillas that asked for a recess. The second round of negotiations ended without any kind of agreement. After two years of mutual recriminations the second peace process with the FARC and the first with ELN was over.

Drug Cartels and Paramilitaries

In order to understand the complexity of the historic factors affecting the armed conflict in Colombia it is necessary to study the two other actors of the war: the drug cartels and the paramilitaries, as well as the relationship between them and the rest of the parties.

The Medellin cartel

The war against the Medellin cartel started on April of 1984 with the assassination of the justice cabinet secretary during Betancourt's government. The government decided to use the drug cartel's most feared tool: extradition to the United States. This unleashed a war between the government and the Medellin cartel that survived during the governments of Virgilio Barco and Cesar Gaviria and peaked during the 1989 presidential campaign. The years between 1989-1993 were a nightmare of indiscriminate bombs and killings. Pablo Escobar and Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha led the wave of terrorism. Judges and magistrates, police, high-ranking functionaries and innocent bystanders were assassinated, as drug traffickers attempt to force the State to reverse its position allowing for extradition to the US of arrested drug traffickers and influence the political processes. They eventually succeeded in 1991 when the "National Assembly" introduced a provision forbidding the extradition of Colombians. Only then, Pablo Escobar initiated contacts to turn himself in. On his own terms. He was going to stay in one of his proprieties with several of his bodyguards. A well-known priest (fray Garcia Herreros) facilitated the negotiation. Pablo Escobar went into his self-made jail in the mountains of Antioquia. But, then when the government decided that he was still running the cartel from his 'jail' a move to a state penitentiary was decided. Pablo Escobar escaped with his bodyguards. The manhunt that followed lasted two years and ended with the killing of Escobar in Medellin. The rest of the cartel members were already dead, captured or surrendered to the authorities.

The Relationship between drug dealers, paramilitaries and guerrilla

Both the guerrilla and the drug dealers have used each other for their own purposes. In regions of the country where drug crops and drug processing are the main economic activities, the insurgency taxes and protects them. "The phenomenon of the narc-guerrillas is the result of collaboration between the guerrilla organizations and the narcotics traffic, in an alliance that in practice became a strategy to subvert order and further particular illicit interests, while mutually guaranteeing their survival." (32)

On the other hand a complicated history of vengeance and ideological contradictions kept the guerrilla and the cartels in opposite sides of the conflict. For example, the Medellin Cartel attacked the M-19 during the 1980's for the kidnapping of some of the drug-lords family members, only to make peace with them later. But some drug-lords like Gonzalo Rodriguez and Carlos Castano were also anticommunist that financed and directed the paramilitary war against the guerrillas. In regions such as Magdalena Medio, Córdoba, Cesar and Sucre, paramilitary groups fight with the guerrilla for the control of the territory in areas where they act as quasi-states. The drug lords often finance these paramilitary forces. Many massacres of the 1990's can be linked to the fierce territorial competition between these two irregular armies.

That does not mean that all paramilitaries are financed by drug money. In other areas of conflict, especially in Antioquia in the heart of the coffee-growing region, and in El Meta, new "Security Cooperatives" (known as Convivir) were created, which have institutional backing from landowners and the local commerce and industry. These cooperatives are the "legal side" of the paramilitary phenomena.

All these factors complicate the picture of the armed conflict even further. The different agendas of the parties, the different factions among each party, makes very difficult even to think clearly about it.


In 1994 Ernesto Samper, the liberal candidate was elected president. Samper had peace among his central policies. But his political influence was weakened by the scandal regarding the finance of his presidential campaign with money from the Cali's cartel. During the last four years, the insurgency and the army changed some of their military strategies becoming much more aggressive.

The army's attack of Casa Verde (the central command of the FARC-EP) during Gaviria's Government, and other important operations aimed against the group have failed to capture its leaders. These advances have been reciprocated by the guerrilla with the attack and destruction of the army's jungle post, the retention of the soldiers captured during these combats and the negotiation of their liberation in order to get political and strategic concessions from the government.

The confrontation -especially the dirty war between the paramilitaries and the guerrilla- is reaching alarming levels. Massacres and attacks are registered almost every week.

The open confrontation between armed guerrillas and government forces also increased. Earlier this year (1998) more than 300 FARC-EP guerrillas attacked a battalion of 100 soldiers of counterinsurgency in the Caguan and killed most of them. This battle was described as the worst defeat suffered by the army in the 30 years of the conflict and has created a sense of victory among the insurgency.

In August 6, 1998 the guerrilla gave Samper a bloody farewell attacking simultaneously in 65 military bases and urban posts. The result is hundreds of soldiers, guerrillas and civilian dead, injured or taken as prisoners of war.

In August 16, 1998 a fierce battle between the army and FARC guerrillas in the limits of the states of Choco and Antioquia left more than 100 dead between soldiers and guerrilla fighters.

The second peace process with the ELN

Although the guerrilla has publicly rejected Samper's government as immoral and is showing its military power in front of a weakened adversary, two persons in the government team have kept official and unofficial contact with representatives of the insurgency. They are Jose Noe Rios and Daniel Garcia Pena. Their report to the president in September 1997 is a clear document that measures the actual conditions for a peace process in Colombia. (33) In it the authors analyze common concerns of each party and make recommendations. This document is translated(34) in the appendix 1. But the most important efforts to design and build a solid peace process are coming from citizen-based initiatives. In 1996 the National Peace Commission (CCN) was created by the church and other representatives of the society, a group of citizens interested in a negotiated agreement between the parties in conflict. In October 1997 millions of Colombians used a special voting card to support the peace initiatives. This is known as "vote for peace". These efforts have not been fruitless.

During Samper's visit to Europe in February 1998, he visited Spain for what now is known as part of the signing of a pre-understanding for dialogues between the government and the international speakers for the ELN. This pre-understanding was kept secret until March 26, 1998 when one of the participants decided to tell the news to a Spanish journalist from ABC. The agreement between Jose Noe Rios and Daniel Garcia-Pena representing the government, Spanish functionaries of the chancellery and members of the CCN was the result of sixteen months of secret and painstaking work. The text of the document containing the Viana pact is translated(35) in appendix 2.

As a development of the Viana agreement, representatives of the civil society, the government and the guerrilla met in mid-July in Maintz, (Germany). The meeting concentrated on issues such as the humanization of the war, respect for civil population and a working framework for future meetings. The document containing the outcome of the meeting is translated(36) in appendix 3.

These two documents denote a clearer understanding of process issues and design of peace processes. Peace building requires a strategic design, a framework, and the identification of the gaps in the process and the development of a plan that provides sustainable peace constituencies. The CCN is a constituency for peace. During the three years since its creation, the peace process in Colombia has become a reality. These efforts must be complemented and reinforced at different levels of the society to create the required momentum for the success of the peace process. More important, the process must target the parties' perceptions, values and goals as a way to address the interaction behaviors, trying to modify them.

Chapter 2 -- Analysis

"Nothing is more practical than a good Theory"


The causes of the armed conflict in Colombia

Many believe that the causes of the internal conflicts are simple and straightforward(37). Paradigms containing simple explanations to the internal conflict have been developed at different times in Colombia.

Both the civil war of 1900 and 'The Violence' (1948-1959) are often explained as a struggle between the traditional parties, conservative and liberal, for the bureaucratic quotas of government.(38) Another straightforward explanation blames the violence on an alleged 'natural' disposition of Colombians toward violence. The Violence was perceived by many contemporaries and even many analysts as a necessary consequence of the "violent character of Colombians". This explanation is simple and easy to understand. It also provides a good excuse for inaction.

The actual conflict has not escaped from these kinds of paradigmatic explanations. For decades the existence of guerrillas in Colombia was explained using what could be named the cold war paradigm. This was the local application of 'external-systemic' theories developed by several sociologists in the sixties and seventies. Eisenstadt and Rokkan (1973), Paige (1968) and Skocpol (1979) concluded in their studies that domestic conflict, revolutionary crisis, or regime breakdown could be accounted for by looking into the pattern and structure of intrusion by international political, economic and military systems into the domestic realm. In Colombia, both sides have shared this conclusion, from opposing views.

For the insurgents, the imperialist intervention and support of the United States is one of the most important causes of the oligarchy's oppression. On the other side, the political and social elite viewed the insurgents as puppets of the Soviets, the Chinese or the Cubans.

The cold war ended but the guerrillas are now even bigger and stronger than thirteen years ago. A new paradigm had to replace the old one. Colombians found it in the participation of the guerrilla in illicit activities. Today, the subversive problem is perceived and explained by many politicians and scholars as a business issue. For example, many of the persons interviewed for this paper agreed that the subversion was today more a business than a valid political alternative. This paradigm explains the cruelty of the confrontation as a fight for the control and influence of geographical areas dedicated to grow and process cocaine and heroin in the mountains and forest of the country. Kidnapping and extortion are the other illicit activities that provide the guerrilla groups with resources. This new explanation can be called the illicit business paradigm. In one of the interviews, a highly ranked official of the government declared:

"The causes of violence can be reduced to the high profitability of multiple illicit business. All the rest has its roots in an economic problem. This is a fight over the control of illicit activities with incredible profit margins"(39)

The problem with paradigms is that most of the time they offer simplistic explanations to complex phenomena. They neglect the influence of other factors and the validity of alternative explanations. The political and moral biases of the paradigm remain unexplored. Serious scholars reject simple, straightforward explanation of internal conflict(40)

The roots of the conflict in Colombia are multiple and complex. In such a long, protracted struggle it has become very difficult to distinguish between causes and effects. Overtime instruments that originated as means have transformed into ends.

Nevertheless, it is essential to understand and highlight all the causes and elements of the conflict. The scholarly literature on internal conflict is massive. Most of it concentrates on objective factors affecting the conflict, such as the economic, political or social conditions. On the other hand, dispute resolution literature studies internal conflict from the perspective of the parties' perceptions, values, goals as well as the behaviors displayed as a result of these perceptions and values.

It is our opinion that the traditional study and analysis of the Colombian conflict has stressed the objective factors, overlooking the subjective and interactive elements of the problem. Therefore, although we include a study of the objective factors, our main purpose in this chapter is to highlight the less explored factors of the conflict: causes that can be traced to the perception and the dynamics of interaction between the parties. .

Objective conditions of the Colombian conflict

Brown, (41) is one of the authors that explains internal conflicts using mainly objective conditions. He suggests four main clusters: structural factors; political factors; economic/social factors; and cultural/perceptual factors. Other scholars and analysts have extensively looked into all of them using varied points of view. (42) Most scholars of violence in Colombia rely almost entirely on these conditions. The reason: they are easy to observe and measure. It just requires a visit to the slums of Bogota or Medellin to conclude that extreme conditions of poverty are a cruel reality in Colombia. Therefore, problems such as economic inequalities, the weakness of the state, discriminatory political institutions, elite politics, interventionism, etc are viewed as the root of the conflict. Following this line of thinking it is not difficult to conclude that the causes of the conflict are these objective conditions. During the following pages we will study some of them. The clusters of objective factors proposed by Brown include:

Structural Factors: state weakness and intrastate security concerns

The weakness of the Colombian State is one of the important causes of the conflict and its escalation. This weakness is the product of a myriad of causes such as the absence of state in many regions of the territory, the crisis of the judicial system, the endemic corruption and administrative incompetence. In the last four years this situation has deteriorated with the linking of the president (Ernesto Samper) and countless congressmen with money from the Cali drugs cartel as contributions to their political campaigns, a criminal proceeding know as the process 8,000. The scandal that followed the election of Samper as president in 1994 created a political confrontation between the government and its retractors, including the United States. After innumerable political manipulations the president was acquitted by a mostly liberal Congress, but the controversy and permanent oppositions left the government weakened and isolated.

A weakened Colombia government and its demoralized armed forces cannot provide for the safety of its citizens. Almost anyone can be kidnapped or killed in the streets. This has created an important security problem. Individuals and groups within the nation worry about whether other individuals or groups pose security threats, and feel compelled to provide for their own defense. Everyone tries to protect his life, his family and his property using any means available. As a result, intrastate security deteriorates further. Private justice replaces public justice. This security dilemma is at the bottom of the so called 'security cooperatives' (Convivir), which are legal private security forces operating in the countryside. The political controversy created around these cooperatives is based on different conception about the citizen's right to arm and defend collectively when the state has lost control over the public order.

Political Factors: interventionism, dependence, and elite politics.

Cold war strategies between the 1960's and the 1980's were also an important component of the Colombian conflict. The Cuban revolution inspired the creation of guerrillas such as the ELN or the M-19. They were trained and backed by the communists.(43) On the other side, the United States armed forces actively trained and supported their Colombian counterparts. Interventionism is still today an important factor of the conditions of the conflict. Although theoretically the economic and military aid that the United States gives to the Colombian government is dedicated to the fight against the drug trade, in reality the two 'wars' are the same one. The guerrillas participate actively in the drug business, therefore fighting the drug trade requires also attacking the guerrilla's interests. The distinction between the 'two wars' becomes a mere manipulation of words to avoid the internal political cost for the American government.

Another important factor of the Colombian conflict is related to its political system. Many argue that the prospects for conflict in a country depend to a significant degree on the type and fairness of its political system. (44) In Colombia, some groups are inadequately represented in the management of the government, the courts, the military, the police, political parties, and other state and political institutions. The legitimacy of the system as a whole has been called into question. Although the Constitution of 1991 included special circumscriptions for minorities in Congress, this are only initial steps that require a wider political commitment in order to increase the representation of minorities in decision-making organism at every level of the Colombian society.

Economic and social factors: economic crisis and discriminatory economic systems.

Economic crisis historically contributes to internal conflict. Colombia is not an exception. In the years before the civil war of 1900 the prices of Colombian products in the international markets fell dramatically. The liberals were mostly affected by this crisis, which created societal frustration that contributed to ignite the war. Today, the economic crisis is also important. Peasants came to the rain forest at the South of the country looking for a way out of the desperate poverty of the cities' slums. Here they work in the depth of the Colombian rain forest controlled by the guerrilla and have little alternative but to deforest the rain forest to grow coca. Other crops are not an alternative, due to the great distances to the markets, which increases their prices making them impracticable. This situation has been used by the guerrilla, which taxes the illicit crops and the use of the territory by drug smugglers. The guerrillas mostly do not grow or trade drugs. But they protect those who do, at a price. Growers pay $100 per hectare of coca, laboratories $100 per kilo of cocaine, traffickers' airstrips $18,000 per take-off."(45)The final result is a well-financed defiant guerrilla with enough firepower to escalate the war.

Unequal economic opportunities and access to resources such as land and capital, vast differences in standards of living are all signs of economic systems that disadvantaged members of society see as unfair and illegitimate.(46) All of the above symptoms are present in the Colombian reality. The income per-capita is extremely low and the distribution of resources unbalanced. Modernization and economic development were seen once as a solution to these problems. Indeed it aggravated the situation because economic growth benefited some groups and regions more than others, creating internal migration from the countryside to the cities. Migration added to the lack of planned development and restricted access to the land to create slums that surround all the most important cities of the country. Today these cities are logistical nightmares. By definition slum are totally unplanned which increases the cost of bringing public services to them.

Undoubtedly, a very important factor that has complicated further the situation in Colombia and is acting today as a very important obstacle, are the illegal activities developed by the guerrilla. The guerrilla has increased greatly its income thanks to activities such as kidnapping and extortion as well as logistical services provided to drug smugglers in areas controlled by them. Although these activities are not new -kidnapping, extortion and drugs smuggling were all part of the national landscape twenty years ago - their importance has increased exponentially. Kidnapping grew into an organized industry while the relations between the guerrillas and drug cartel is such that the term narc-guerrillas is used by the press, government officials and even scholars to describe the situation.(47)

These are only some of the objective conditions that constitute the frame in which the Colombian conflict is staged. As we said before, many scholars and actors of the conflict use them as exclusive causes of the conflict. This was most clear during the interviews developed as an informational tool for this paper and distributed among Colombian government officials, left-wing leaders and scholars.(48) We asked about the causes of the armed conflict, a diplomatic government official said that the principal cause was "the lack of presence of the State, failure in the administration of justice, and corruption". A guerrilla leader attributes the conflict to the "social inequities imposed by the Colombian oligarchy." Another government official saw the root of the problem in "the incredible profits of illicit business leading to an aggressive competition". A respected scholar identifies the causes in "the application of the law, corruption and problems with the administration of justice." A left wing activist declares that "the intervention of imperialism into the internal affairs of the country and the oligarchy's purposeful deceit of the working class " are at the heart of the problem.

A problem of using objective factors as sole causes of the conflict is that most of these conditions (such as weak states, corruption, socioeconomic inequities, political élites, etc) are shared with the rest of the Latin American and many third world countries. If poverty, inequality and social injustice are sole causes of social conflict, why other countries that share these circumstances, some of them even in worst economic conditions, are not at war? Confronted with this argument, many would argue that the drug trade is the objective factor that makes the difference of the Colombian case. But then we must remember that although Colombia's illicit activities are part of the present problem, they are relatively new and cannot explain prior instances of the conflict. They certainly cannot justify the 300,000 people that died in The Violence of the 1950's.

After a complete recounting of Colombia's history, we should recognize that the levels of cruelty developed during the peaks of the three civil wars couldn't be attributed entirely to the economic or even political inequalities. Something is missing in the analysis. We argue that the part of the analysis that has been overlooked is related to the psychosocial dynamics of the Colombian society and the conflict itself. The root of the conflict is in the way that the parties perceive and process information, interprets it and assume behaviors accordingly. These perceptions have developed into narratives filled with mutual recrimination, distorted perceptions and dispositional attributions. These narratives are the moral explanations that the individuals and groups have to excuse their actions, no matter how cruel and inhumane. They act as an excuse to escalate the conflict even further turning it into an autistic confrontation in which each party excludes the other from the moral boundaries in which the concepts of deserving a humane treatment apply.

The total absence of trust and the mutual recriminations and accusations that constitute the everyday life are products of this repeated pattern of escalated interaction.

Subjective and interactive causes of the Colombian conflict

These causes of conflict are not easily recognizable in the chaotic general picture of the conflict. They are largely constituted by intangible but very real phenomena like attitudes, perceptions, goals and narratives that manifest themselves in the parties behavior, their choosing of tactics, the reactions to the other tactics, etc. These repeated behaviors create patterns of conduct and interaction between the parties. These elements of the conflict are the least studied and misunderstood.

The parties' interpretation of the reasons' behind the contentious behavior of the other are often limited to dispositional attributions such as their hypocrisy or treacherousness. The situational and environmental factors or the dynamics of the conflict affecting the others' behavior are disregarded. Although some of the effects of these subjective factors such as the lack of trust are more easily identifiable by the analysis, the causes underlying that lack of trust are seldom studied.

As we said before, the fact that subjective factors are often left out of the analysis was a general feature of the interviews conducted among political personalities, intellectuals and scholars. Although all of them had a complex understanding of the objective causes of the problem, vast experience, and trained analytical minds, most of them failed to recognize the dynamic situational factors as part of the causes of the conflict.

In this chapter, we will try to study these subjective causes using concepts developed by the theory of conflict analysis and resolution.

Conflict: conditions, typology, reactions, tactics and consequences.

Conflicts and disputes

Although definitions of conflict abound in conflict resolution scholarly literature, for the purpose of this project we will use Rubin, Pruit and Kim's definition of conflict as "perceived divergence of interest, or a belief that the parties' current aspirations cannot be achieved simultaneously."(49)

Some authors(50) distinguish between disputes and conflicts. Disputes are differences about interests; choices and preferences found in all human relationship; while conflicts arise out of the frustration of basic human needs that cannot be compromised or suppressed. Therefore, disputes can be settled changing the parties' behavior; whereas conflicts must be resolved in a transformational process of the parties' attitudes. Normally, conflicts are simply "managed" through suppression, pressure tactics or partial settlement, but they keep coming back until a solution is found. The difference between conflict settlement and conflict management is at the heart of the problem-solving approach that will be explained and applied for the Colombian conflict in the next chapter.

How conflict becomes violent

The process from perceived divergence of interest to a violent escalated conflict follows a certain pattern. Once a party has perceived a divergence of interest, the party is predisposed to be influenced by a series of events of relative deprivation that trigger contentious tactics. This contentious tactics might include violent acts. This in turn produces in the other negative psychological effects that trigger his own violent contentious tactics, and escalates the conflict further. While the conflict escalates the parties will tend to limit their communication. This effect is known as autistic hostility. Once the conflict reaches high levels of contentiousness the perception of the parties are so distorted that they will see the other as undeserving of the most basic human rights, a situation known as moral exclusion. The escalation process is a self-fulfilling prophecy in which the perceptions and expectations of the party influence their attitudes towards the other and provokes the expected reaction. If the cycle is not broken by some kind of intervention this self-fulfilling prophecy will continue throughout the conflict's life and violence will become extreme.

At this point we will study in more detail each one of the conditions that form this pattern. Later we will study the kind of conflicts, their variables and finally the escalation processes themselves.

Conditions that encourage conflict

Events of Relative Deprivation

Conflict is often created or transformed into violent confrontation after a harsh experience in which one or both parties fail to achieve their aspirations. These special turning points of the parties' relationship are known as events of relative deprivation.

In the history of Colombia, several events of relative deprivation led to the formation of warring parties. Examples of events of relative deprivation abound in Colombian history. Some of the most important events of relative deprivation in Colombia are the banana massacre in the 1920's and Gaitan's assassination in the 1940's. More connected with the actual conflict are the government attack on Marquetalia in the 1960's, the guerrilla attack to the Canton Norte in the 1970's and to the Palace of Justice in the 1980's, the government attack on La Uribe and the guerrilla attack in El Caguan in the 1990's. Other events of relative deprivation can be found in the pain and frustration produced by the assassination of leaders such as Rafael Uribe, Jorge Gaitan, Luis Carlos Galan, Carlos Pizarro, Alvaro Gomez and countless others.

After an event of relative deprivation, initial perceptions of divergence of interest turn into dispositional attributions about the party blamed for the event. In time, each group creates a narrative to explain the events(51). The narrative of the guerrilla is that Gaitan was assassinated by the oligarchy when it became clear that he was going to win the presidential election of 1950. For them it is very clear that the political intolerance of the economic and political elite they call oligarchy is the cause of the conflict. Another event that is interpreted in the same manner by the insurgency is the perceived 'electoral fraud' on April 19, 1970. Many perceived that democracy was an illusion in Colombia. Also, the operation of government forces against Marquetalia was perceived as the declaration of war to the self-defense peasants groups that turned them into a mobile guerrilla. This same event was replicated almost thirty years later with the attack of the army to the central command of the FARC in Casa Verde. The Palace of Justice is another example. For the guerrillas, the attack on the palace was a way to show the world that they felt betrayed by President Betancourt's peace process. It was conceived as a 'judgement'.

The reading that the government and traditional sectors make of these events is very different. In this narrative, the assassination of Gaitan was the consequence of his own confrontational style that unraveled political violence. His assassin acted alone. They blame Gaitan for the violence of the 1950's. On the other hand, for the army the attack to Marquetalia and Casa Verde are just acts of a legitimate authority exercising acts of sovereignty in the national territory. And the attack of the guerrilla on the palace of justice was the act of cowards that shielded in civilians to coerce the government into negotiations. When the army recuperated the building, they were "defending democratic institutions."

Regardless of their point of view, both parties would agree on the importance of the events of April 9, 1948 the day Jorge Eliecer Gaitan was assassinated in the streets of Bogota. As stated recently by a columnist in the most important newspaper of Colombia:

"It was a tragedy impossible to tell, still unattended. Unforgettable, anyway; I don't know if curable. Those who suffered it will never forget it, because it was a deep wound, and worse, useless. It won't be easy to repair the disaster of that afternoon." (52)

Relative deprivation has two basic effects: "First, it alerts Party to the existence of incompatible interest. Second, the frustration and indignation associated with relative deprivation are a source of energy that increases the likelihood and vigor of coping activity. If Other is held responsible (i.e. blamed) for the Party's relative deprivation, this energy takes the form of anger, which is particularly likely to produce contentious action."(53)

For many theorists, episodes of relative deprivation are a sine qua non of conflict (Davies, 1962; Gurr, 1970; Kriesberg, 1982). Events of relative deprivation can become real turning points of relationship with the potential to transform latent conflicts into actual ones.

If the event of relative deprivation also frustrates basic human needs (elements necessary to the development of all people such as identity, dignity, security, equity, and participation in decisions that affect them and control over their destiny)(54); the episode can be perceived as fraternalistic deprivation.

The perception that one's group has been deprived has been identified empirically as a major source of intergroup conflict (Abeles, 1976; Walker & Mann, 1987), resulting often in the development of protracted social conflict and struggle groups. This happened historically in Colombia. Liberal and conservatives threatened each other's dignity, participation and security during the political hegemonies (1885-1930 conservatives and 1930-1946 liberals). During these periods, it was customary for the party in power to control the other's access to power, creating deep resentment. This mutual resentment and frustration finally exploded during the Violence of the 1950's. Entire towns were massacred by one of side or the other in a cold-blooded political cleansing. The rage and vengeance that followed the massacres was a source of energy that increased the vigor of the response, escalating and degrading the conflict even further.

Status Inconsistency and Invidious Comparisons

Conflict is also fostered by the development of groups' perception that the other party is of no greater merit, yet is afforded greater privilege. These invidious comparisons are likely to occur when there are multiple criteria for assessing people's merit or contributions, and some people's standards are higher and lower.

For the insurgency, Colombia's ruling class exploits the workers of the country. They call it 'oligarchy', a name that politicians used originally for corrupt politicians. Indeed, most of the insurgents' arguments are filled by this kind of comparisons:

"We have a political argument, that this country's oligarchy has been enriched by the suffering and sacrifice of the civil population. We, by revolutionary essence, confront this situation and don't share the extremes of opulent and poverty in our country."(55)

Weakening Normative Consensus

Societies and the groups within them are constantly developing rules to govern the behavior of their members. Broader and long-lasting rules are called norms. A major function of such rules is reducing the likelihood of conflict. Norms, and their application, specify the outcomes to which the parties are entitled. Conflict is likely to appear in circumstances in which normative consensus is weakened.

In Colombia normative consensus has weakened seriously both in the judicial and societal level. The Colombian justice system has been weakened gravely by politicization, corruption and inefficiency. This situation is worsened by the disintegration of long held social rules and moral principles. The clash of the so-called 'narc-culture' against Colombia's accepted social norms became an important factor of the actual crisis. The Colombian church has described it as the 'loss of moral values'. During the seventies and eighties, the drug-dealers' impressive financial success triggered a general competition for their money. At many levels of the Colombian society, drug dealers were exemplified as models of resourcefulness.

A normative crisis was created within the society. Until then, at least theoretically, hard work and individual effort were regarded as the way to gain economic and social mobility. The structural problems of lack of education, limited access to credit and the rigidity of land ownership, limited economic development and social mobility, creating frustration and resentment. With the arrival of these new 'entrepreneurs' of the drug trade the traditional values were challenged. Malice and violence became norms of this culture. Drug money permeated all levels of society and economy. With their economic success, came their interest in political control. This rupture was most clear in the 1994 President Samper presidential campaign, which received several million of dollars from the Cali cartel(56). The aggregated effects of an inefficient judicial system and weak social norms have been an important factor of a widespread crisis within the Colombian society and economy.

The guerrilla has use drug smuggling as a very important source of income. This situation contrasts with their traditional doctrines, showing also an important deterioration of 'revolutionary morals'. From the army's point of view, this makes guerrillas undistinguishable form mere armed bandits.

Zero-sum thinking

This is a condition that encourages conflict because parties believe that the gain of one is necessarily the loss of the other. Although many issues are distributive in nature, this is not always true. The common assumption that the pie is 'fixed' and cannot be increased by the parties -or anyone else- thus creating a competing mentality that increases conflict levels.

In Colombia, zero-sum mentality is very common. Influential political actors and guerrilla leaders see the armed conflict applying zero-sum thinking in which only complete victory is acceptable. This is most clear in the following newspaper article by a well-know columnist from Bogota, in which he criticizes the peace process:

"...peace cannot be begged, it must be conquered; the war must be won after negotiating peace; those who humiliate themselves to avoid war, end with the humiliation and the war; these inopportune armistices make the enemy stronger and weaken the capacity to fight; we are not in Nicaragua; in the middle of this conflict runs the white gold of cocaine; there is not on the horizon of the possible a true, stable and fecund peace with the bandits that have Colombia besieged and morally conquered."(57)

Typology, Issues and variables of conflict

The Colombian armed strife fit into conflict resolution theoretical developments such as Deutsch's classification of conflicts, issues and variables.

Morton Deutsch identified six types of conflicts: veridical, contingent, displaced, misattributed, latent and false conflict. Five types of issues: control over resources, preferences, values, beliefs and nature of the relationship. And seven variables: characteristic of the parties, prior relationship, nature of the issues, social environment, interest of audiences, strategies and tactics used and consequences of the conflict to each one.(58)

Ideology as a veridical conflict

In our case study, a veridical conflict exists between the parties' abstract political ideologies. The subversive's ideology is basically a communism project, with different political variables (Marxist-Leninist, Maoist and Cuban). Communism theory is based on the disappearance of market forces, state's control over private property and centralized planning of the economy. Colombia's government is, from an ideological point of view, a capitalism country with private property and market forces governing economic relations. Since these two ideologies cannot be applied at the same time there is a veridical conflict over dominance of particular ideological values (individualism or collectivism).

Analyzing conflict over values, Deutsch adds:

"It is not the differences in values per se that lead to conflict but rather the claim that one value should dominate or be applied generally, even by those who hold different values. Value conflict is most likely to occur when opposing values become implicated in legal or political action." (59)

Variables affecting this ideological issue are the interest of the audiences and the scope of the issue. Many Colombians feel 'insulted' merely by the insurgency communism project. Government officials perceive in the guerrillas' ideology project as "an anachronism, sadly useless and without a meaning of their characteristics, methods and style"(60). Others react angrily, feeling their status at risk. There is simply too much at stake for audiences to be receptive to reasons different to the ones that they feel protects their own interest.

This ideological confrontation is rooted in a problem of distributive justice of the country's social and economic institutions. Folger, Sheppard and Buttram (1995) identify three conditions necessary for the satisfactory operation of any society: sufficient economic productivity, adequate solidarity among its members, and the nurturing of those members to at least some minimal.(61) These conditions are related to the three levels of distributive justice identified by Deutsch: equity, equality and need.

The application of the three justice principles are necessary for the healthy development of social institution because they address basic individual and collective human needs: relative equality validates people's feeling of full-fledged membership in a cohesive unit, their identity. On the other hand, equity fosters the need to feel productive, deserving, able and successful. Finally, by attending to the basic needs of its weak members, society is providing for their human dignity.

In the following chart we relate these three elements (conditions, justice principles and human needs).(62)

Conditions Justice Principle Human Needs
Productivity Equity Deserving, pride,


Solidarity Equality Identity, group unity, membership
Nurturing Need Dignity

When we study the conditions of distributive justice in Colombia we find ourselves with a country with extremely limited economic resources that cannot provide for the essential welfare of its citizens. The minimum wage cannot satisfy the basic needs of the average Colombian family. Health care services are very limited, covering only a small part of the population. Public entities of social security are in shambles due to the politicization of their payrolls. Unemployment welfare is an unattainable dream. Naturally, the most affected by this situation are the weakest members of the society. The streets of Bogota and other capital cities of the country are filled with "gamines" (children form the street) and indigents, as testimony of a society that turned its back on them. Need, as principle of distributive justice and human dignity are more distant aspirations of well-intended citizens than characteristic of the Colombian society as a whole.

Equality in Colombia is also limited. The country does not offer equal access to basic services for a large part of its population. Extreme inequalities in education, nutrition, health, job opportunities, access to housing and credit acts as a 'natural barrier' to economic and social mobility. This became more salient in the last fifty years with the disorganized migration from the countryside to the cities and the generation of slums around them. The distribution of society's economic resources between capital and labor is extremely unequal. Thanks to low salary levels, Colombia is competitive in labor-intensive crops in the international markets such as coffee and flowers. This perpetuates inequalities, because increasing salaries to workers of labor-intensive industries will take from them their comparative advantage. Not increasing them will deprive them from the resources to have access to education, health and housing. At this level, the international economic system act as perpetrator of inequalities.

Since the colony, a status system of classes has been a permanent sociological reality. The government is not an impartial controller of monopolistic forces and privileged interest. Economic monopolies controlling entire industries and sometimes several sectors of the country at the same time are not only legal but also arguably the biggest force controlling political decisions. Colombians perceive them as all-powerful: the real power behind the throne. These economic groups lobby and pressure the three branches of the state with such strength that equality becomes almost impossible in the Colombian society.

These limitations on the application of need and equality as societal principles create a difficult environment for its citizens. Market forces and basic survival instincts are the only rules respected. Everything has a price, even human life and liberty. Everything is on sale, especially consciences. In this brutal version of capitalism every one has to fight with vehemence and use any means available to defend its life or property. Life becomes a fight for survival without an arbitrator or regulation. Widespread corruption becomes the system, the way to do business. Only the ruthless survive in this environment.

The imbalance between the three distributive justice levels is used by the insurgency as their battle horse with the traditional name of 'social injustice'. The failure of the communism ideological framework did not diminish the subversives' deep-rooted desire for vengeance against the oligarchy. Without the communism model, the subversion has not offered a public coherent ideology. Agrarian reform and nationalization of the oil industry and other natural resources are among their demands. The reasons for the guerrillas' activities go beyond the search for social equality and include their own personal and organizational interest as well as hate and desire of vengeance. Human dignity and care for the weak members of society are not characteristics of their actions, either.

The conflict around ideology becomes therefore an intellectual construction that justifies violence, more a rhetoric exercise than a practical commitment. Both parties fail to understand and apply principles of distributive justice that recognize human dignity.

Paramilitaries and guerrilla against the civil society: a misattributed conflict

Following Deutsch's classification, we can say that the kidnappings, massacres and political cleansing against the population and local authorities are all part of a misattributed conflict. It is misattributed because the population and local authorities are not and cannot be parties of the armed conflict. A peasant in front of an armed soldier or guerrilla fighter does not have many alternatives but to "collaborate", no matter which convictions he may have. In the regions controlled by the guerrilla, they are the local state. Therefore, among the tactics used by paramilitaries, moving the local population out of the guerrilla territories is a strategy of war that tries to leave them without the logistical support. As clearly stated in the following report, this strategy of war is being used extensively in the last years of the conflict.

"Eight delegates representing some 5,000 displaced people, mainly refugees in the northeastern city of Barrancabermeja, said they were forced to leave their homes under threats from paramilitary groups who considered them guerrilla collaborators. Internal displacement is one of the main problems caused by the conflict, said Almudena Mazarraza, director of the UN High Commission for Refugees office in Colombia. Various reports state more than a million Colombians have been forced from their homes by war in the last decade."(63)

The problem of peasant's displacements affects hundreds of thousand of Colombian and aggravates the conditions of the country. Security concerns increase as well as social and economic needs that the Colombian State is in no position to address.

Once reviewed the psychosocial conditions that encourage the conflict, we can take a step forward and examine the different reactions to situations of perceived divergence of interests that can be adopted by the social actors.

Reactions to Conflict

The analysis of the parties' reaction to conflict and the strategies they use to deal with it is at the core of the dispute resolution field. One classification includes: Domination, Capitulation, Withdrawal, Inaction, Negotiation and Third Party intervention.(64) Another classification (65) includes fight responses (arrogance and engagement) and flight responses (denial, avoidance and accommodation).

Basically, all strategic reactions to conflict can be reduced to four categories composed of different tactics: (66)


Contending is to try to impose a solution, without regard of the other's interest using pressure tactics such as ingratiation, gamesmanship, guilt trips, persuasive arguments, preemptive actions, putdowns, positional commitments, and threats. Tactics that try to suppress the conflict by creating barriers to communication impose strict status systems or the removal of actual or potential leadership are 'indirect' contentious tactics that have been widely used in Colombia. The problem with too much suppression of social conflict is that, by preventing healthy change and learning, the social system is ossified and the latency is just translated to another generation. Contention as a strategic choice is linked to a win/lose mentality and the aggressor-defender model of escalation.


This reaction consists of lowering one's own aspirations and settling for less than one would have liked. Yielding tactics include total capitulation, withdrawal or simply distributive negotiation. A lose/lose or win/lose mentality is related to this reaction.


Escaping the other, avoiding the issues or the simple choice of inaction are common reactions to conflict. It also includes 'indirect' tactics like the 'false cohesiveness' of creating new groups. Some parties are not interested in the conflict or may think that by ignoring it will go away, which can happen. But more often than not, conflict avoidance tactics increase the likelihood of later violent reactions

Problem Solving

This approach to conflict entails an effort to identify the issues and search for a creative solution that appeals and satisfies the interests of the parties. The party choosing this strategy maintains its own aspirations while trying to reconcile them with the other party.

Among problem solving tactics are: information exchange; trust building; cost cutting; adding issues, parties or resources; image protection; compensation; bridging of alternatives; logrolling or exchange of concessions and unlinking. All these tactics can be applied using processes such as principled or integrative negotiations and third party mediations, fact-finding, etc.

How do the parties choose between these reactions? A basic notion from the study of this choosing, called the "Dual Concern Model" (Rubin, Pruit and Kim) is represented in this chart:

Concern about Yielding Problem Solving
Other's Outcome Avoiding Contending
Low High
Concern About Own Outcome

The horizontal axis represents the concern of the party about its own outcome, while the vertical shows the concern of the party for the Other's outcome.

As the figure shows, low concern about our own outcomes and high concern about the other encourages yielding; a party with low concern about both outcomes tends to avoid conflict. Problem solving is fostered by concerns about own and other's outcomes (this last concern can be genuine or instrumental -strategic- being aimed at helping the other in order to advance our own interest.), and finally low concern about other's outcome and high concern about our own implies contending.

All these reactions are present in the Colombian conflict. Many members of society try to escape from the conflict just by trying to ignore it, a reaction that is a psychological defense mechanism. Ignoring the country's desperate social situation and its difficult reality by considering it as "other people problem" is not rare.

The families of the victims of kidnapping are willing to yield to the petitions of the captors. Kidnapping has grown into a multi-million dollar industry thanks to the willingness of Colombians to pay ransoms. A common front against kidnapping that includes a painful but necessary collective decision not to pay the kidnappers has been successful in Italy. But Colombians are not used to face problems using collective approaches. Colombians would try to take care of themselves and their families on their own, without expecting much from the state or from community actions. A law that penalized the payment of ransoms was not successful because people just ignored it and continued "negotiating" for their family members with the kidnappers. Enforcing the law was perceived as penalizing the family of the victim instead of the kidnappers, which seemed morally wrong. This is part of an "unwritten" rule by which everyone has the right to deal with kidnapping the best they can.

Contending is the traditional reaction between the direct parties of the conflict. The rancor between the army and guerrillas and between them and paramilitaries is showed in the cruelty of the mutual attacks. The 'dirty' war includes massacres, kidnapping and political cleansing is one of the preferred weapons of the escalated confrontation. Contending and pressure tactics were also the parties' main tactic during the 1990-92 peace talks in Caracas and Tlaxcala. Problem Solving is not common. In rare opportunities is problem solving used to address issues. Such was the case in 1990 when the M-19 resisted the temptation to react to the assassination of their leaders and decided to continue in the peace process. The work of the National Commission for Conciliation has been also guided by a very careful attitude of problem solving more than reaction to the events or the parties' mutual recriminations.

Pressure Tactics

As we said before, we must differentiate between disputes and conflicts. Disputes are perceived divergences of interests, choices and preferences and can be "managed" through suppression, pressure tactics, partial or total settlements that involve a simple change in the behavior of the parties. Conflicts on the other hand are perceived differences that are seen as related to the party basic human needs, such as its identity or participation. Therefore, conflicts cannot be "managed" through suppression, pressure tactics or partial settlement. They will keep coming back until a solution is found. That solution rests on a change of attitudes and perceptions, not just behaviors.(67)

The difference between "disputes management" and "conflict resolution" is related to the strategic choices made by the parties in conflict. Contending strategies, also known as pressure tactics are used to manage conflicts, not necessarily to resolve them. The decision to use contending tactics is based on several factors. One is the parties' perceived power. A party might decide to use contending tactics in situations of perceived extreme power imbalance, either because it feels all-powerful or too weak. Another reason is the importance that the party gives to the outcome of the other. If the party is concerned about the other's outcome, contentious tactics are less likely. A third factor affecting the decision to use pressure tactics is the level of antagonism and trust between the parties. Finally, the party is more inclined to use contentious tactics if it perceives that the other's aspirations are inflexible.

Pressure tactics are an attractive choice for other reasons. They are seen as straightforward 'natural' primary responses. They are also easy to 'sell' to the constituency, consistent with the sense of justice, righteousness and our group superiority.

All the parties of the Colombian conflict use heavy contentious (pressure) tactics. The use of pressure by the state in Colombia is related to the perceived power of the guerrilla. The army's attack at Marquetalia in 1964 was just the beginning of a long list of pressure tactics used against a supposedly weak enemy. During the 60's, 70's and part of the 80's, the guerrilla was perceived by many within the government more as a nuisance than a real threat. The perceived power of the guerrilla was low due to the its alleged lack of support by the population. The guerrilla is also perceived as extremist groups who would not understand reason. Therefore, their outcome was perceived as not important for the state. The generalized viewpoint was that the only way to deal with them was through war. President Betancourt changed this approach to the problem and initiated peace talks. But the spectacular failure and the events of the Justice Palace in 1985 reaffirmed the perception of violent extremist.

Another important factor in deciding to use pressure tactics by the Colombian State is related to a traditional structure inspired on 'rights/rules' ethics.(68) This framework is essentially pyramidal, where authority is given from the top of the hierarchy. It assesses moral conduct in terms of alleged rights of relevant parties and in terms of governing rules or principles. In this framework, social upheaval is viewed, as breaking of the order that must be controlled, if necessary by the 'use of legitimate force.'

The 'legitimate use of power' uses a recognized authority to intentionally coerce the behavior of others.(69) It has been arguably the main reason behind the state's use of pressure tactics against the guerrillas. As we will see when we examine the escalation process the problem is that in its indiscriminate use of power, the state creates civil disobedience and insurgency, with the potential to create secessionist movements. All of these reactions are part of the reality of the Colombian conflict.

The guerrilla's use of pressure tactics is also related to the long held believe that force was the only language the oligarchy would understand. For them, the political arena was controlled by the oligarchy. Therefore it was impossible to get access to power by democratic means; thus the decision to use increasingly contentious tactics. They include symbolic actions such as the stealing of Bolivar's sword by the M-19. The sword was used as a connection between the respected figure of the liberator Bolivar and the guerrilla struggle. The name of Bolivar was again used in the name of the entity coordinating all the guerrilla's actions. The M-19 continued the use of symbolic contentious tactics in the stealing of army's arms in Bogota, the kidnapping of the Dominican Embassy and the attack to the Palace of Justice. The other guerrillas use of pressure tactics include periodical attacks on towns in which they destroy public buildings and steal from local banks, the use of kidnapping, extortion to landowners and merchants, ambushes, laying of personnel mines and constant bombing to oil pipelines and electricity towers.

Another preferred contentious tactic in Colombia has been the suppression of conflict through the elimination of leadership. Rafael Uribe, Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, Bernardo Ossa, Luis Carlos Galan, Carlos Pizarro, Alvaro Gomez are only some of the political leaders that can be considered political martyrs. The authors of these crimes have never been completely established.

Finally, the choice to use contentious tactics is directly related to the formation and maintenance of beliefs at an individual and societal levels in a socio-psychological phenomenon called ethnocentrism.

The formation and maintenance of beliefs

Our primary nature is egocentric and strongly prone to irrational belief formation. We tend to believe what we want to believe because it preserves our sense of righteousness, minimizes our sense of inconsistency and presupposes our own correctness.(70) Once a belief that preserves our sense of correctness is formed, we tend to seek information that confirm our beliefs and avoid inconsistent information. Information is then interpreted as supporting the beliefs.(71)

The formation and maintenance of individual and societal beliefs is reinforced by ethnocentrism which is to see one's own group as the center of everything, and to rate others with reference to it.(72) This syndrome is characterized by pride in one's own group combined with a sense of its superiority over other groups and an antipathy toward outgroups. The in-group sees selves as virtuous and their own standards as universal and intrinsically true, while the out-group is seen as contemptible, immoral, weak, inferior and their values are rejected

Ethnocentrism is present in all the historic conflicts in Colombia. Liberals and Conservatives fought during the 1.000-day's war and after that during the violence of the 40's and 50's. As I said before, these wars have been explained traditionally as a fight over bureaucratic resources. This is an oversimplification that cannot explain the high levels of cruelty. More than mere bureaucratic quotas the real issues were related to basic human needs. (73) Both groups acted against the other basic need to participate in decisions affecting their own destiny.

In the actual conflict between the government and guerrillas, an ethnocentric mentality is present in both parties. The insurgency groups consider their sacred duty to fight for 'the people' (allegedly their constituency) against an out-group they call the oligarchy.

On the other hand, the government and the army see themselves as the protectors of the institutions of democracy in Colombia against an out-group of communist extremist. Both parties see their goals as intrinsically just, therefore they "can do no wrong'. The parties also deny legitimacy to the opponent, see themselves as the victims of the other's actions. All these are beliefs strongly held by both parties that provide a prism through which members see conflict.(74)


We have seen how conflict is born from a series of conditions, perceptions and reactions of the parties. In the following pages we will explain how these contending reactions create escalation of the conflict and the effect that escalation has in the parties' dispositions and on the future of the conflict itself.

As we said before, pressure tactics are an attractive choice because they are easy to 'sell' to the constituency and consistent with the party sense of justice, righteousness and our group superiority. The problem with pressure tactics is that they tend to elicit a similar behavior, increase suspicion, anger and antagonism, pushing the conflict into a degenerative spiral of escalation.

The parties fall into a self-fulfilling prophecy in which long held individual societal beliefs considered self-evident, and ethnocentric tendencies towards righteousness and moral superiority induce the party to use pressure tactics, that the party considers mere 'self-defense'. But the other party perceives these measures as attacks, and therefore, they tend to take their own 'defensive measures' that in the eyes of the first party are nothing but the confirmation of its beliefs.

As stated by Azar, the effects of the state's use of pressure tactics has the potential to escalate the conflict:

"Calls for greater autonomy by minority groups typically result in coercive responses, and the weaker party seeks external assistance … the common state response follows a win-lose approach involving co-optation or repression, neither of which deals satisfactorily with the conflict. Often states adopt a hard-line policy, which invites a militant response from the marginalized groups. Failure of co-optation and initial repression justify more coercive measures, which are responded to in kind. Negative attributions of motivations and reciprocal negative images perpetuate the antagonism and solidify the conflict."(75) (Underlying is ours)

The parties tend to explain the escalation of the conflict as a result of the other's aggression. This aggressor-defender model is found in most of the parties' mutual guilt trips.

"..the aggressor is viewed as having a goal of creating change that places it in conflict with the defender. The aggressor's goal may be to take something from the defender, to alter reality at the defender's expense, or to stop the defender's annoying behavior."(76)

This model of escalation is applied to everyday thinking and the parties use it as a rationalization for their own behavior. But the aggressor-defender model is just a development of the 'we can do no wrong' belief in which the other must be the aggressor and we are just defending ourselves. It is an oversimplification of the real dynamics of the conflict. An example of the use of this aggressor-defender model is the explanation given by Manuel Perez, then commander of the ELN, in a public document about the causes of the war: The pattern of ethnocentrism within the aggressor-defender model is present in the parties' phrasing.

" We are not in favor of the war, we have not selected the war as a path to defend ourselves from injustice; the war has been imposed on us as the only possible way to defend our rights."(77)

A more complete picture of the problem would need to include the psychological forces and structural changes behind the conflict spiral. This model is known as the Structural Change Model.

Psychological states and structural changes Heavy tactics used by Other affecting Party

The origin of escalation is generally a perceived divergence of interest, which provokes party contentious tactics. These tactics create psychological states in the other, who pays in kind with heavy tactics that affect the party's psychological states. Therefore, there is a third ingredient that is left out of the aggressor-defender model. These ingredients are the psychological reactions of the parties to the other's use of pressure tactics. It is important to study these reactions because they are the affective and cognitive materials used in the process of selecting a course of action.

These psychological states can be of two classes: affective reactions and cognitive changes.

Affective Reactions

Affective reactions during escalations are among the most immediate reactions. They include:

Blame and anger: holding the other responsible and hence accountable, so that he must be punished. In this reaction there is a combination of a rational desire to retaliate against the other and anger.

Fear: when the other action seems threatening to the party.

These affective reactions can be found in the Colombian conflict. Blame and anger are present in the mutual recriminations of the parties, especially if the event involves the violation of human rights. An example was the reaction of the commander of the army in a interview to a newspaper in 1997 after the guerrillas planted explosives in the body of a dead soldier, killing some of the soldiers retrieving it:

"The guerrillas are ' a bunch of wretched who speak about human rights but don't apply them'. The official called for a social condemnation of the 'atrocities' and reiterated that the guerrillas were the country's enemies."(79)

Cognitive Changes

Structural changes also occur during escalation. These structural changes also affect the parties' choices of tactics. They include the development of hostile and competitive goals, the increasing of negative attitudes and perceptions, diminishing trust, moral exclusion, autistic hostility, community polarization, entrapment and intractability.

Hostile and Competitive Goals.

In the early stages of many conflicts, the parties just want to do as well as they can for themselves (individualistic approach). For example, the authority might want to enforce a norm or the armed groups might just want to be left alone. With escalation, the parties shift into 'winning' over the others (competitive approach or win/lose) and, with further escalation into hurting the other even if it means risking their own interest (destructive approach or lose/lose). This process of escalation creates a need to destroy or at least 'hurt' the enemy regardless of the means used to do it. An 'open war' develops and grows inside the parties' minds and objectives.

The Colombian conflict has escalated to a destructive level. The strategies are directed towards mutual destruction.

Negative attitudes and perceptions.

We examined how negative perceptions can contribute to the conflict. But negative perceptions and attitudes are also reinforced and created during escalation. These attitudes and perceptions include judging the other as: deficient in moral virtue, untrustworthy and violent. Group beliefs and ethnocentric view of the conflict is not only increased but also mirrored by the two parties.

"Attitudes, and the perceptions accompany them, tend to be similar on both sides of a controversy. This is known as the 'mirror image' phenomenon." (80)

In Colombia, these attitudes arise in the form of name-calling. The guerrillas call the army "blood-thirsty killers of the oligarchy". The army calls the guerrillas "bandits, drug smugglers."

Diminishing Trust

One of the principal characteristics of an escalated conflict is the absence of trust among the parties. The history of the conflict forces them to question always the 'real' intentions behind every move and declaration of the other.

When we examine the nature of conflict, we established the principles of distributive justice as equity, equality and need. Adding to these parameters are the principles of procedural justice, which are neutrality, standing and trust.(81) Therefore, the realization of justice in social organization requires also the accomplishment of these principles. They all call for the general perception that the society, authority, and the processes used to assign resources or solve disputes are unbiased. Trust in particular involves the "belief that the intentions of third parties (that is authorities) are benevolent, that they desire to treat people in a fair and reasonable way."(82)

In the Colombian conflict, the insurgency views the political system as a façade for the ruling of a political and economic dominant class. Therefore, the political institutions of the system cannot be trusted. Moreover, they believe that the 'oligarchy' has used the political process against the people, misleading them in the past. Therefore, any peace process or unilateral concessions are viewed with a high level of suspicion. For the guerrillas, the oligarchs are trying to fool them, talk them away from their struggle and their arms. Negative experiences such as the killings of M-19 and U.P(83) leaders in the past peace processes reinforce this perception.

From the army's point of view, the insurgency has taken advantage of some of the peace processes to grow and to gain territory. In the actual peace process, neutrals such as the National Commission for Conciliation (CCN) are called by the army "helpful fools" of the guerrillas(84). They are convinced that the guerrilla's real intention is not peace but to use the peace process as a way to increase their area of influence and power. And that they are using these so-called 'neutrals' against the army, which affects its morale. For the army non-governmental organizations (NGO) such as Amnesty International that periodically condemns violations of human rights are just other means of war used against them by the left. From their point of view these entities cannot be trusted because they are biased in favor of the insurgency, or simply tricked by it.

One of the first structural changes brought by escalation is diminishing trust between the parties. It is also the most difficult features to build back once it is lost. Lack of trust is one of the biggest challenges of the new peace process. And it was among the most important causes of failure of the last peace process (1990-92) as related by Rios and Pena:

"A new concept of peace, based on a negotiated solution to the armed political conflict, recognizes that it is not simply the demobilization of the insurgents but the elimination of the causes that created the confrontation and is manifested in a consensus about the need to built, through wide participation, a peace policy with social reforms, of State, national and not limited to political parties, with enough stability to create the continuity needed to overcome the confrontation. But, at the same time, there exists great mistrust among the parties that is translated in mutual conditions that make difficult the possibility of a real reconciliation process." (85) (Emphasis added)

Moral exclusion

Another phenomenon common on highly escalated social conflicts is moral exclusion. Moral exclusion occurs when we exclude groups or individuals from the moral boundaries or categories in which the concepts of deserving a fair treatment apply. These boundaries are called "scope of justice". As a consequence of such exclusion, moral values and rules that apply in relations to insiders are not applicable to the individuals or groups excluded from the scope of justice. This allows moral justifications -even jubilation- for harm that befalls these outsiders.(86) Colombia has a long story of violations of human rights. Most of the 300,000 killed during 'The Violence' were defenseless civilians whose only crime was to belong to a particular political party. Liberals and conservatives saw each other as monsters deserving the worst of deaths. Cold-blooded assassination for political purposes was the way to 'get rid' of the 'godless liberals' or the 'conservatives assassins.'

This pattern of almost absolute narrowness in the Colombian's scope of justice has been inherited from the conflict between leftist guerrillas, the government forces and the paramilitaries. The horrors of the 50's violence were the blueprint for the massacres and indiscriminate killings in today's confrontation. The following is a translation (87)of a recount of the assassination of a boy in Apartado (at the North of the state of Antioquia). The events are told by the mayor of the city, a first hand witness of what happened that morning. The crudeness of this recount is just an example of the level of moral exclusion reached in Colombia:

"On Wednesday, August 21 1996 I arrived to an elementary school to assist in a presentation called: 'Let's do together the homework of peace'. When we arrived at the school a little girl told me:

'Mayor, I saw two men painting the walls and they were armed.' - then I asked the teacher: - 'What do you think, should we stay?'

The teacher shrugged. It had become so normal to see people painting walls, and armed. We started to line up the children. I lined up with them. Suddenly, the little girl told me:

'Major, look! Those are they!'

I looked to the street outside and I saw the two young men walking: one with long hair, tall, slim; the other more or less middling, robust. I fell silent, for a second that lasted an eternity, and the girl said

-'They are going to take that boy and they are going to kill him.'

-'No, don't worry' - I answered.

It seemed impossible to me that something like that could happen. Then I saw that they took the boy, dragged him to the middle of the street, beat him in the stomach and cut his head off. They took his head and raised it, and I was so horrified, so horrified, that I only recall the little eyes of the children, wide open. I hadn't seen anything like that before…" (88)

Moral exclusion can be tied to group categorization, moral justifications, unjust procedures, and violations to human rights that are all part of the reality in Colombia. For people who commit harm, physical and psychological distance enables otherwise unthinkable acts.(89) Typically, justifications for moral exclusion are unspoken. Because the justifications are based on shared social perceptions, they are institutionalized, invisible and accepted as inevitable.(90)

Rationalizations and justifications that support moral exclusion can make it difficult to detect. In our case study these justifications are everywhere. The subversives justify the kidnappings and extortion as 'taxes'. The suffering of the victims and their families are part of a 'price' for the cause. The army also has plenty of justifications that are generally unspoken but believed, to act against "collaborators" of the guerrilla. These justifications include the claim that if the subversion use kidnappings and political cleansing as weapons of war, then they exposed their collaborators to the same treatment. There is also moral exclusion in the justifications of the paramilitaries' actions against the guerrilla. For many Colombians the massacres that paramilitaries use against guerrilla collaborator are justified because they are viewed as the only way to deal with them. Paying in kind is viewed as inappropriate but necessary. These beliefs are the product of moral exclusion.

Autistic Hostility

Another cognitive change brought by escalation is the tendency to stop interacting and communicating with the other party. The lack of communication makes it impossible to resolve the issues that fostered the initial breach. This is another self-reinforcing process. A communication vacuum often provides a greenhouse in which rumors flourish. In Colombia, the armed conflict has escalated further when communication has been broken between the parties. The attack on the FARC central command in La Uribe (also known as the Casa Verde attack) closed many direct channels of communications between the parties.

Community Polarization

Escalating conflicts tend to polarize the community around them. Formerly neutral parties gravitate or are pulled toward one side or the other. The parties start to see enemies everywhere. Fewer and fewer community members are left sitting on the fence or standing on the sidelines.

Third parties start to disappear, either because they must take a side just to survive or because they are physically eliminated. In Colombia, human rights activists and journalists are assassinated just because they dare to denounce a violation or a massacre. Threats silence the rest. This polarization implies that the parties will be suspicious of anyone trying to act as neutral, particularly if the party is a social actor in the country. This is clear in the following statement of an army general given during a recent interview to a national newspaper. He said, "If you are Colombian, you cannot be neutral. These so-called neutrals are only puppets of the subversion against the army."(91) This statement is consequence of this cognitive change in the mind of the parties. If their can-do-no-wrong beliefs are challenged by a source, they will interpret it as a direct attack against them.

This has lead to think of human right workers, labor leaders, journalist, lawyers and peace activist as "allies of the left" and therefore war targets. All the visible heads of organizations making peace efforts like the National Commission for Conciliation (CCN); the Web of Citizens Initiatives for Peace and Against War; The Foundation Free Country; The Mandate for Life, Peace and Liberty; The Committee in search for Peace, etc are in some of the "black lists." During 1998, several human rights activist lawyers and journalist have been killed.


The commitments of the parties to contentious behaviors act as self-reinforcing dynamics leading to entrapment. Entrapment is a process in which the parties pursuing a goal over a period of time expend more of their time, energy, money or other resources than seems justifiable by external standards.(92) In Colombia, the two sides persist in a war, partly because each has suffered so much already that to give up would seem to have suffered in vain.


A long history of ethnocentrism, mutual moral exclusion, lack of trust and the community polarization has transformed the Colombian into an intractable conflict. It shares the special characteristics of this kind of conflict. They are total and all encompassing, protracted, central, violent and they involve a widespread perception that differences are irreconcilable.(93)

In our case, it is total because the war involves basic needs such as recognition and has engulfed and touched all aspects of the economic, political and cultural life of the country. It is protracted because during thirty years the parties have developed such a level of animosity that peace negotiations could not bring it to an end in two different opportunities. It is certainly central to the public agenda. Its violence has included not only the parties but also the population that is a victim of displacement, massacres and property destruction. Finally, there is a widespread sense of irreconciliabilty within the Colombian society.


The analysis of the causes of the conflict, especially the psychosocial and interactive dynamics gives us a more complete picture of a protracted confrontation that has escalated to high levels of destructiveness.

Objective circumstances such as international intervention, the lack of access to political institutions, a deep social inequality, the presence of illicit activities and an increasingly weak state are very important environmental circumstances. But they create only the conditions of the conflict. The conflict is not necessarily 'built-in' this particular economic, social or political structure(94). Neither these conditions nor fate or a divine will created the Colombian conflict. The Colombian conflict is over values and goals perceived by social groups as incompatibles. Therefore it was the parties' response to these objective conditions, their choice of behavior based on their own perceptions of problems and values in that environment, that induced them to interact the way they do. The use of contentious behaviors and heavy tactics arise from subjective and interactive causes.

Only the perceptions of the parties and the dynamics of the choices of their interaction can explain the cruelty of the methods used, the total disregard to the international humanitarian law, and the resentment and total distrust between them. They are the product of a widespread zero-sum thinking, the use of increasingly heavy tactics, the ethnocentric moral exclusion of the other's right to live that is entrapping the parties more and more in their autistic hostility.

The Colombian conflict is related to basic human needs such as participation. Therefore the conflict should not be managed through suppression or pressure tactics. Neither it is enough to reach partial settlements. Dispute Resolution methods that address the groups' attitudes are required to bring a long-lasting solution.

The rest of this paper will be devoted to the methods of conflict resolution that have been developed by scholars and practitioners.

Chapter 3 - Dispute Resolution

"Since war begins in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed."


In this part of the paper we will make concrete proposals about the kind of intervention needed in Colombia to address the different aspects of the conflict. Starting from an analysis of the traditional approaches to conflict resolution, we propose a multi-track strategy that includes methods and techniques developed by theorist and practitioners in the fields of conflict resolution and peace studies.

The Failure of Traditional Negotiated Approaches

We think that traditional right/rules or power-based approaches to conflict resolution such as hard bargaining and track one diplomacy do not address adequately the problems of the Colombian conflict. Direct negotiations have been seen as a positional war of wills committed to bargaining in every stage of the process. Traditionally, third party intervention uses 'first track' diplomacy.

Traditional Negotiation: Hard Bargaining.

Negotiation is the fundamental form of dispute resolution. In simple terms, it involves a discussion between two or more disputants who are trying to work out a solution to their dispute. When we bargain over the price of a product or service, we are negotiating. In order to live or work effectively with others, good negotiation skills are critical.

Negotiation can take several forms. Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton's best-selling book, Getting to Yes (1991), highlights three forms of negotiation or bargaining: hard, soft, and principled. Hard bargaining is adversarial--you assume that your opponent is your enemy and the only way you can win is if he or she loses. So you bargain in a very aggressive, competitive way. Soft bargaining is just the opposite. Your relationship with your opponent is so important that you concede much more easily than you should. You get taken advantage of in your effort to please, and while agreement is reached easily, it is seldom a wise one.

In Colombia, past negotiations between the guerrillas and the government have been mostly characterized by a hard bargaining. The parties used pressure tactics both in and out of the negotiation table trying to "gain power". As we studied in our analysis of the factors of the conflict, the effect of this style of negotiation was the escalation of the war.

Traditional Third Party Intervention: Diplomacy

The term "diplomacy" usually refers to the interaction between nation-states. It can include negotiations or third party interventions. In both cases diplomacy was carried out by government officials or diplomats, who negotiated treaties, trade policies, and other international agreements. For negotiations, diplomacy ranges from very formal to informal, but it tends to be fairly adversarial and competitive, relying on distributive or positional bargaining strategies that assume a win-lose situation. The goal is to maintain power over weaker nations and a balance of power with nations of equal status. Although conflict resolution theorists have developed a multi-faceted understanding of power, diplomacy still focuses on the "power over" approach, believing that power is a zero sum commodity--the more you have, the less I have. This encourages positional bargaining, rather than a more integrative or cooperative approach.

Diplomats also use third party interventions trying to solve international or intra-national conflicts. In these cases, the third country generally has interest and incentives (either because of the issues at hand or because of the broader political and economic context) that motivate their involvement in the conflict(95). It is also very common that the mediating state has some kind of power to punish or reward the disputants. It is also generally true that in these cases the mediator-state is closer to one side than the other, politically, economically and culturally. (96)

Direct diplomacy is not possible given the lack of formal "state" status of the guerrillas and paramilitaries (although informally they deploy many activities of a state de facto). Historically, one of the most important concerns of the government regarding the introduction of a third party were connected with the "internal status" that the government wants to keep in the conflict. The government was worried that the guerrillas might gain "equal" status with the introduction of formal diplomatic negotiations or mediations. Only in the last years has the government considered mediation offers from countries like Spain, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Cuba or South Africa.

But using "first track diplomacy" as the main tool for this intervention might find an important strategic problem, thanks to the power-based structure of formal diplomacy. Most of the countries offering help lack the required power to punish or reward the parties in conflict. The United States, the most important actor of the conflict at an international level in recent diplomatic efforts, is not only biased but also an important factor of the conflict. Unlike other cases of recent diplomatic peace process (i.e. Ireland and the Middle East) the United States does not have enough power to pressure one of the parties in conflict: the guerrillas. Ideologically and politically, the United States is part of the problem and their eventual role as third party at an international level is rejected plainly by the guerrillas.(97)

To forget the dynamics of the conflict that involve power and right- based methods would only be naïve. Hard bargaining and the use of diplomacy as a way to influence the process, are realities of the conflict. The challenge then is how to create a coordinated approach that includes them. Our proposal then is directed towards a multi-track approach that includes methods and techniques that address problems that right/rules or power-based methods cannot and to coordinate efforts at different levels in the quest for the higher goal of de-escalating the conflict and eventually assist in its resolution.

Alternative Approaches to Dispute Resolution

Scholars and practitioners in the fields of dispute resolution and peace studies have been using their theories and research to create practical tools that address some of the dynamics of violent social conflicts. The field has come a long way from its initial steps in the 1960's, learning a lot from past experiences. Although success is not guaranteed the experience in these fields is that sustained efforts to work with the parties' perceptions and interaction patterns can create the right environment for de-escalation and eventually to the initiation of efforts to reach a solution.

Several approaches have been developed to address the styles, attitudes, perceptions and patterns of interaction between parties in conflict. Some approaches are settlement-oriented while others emphasize problem solving. All of them try to work with the conflict's processes and key actors in order to influence the conflict positively.

Some of these approaches are:

Approaches to Negotiation

Approaches to Third Party Intervention

In the following pages we will develop these approaches and study their value as a general approach for the Colombian armed conflict. Then we will try to select and develop with more detail the most important negotiation and third party intervention techniques used by these approaches, especially those that we consider more appropriate to support, complement and guide the peace efforts in Colombia.

Approaches to Negotiation

Although these approaches can be applied to third party interventions, they were designed to work predominately in direct contacts between the parties. They include tactics that the parties themselves (either individually or collectively) can use to break "vicious circles" of the negotiation interactions. These approaches include:

Principled negotiation (Fisher, Ury & Patton, 1991)

Principled negotiation is the name given to the interest-based approach to negotiation set out in the best-known negotiation book "Getting to Yes", first published in 1981 by Roger Fisher and William Ury. The book advocates four fundamental principles of negotiation: 1) Separate the people from the problem; 2) Focus on interests, not positions; 3) Invent options for mutual gain; and 4) Insist on objective criteria.

Separating the people from the problem means separating relationship issues (or "people problems") from substantive issues, and dealing with them independently. The first tends to involve problems of perception, emotion, and communication.(98) During our analysis, we identified and documented this characteristic as one of the most important underlying issues of the Colombian conflict. The authors list three types of communication problems. First, disputants may not be talking to each other but to an outside audience. They are grandstanding, or playing to the crowd. Second the parties might not be listening attentively to each other. Instead they are planning their own response, or listening to their own constituency. Finally, misunderstandings and misinterpretations may occur.

The second principle is to concentrate on interest and not in positions. Interest are things that people really want and need, positions is what they say that want or need. Often, these are not the same. The parties take extreme positions that are designed to counter their opponents' positions. If asked why they are taking that position, interest may arise and it can be found that both parties interest are actually compatible (even complementary) not mutually exclusive.

The third principle is to invent options for mutual gain. Negotiators should create new solutions to the problem that will allow both sides to win (win-win approach), instead of one party 'winning' to the other (win-lose) or even both parties losing (lose-lose) approach.

The fourth principle is to search for objective criteria. Objective precedents or common practices can be found if the parties look for them. They could enrich the negotiation with outside fairness principles and can replace the 'battle of wills' common in negotiation.

Good negotiators must also know their alternatives to a negotiated agreement. The answer to the question: which are my alternatives to an agreement? In other words: What can I do (realistically) if an agreement is not reached? This is known as your BATNA, for Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. Knowing your BATNA before getting into negotiations is very important. If you do not know what your alternatives to a negotiated agreement are, you might accept an agreement that is far worse than the one you might have gotten, or reject one that is far better than you might otherwise achieve. It also gives you also the chance to improve your BATNA by creating alternatives to the negotiation, which in turn increase your power at the table.

Principled Negotiation theorist argue that almost all disputes can be resolved using these principles, reject the idea that some conflicts are inherently win-lose or that positional bargaining can be a superior approach in some circumstances. We disagree. Principled negotiation works in many disputes, but intractable conflicts such as our case study seem to need something more than the mere application of these principles. The use of principled negotiation in the early stages can be counter-productive, giving the extreme levels of mistrust and escalation of the conflict. It is also important to note that Principled Negotiation is a model of negotiation based on rational cost-benefit analysis, which is a cultural U.S. and European feature that might not work as well in other cultures. Positional bargaining can be imbedded in cultural patterns that cannot be 'broken' easily just by proposing a better way to negotiate.

Although principled negotiation is a useful tool of conflict resolution and its principles provide guidance to the practitioner, the especial characteristics and cultural differences of the Colombian conflict require the use of different approaches of conflict resolution. In the highly escalated Colombian war, the parties are more concentrated in their immediate survival than in their long-term benefit. Another approach that deals with these needs is imperative to disengage the parties from their actual situation.

Unilateral Tension-Reducing Initiatives (Osgood, Kreisberg, Hemmer)

This approach was developed by Charles Osgood (1962) as a way to deal with escalated conflicts. Also known as "gradual reduction in tension" or GRIT. It is based on the idea that the parties' security dilemma can be broken if one of them takes a unilateral move that creates a 'starting point' for de-escalation. The party would announce a small unilateral concession and at the same time communicate the expectation that this gesture be matched with an equal response from the opponent. If the opponent responds positively, the first party can make a second concession, and the escalation created by the security dilemma is stopped. If the first initiative is ignored, Osgood suggests that it be followed by a second or even a third attempt. The concessions should indicate a willingness to transform the conflict to a more cooperative and less adversarial approach, but should not be terribly costly or too little to be insignificant or suggest weakness.

In the Colombian case, most of the parties' concessions are the product of the other party's demand and often the product of hard bargaining. That was the case in the liberation of soldiers that were prisoners of the guerrillas, which demanded the temporary retreat of the army from pre-designated towns in the state of Meta. The newly elected president, Andres Pastrana, has taken unilateral initiatives when he visited the command of the FARC before his possession. But this initiative was not announced and did not have the intention to create reciprocity. It surely did not create it. The war escalated further after the meeting. Although theoretically possible, a peace policy solely based on a unilateral concession by one of the parties is unlikely to succeed. The government is functioning within a frame of rights/rules that makes it very difficult from a political and juridical point of view to initiate this de-escalating procedure. In our opinion, GRIT can be useful in a determined moment to gain momentum during the negotiations, but cannot be implemented as the core policy of a peace process.

Approaches to Third Party Intervention

The terms "third party" and "intermediary" are both used to refer to a person or team of people who become involved in a conflict to help the disputing parties manage or resolve it.

A third party acting between two parties or more can perform many different roles. At both extremes of the spectrum are facilitation (the less intrusive) and arbitration (the most intrusive) In the middle are third party intervention techniques such as mediation, case evaluation and fact finding.

A facilitator arranges meetings, sets the agenda, and guides the discussions. Facilitators will record and summarize the discussions and any agreements that were reached. The role of the facilitator is to offer the parties a structured environment for their negotiation. As reported by Deborah Kolb(99), some mediators tend to see their role more as "gatekeepers". Since facilitation offers the parties ample control over the process, it produces better results when the parties are sophisticated negotiators, the conflict is not highly escalated and the parties can communicate efficiently with each other without escalating it. It is also time consuming, so the facilitation process should not be used if time pressures exists.

On the other side of the scope of third party intervention is Arbitration. The most powerful third party role is that of an arbitrator. An arbitrator listens to presentations made by both sides, examines evidence relating to a case, and then makes a determination for the parties that is usually binding and cannot be appealed. Actually, arbitration is a private form of adjudication equivalent to a judgement. The parties have little control over the process. If control is important for the parties, arbitration should not be used.

In the Colombian conflict, facilitation and arbitration cannot be used as core strategies of a peace process. The first, because the conflict is highly escalated which makes direct communications unproductive. The latter, because the interest and needs of the parties in conflict cannot be adjudicated through arbitration.

Classic Mediation

In a conflict in which adjudication or facilitation are not possible (or desirable) due to the highly escalated nature of the conflict or to the lack of communications skills of the participants, mediation has proven a valuable third party intervention.

The classic mediation model has been widely developed by the field of dispute resolution (Kressel & Pruitt, Moore, etc). Mediators not only facilitate discussions, but they usually impose a structure and process on the discussions that are designed to move the parties toward mutual understanding and win-win agreements.

Mediators cannot take a decision for the parties. Mediators only assist the parties in their efforts to formulate a solution of their own. Classic mediators bring the parties together and help them frame the problem in terms of negotiable interests rather than non-negotiable positions. This process is called reframing. The mediator will then help the parties assess the relative merits of the different options. This will be done using caucuses in which the mediator will make 'reality checks' with the parties. Although the mediator eventually helps the parties to draft the agreement, it is up to them, to decide whether to accept its terms.

Mediation styles vary greatly among practitioners. Some use 'hammering' techniques to make a deal, while other rarely pressure the parties. These two styles are also known as settlement-oriented and process-oriented mediation. In settlement-oriented mediations, the mediator's primary goal is obtaining a settlement, and he/she may be highly directive and manipulative in an effort to bring the parties to a resolution. Process-oriented mediators are less interested in the settlement and more in the use of 'fair' processes during the mediation. These mediators' are more concerned in the process than in the actual settlement. A third approach(100) is called transformative mediation. Here the mediator's primary goals are empowering both parties to act effectively on their own behalf, while recognizing the legitimate interests and needs of the other side.

There are also different mediation styles between cultures. The model widely used in the US includes an impartial mediator, generally unknown to the parties before the mediation session. The idea is that the perception of impartiality and therefore the power of the mediator will increase if he/she is viewed as someone alien to the parties and the situation. Therefore, typical mediators supposedly have no bias toward one party or one solution over another.

In other cultures (i.e. China) mediators are insiders. They probably know closely the parties and the situation. Their power is derived more from respect and interpersonal relationships than from impartiality.

The secret of good mediation is the mediator. Many mediation processes break down because the mediator is either not skilled or not credible, or both. Good mediation is a very difficult task, requiring a great deal of experience, sensitivity, and skill. The problem is that it appears to be simple enough that many people see themselves as qualified to act as mediators. An untrained, inexperienced mediator cannot provide a good service to the parties.

Mediation has been used successfully in many different kinds of conflicts. They include interpersonal, labor-management disputes, community disputes, environmental disputes, family and international disputes.

Although it is common in international conflicts, classic mediation has been less successful in that context than in most of the others. This is important for the purposes of our study. In a study of 78 international conflicts which occurred between 1945 and 1986, Jacob Bercovitch found that 56 were mediated, but that most of those efforts were unsuccessful. Severely escalated international and intro-national conflicts are not the best candidates for classic mediation.

Mediation by Internal Parties

Internal "mediators" such as the National Conciliation Commission (CCN) are not recognized as impartial. The army perceives their intervention as biased in favor of the guerrillas. A general of the Colombian army(101) referred to them as "useful idiots" of the subversion and declared clearly that "in Colombia nobody can be neutral." The guerrillas do not trust all of the members of these citizen-based groups, either. Therefore, the role of these actors cannot be that of a classic mediator, but that of an interested third party. After all, the general society is the most affected by the conflict.

Kumar Rupenshinge recommends the creation of interested constituencies within the society as an essential step towards the solution of protracted social conflicts.(102) Therefore, the inclusion and use of these internal parties should be an important element of the general strategy of peace. But, regardless of their good intentions, the CCN and other society forces behind the actual process must rethink their own role and adapt it to the polarized perception of the parties. The generation of citizen-based peace initiatives does not means necessarily that they have to act as neutrals. Their role should be to act as a peace constituency, expanding the space for democratic action, establishing linkages between communities, developing political will and even pressuring the parties to negotiate and stay at the table. The Maintz accord tried to create a constituency of peace. The formal introduction of a third party to the conflict was a step towards this direction. But the government has not recognized the civil society as a formal third party, limiting their role and power in the process. A formal agreement between the government and representatives of the civil society in which this status is recognized would be an important complement of the Maintz accord.

The Use of External Mediators

The usefulness of external mediators through traditional diplomatic channels is another alternative that must be studied closely. When we examined the constraints of diplomacy in general we noted the problems that the use of these means have for the parties. The weight of the United States at the diplomatic level makes very difficult the labor of any external third party acting officially as an impartial mediator.

The potential involvement of international figures such as Nelson Mandela or Fidel Castro is appealing from a public relations point of view. Their high profiles at the international level might help to raise the Colombian conflict to the center stage of the world community. Their involvement can be a good measure of public relations. But it cannot be expected that these figures will commit the amount of time and effort required to act as mediators of the conflict. They can joint others in the creation of an external constituency for the process, as overseeing moral authorities that might intervene in key moments of the process. Unlike Nelson Mandela, Fidel Castro has resistance inside and outside of Colombia. But the influence that the Cuban revolution had in creation of the Colombian guerrillas makes Castro a figure with special access and credibility that can contribute to the peace process.

The use of low profile, non-official external mediators can be more fruitful and contribute effectively to the process. These individuals can be essential for the success of a peace process. They can complement both the internal parties and the international personalities. But their work must be tactful and confidential. They must be respected by both parties and have influence over them. Carnevale and Arad (103) consider that in international mediation, the influence of the mediator can stem from either the mediator's impartiality or the mediator's especial access to the parties or its capacity to reward and punish. In the Colombian case, the guerrillas can be limited by the fact that the guerrillas are a subversive force without the formal levels of organization characteristics of a state. This makes more difficult the influence by reward/punishment. This leaves the other two alternatives: the external mediator(s) must have special access to the parties, especially the guerrillas.

These external third parties should use techniques that are appropriate for violent internal conflicts. The classic mediation model must be adapted to meet the particular characteristics of these conflicts. This includes the use of shuttle mediation for the initial stages of the conflict and the employment of appropriate techniques that address all the different aspects of the conflict (motivational, affective, cognitive, behavior and environmental). Self-reinforced phenomenon such as moral exclusion and entrapment must be approached in a systematic way.

The Colombian conflict is plagued with dispositional attributions. These perceptions are at the basis of problems such as the extreme levels of moral exclusion that is apparent in the political cleansing and massacres. Dispositional attributions have the effect of creating an 'evil image' of the other, ignoring the effect of external situations in the other's action. Among these situations are the party's own pressure tactics (killings, massacres, etc). It is important to remember that dispositional attributions are spontaneous responses much too common in highly charged and escalated conflicts such as the Colombian armed confrontation. Therefore, if we want to avoid the escalating effects of psychological barriers, we must design some forms of intervention that address them. Many dispute resolution techniques are directly or indirectly related to this issue. The goal is to develop a constructive way of communication between the parties, or at least between selected individuals on both sides. This constructive communication can make evident for the parties the existence of situational factors in the other's actions. Hopefully, these individuals can reach a better understanding of the effects of their own pressure tactics in the other's reactions. This awareness has the potential to break the vicious circle of the self-fulfilling prophecy. Bringing understanding to the genesis of evil images and their important role in the conflict dynamic is the first step towards a deeper level of communication. The parties are ready to 'listen' the other's deep and basic needs, to explore the real nature of their conflict.

Most peace processes in Colombia, described in the first part of this study have been positional wars between the parties. The painful selection of a site for the Caracas' dialogues is just an example of this pattern. This pattern was replicated time and again on the negotiation table. The parties fought a war of wills. Every detail of the settings or issues was good excuses for positional competition. Events outside of the table (the assassination of an ex-secretary, the attack on the ex-president of the congress, the electrical crisis, etc) were "good" excuses to break the negotiations. Many conditions were established as prerequisites to negotiate. Today, many of these positions have been re-evaluated or simply are not important anymore. For example, the parties have agreed to negotiate in the middle of the war; cease-fire was not anymore a condition for the negotiation. Where were the values of such positional commitments but in the positional nature of the process itself?

The fact is that the creation of communication opportunities does not guarantee that the parties are going to communicate productively. Moreover, uncontrolled 'communication' is likely to escalate the conflict, as happened both in Caracas and Tlaxcala. In these negotiations, the lack of a third party on the negotiation table proved a fatal mistake. Every time that the representatives of the parties were at the table, facing each other without the presence and help of a third party, the negotiations failed to achieve proper levels of communication. Time and time again the intervention of third parties outside the table (i.e. the Church) helped them go back to the table, only to fail again.

The kind of constructive interaction that reaches the levels of communication requires understanding the dynamic factors of the conflict and the basic needs of the other; these are not spontaneous fruits of direct dialogues. The presence of a third party is essential for the success of the communication process. But this presence and intervention cannot follow classical patterns of the bargaining/negotiation framework.

This conflict is about developmental needs expressed in terms of cultural values, human rights and security.

Shuttle Mediation

As we analyzed in the last chapter, in heavily escalated conflicts, increasing communication between the parties directly can do more harm than good. Often the parties will simply continue the ongoing destructive debate, repeating their demands over and over again, accusing the other side of wrong doing and evil intent, and trying to score "points" against the opponents or with people on their own side or sitting in the middle.

To do this, an attempt is made to seem better, smarter, more righteous than the other side, and to make the other side look as bad as possible.

One way to avoid this problem is to use shuttle diplomacy at the early stages and only use direct communication when the parties are ready for it. The mediator will take messages between the parties, can even 'neutralize' some of the language used by the parties and maintain a level of privacy that joint meetings could not guarantee.

Thanks to the low-risk and high potential benefits of shuttle mediation, the technique is widely used in international and intra-national conflict. This technique is used repeatedly in the Colombian conflict. The National Conciliation Commission and especially some individual with special access to the parties, such as Alvaro Leyva, have used it. Nevertheless, shuttle mediation does not provide for the internal change produced by the direct and prolonged contact between representatives of the parties. This change requires also the initiation of some kind of direct contacts. This can be achieved with the use of interactive conflict resolution techniques.

Interactive Conflict Resolution

Since 1965 several academic-based initiatives have encouraged the use of this method of conflict resolution for many intercommunal and international conflict.(104) The process involves problem-solving discussions between unofficial but influential representatives of the groups in conflict regarding their basic human needs. A panel of scholars-practitioners controls the level and quality of the communication in a non-threatening, academic atmosphere. The participants are encouraged to examine their perceptions and misperceptions about the conflict an about each other and then jointly explore avenues for analyzing and resolving the conflict. (105)

Problem-solving workshops using a needs-theory background and interactive resolution techniques are well suited to address the subjective factors of the conflict as a means towards resolution. Therefore, their use is recommended in cases of protracted conflicts such as the Colombian civil war.

Some workshops are primarily educational focusing on changing the psychosocial factors affecting the conflict. Other are more political concerned with transferring these changes to decision-making authorities. The use of scholars-practitioners and an academic setting provide the participants with the source of information regarding conflict processes and in keeping constructive and focused their communication. Their role, unlike other third party interventions, is not to verify, judge or even persuade but to explain the origin and escalation of the conflict through comparison with other conflicts.(106)

Although representatives are not representing officially any of the parties, many of them are in the position to affect at least indirectly decision-making processes in the future. They might include scholars, politicians, army generals, ex-presidents, journalist, popular leaders and businessmen. The changes that the interactive workshop produce in these participants have the potential to create in each side of the conflict a group of influential people with a deeper understanding of the other party needs. This has the potential to affect the course of the conflict and avoid misunderstanding in key moments of crisis.

Interactive Conflict resolution is an unofficial approach therefore it is not seen as a replacement for official interventions, but as a complement to them. The goal of the workshop is to use the academic umbrella and the knowledge of the panel to help the representatives communicate the human needs underlying each party position and actions with the hope that this communication will produce a deeper understanding, mutual recognition and respect and a possible hypothetical solution of the conflict.(107)

This conflict resolution method has been developed and used by John Burton, Herbert Kelman, Edward Azar, Chris Mitchell, Harold Saunders and Nadim Rouhana, among other scholars and institutions in conflicts as varied as Ireland, Cyprus, Somalia, Sri-Lanka, Lebanon, Falkland-Malvinas, and the Israeli - Palestinian conflict.

Interactive Conflict Resolution is a useful tool of peacemaking that reduces the negative effects of the subjective factors of the conflict in a way that allows other third party interventions to be more effective in addressing substantive elements of the conflict.

Appropriate Dispute Resolution Techniques for the Colombian Armed Conflict

Integrative Reframing

One of the most important roles of mediators is to help the parties reframe the conflict. Chris Moore, an internationally-known mediator and mediation trainer, points out that parties become receptive to reframing, just as they become receptive to the idea of negotiating at all.(108)

One of the mediator's main jobs during the reframing of the conflict is to "neutralize" the language used by the parties in a way that it causes less hostility among the parties. Generally, reframing involves focusing on interests, rather than positions. When done in this way, it is called interest-based framing. But win-win reframing can also be based on needs, rather than interests. Although fundamental human needs are not negotiable, they are often mutually reinforcing, meaning that the need of a party can be directly connected with the need of the other in a way that they affect each other. Therefore if a party that is denied the satisfaction of a need that will affect the other party need as well. Fortunately, it also works the other way: if a party meets its need the other can be in a better position to meet theirs. The key to integrative reframing in this case is framing the conflict in terms of needs, and then examining how those needs could be met for all sides simultaneously.

In needs-based framing, positions are seen as a way of obtaining more fundamental interests or needs--the real things the disputants want or need.

While meeting human needs often requires substantial changes to a society's social, political, or economic structure, such changes can often be made in a way that benefits all sides. Unlike interests, which really may be structured in a win-lose way (meaning that the more one side gets, the less the other side gets), needs are often mutually reinforcing: the more secure one side of a conflict feels, the less it will feel a need to threaten the other side, thus the more secure the other side will feel as well.

The key to reframing conflicts on the basis of needs is identifying those needs in the first place. This requires careful analysis of the conflict, and an examination of why people are taking the positions they are. By asking one's self or one's group "why do we want that?" enough times, one will likely ultimately get down to the fundamental human need. (If asked, "why do you want to feel secure" the answer is likely to be a simple "because I do," rather than anything more elaborate than that. That is because security is a fundamental need-it doesn't have a more basic root.)

Ground Rules

Ground rules are the rules of conduct for a conflict resolution process, such as negotiation, mediation, arbitration, or consensus building. They cover expectations over the disputant and third party behaviors and roles; the character of the process and the level of communication.

When the disputants are familiar with each other, and with the process, such ground rules may simply be assumed and not stated outright. If the disputants have not worked together before, however, or are not familiar with the process, explicit ground rules can be very helpful in focusing the discussions in a productive way and preventing the process from becoming side-tracked by unnecessary procedural disputes.

One of the priorities of the Colombian conflict is the establishment of ground rules for the different interventions. This work has been initiated with the Viana and Maintz accords with the EPL.

Media Management

The media plays a very important role in most communities, public policy, national, and international conflicts. Depending on the nature and the amount of media coverage, the situation can be made better or worse. If the media does a good job of presenting the issues clearly, from both sides' points of view, much can be done to correct misunderstanding and avoid escalation borne from rumors and fear. Coverage of moderate, rather than extreme positions is also helpful, as is coverage of attempts to de-escalate or resolve the conflict.

Sometimes, however, the press fails to understand the important nature of its role in conflict escalation and inadvertently escalates the conflict by publicizing inflammatory remarks and stories, giving far more coverage and/or editorial support to one side of a conflict over another, or focusing on the destructive aspects of the conflict to the exclusion of the constructive aspects.

Conflict parties and intermediaries can help prevent such occurrences by making the effort to explain the issues to reporters in as careful and non-biased a way as possible. They can explain what conflict management processes are in place or are being considered, who is involved and why, how the process is structured and why, and ask for the media's support in giving positive, responsible coverage of these events.

When negotiations are held in private, the press can get very suspicious, and will sometimes try to develop stories from rumors about the private meetings-rumors that may or may not be true. To prevent the spreading of false rumors, frequent press releases that explain what is happening in the negotiations and why can help generate positive media coverage. If press releases are impossible-as they are with especially sensitive negotiations that need complete privacy--explaining to the press why such privacy is needed, and promising a full report at the end can be helpful.

In Colombia, a few families have dominated the mass media with clear tendency towards the traditional parties, especially the liberal party. In the last decade, economic groups increased their presence buying newspapers, magazines, radio and television networks. This compromises their impartiality. In order to create the right environment for a successful peace process, the Colombian mass media must probe its impartiality with a fairer coverage of the war.

Dealing with Destructive Speech

As mentioned earlier, the escalating spiral increases with the use of contentious tactics by the parties. The use of destructive speech is one of the most important contentious tactics contributing to escalation. In some cases, it involves the use of provocative and insulting names to refer to opponents. In Colombia, the guerrillas call the army "Bloodthirsty killers of the oligarchy" while the army calls the guerrillas "bandits and drug dealers". Also destructive is the use of everyday words to condemn others for their evil views or to make vague threats about how the world would be better off if they were to die or simply disappear. This is also known as "hate speech." There are two principal strategies for controlling this type of speech.

One strategy is to precisely define hate speech and then enact laws and organizational policies to severely punish anyone who uses it. This is very difficult to manage and it limits the ideal of free speech that many societies (among them the Colombian) prize. A good alternative to deal with hate speech is one that systematically tries to answer hate speech with good speech. Here, reasonable people on all sides of the conflict make an individual and collective commitment to speak out against hateful communication.

In Colombia, the parties must take a decision regarding the extensive use of hate speech. If the conflict is going to be negotiated as a political conflict, which seems to be the intention of the actual president and the guerrillas, an agreement around the use of hate speech must be reached. The parties can agree to call each other respectfully, even in the middle of the war.


The root of the conflict

A first step towards the application of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to the Colombian conflict is to understand that the objective factors of the conflict are just the environmental conditions in which the conflict is created and developed. These causes must be addressed as part of a long-term solution. But they cannot be viewed as the only cause of the conflict.

From our point of view, a genuine prescription of the Colombian conflict requires a focus on the perceptions and interaction patterns of the parties. It also requires an analysis of the needs of the parties, which thrust their perceptions and actions. Only by understanding and treating them can the conflict be resolved.

Facing Intolerance

The real enemy of any peace process in Colombia is the psychological ossification created by the vicious cycle of fear and hostile interactions among the multiple parties of the conflict. The cynicism left from the stress and failure, the cold-blooded assassinations, and the relentless process of political cleansing manages to sabotage any peace effort.

Violence and prejudicial thinking is a learned behavior. In Colombia, the parties have had forty years to teach each other the way to escalate the confrontation to levels that surpass the limits of basic human rights. The fact that this is a learned behavior is also an opportunity. Peaceful and cooperative thinking can be learned too.

Understanding the nature of a peace process

It is also necessary to understand the nature and purpose of a long-term commitment toward peace. Peace processes cannot be seen as easy way out of the problem. The widespread idealist view of peace efforts as a meeting between the heads of the parties talking things over in an inspired moment of brotherhood is a fallacy. Looking for an easy settlement of the conflict is just the effect of desperation.

When the conflict increases in violence and for a moment the institutional structure of the country totters, frantic calls for peace can be heard everywhere. But when the idyllic perception of the process is challenged by reality, the horrors of the war and persistent dynamics of the conflict, the general reaction is hopelessness. This undermines the political support for the process, opening the door to the escalation of the conflict. The talks of Caracas and Tlaxcala between 1991-92 followed that path.

This view of peace process is inaccurate. Peacebuilding requires a strategic design, the development of a network of initiatives supporting each other at different levels and a long-term commitment towards the resolution of the confrontation, not only its settlement. Even if successful, these settlements -which are mere changes of behavior-, do not mean that the conflict is resolved but that violence has been postponed.(109) The resolution of conflict requires not only changes of behaviors but also changes of attitudes and perceptions. The road to peace is a long, difficult and risky commitment towards a process. The conflict did not emerge and will not vanish in a moment. It is the product of a long history of distrust and resentment that cannot be changed just with good intentions.

Peace processes are not idealistic endeavors. The view of peace processes and in general of conflict resolution as merely another form of idealism misses the main thrust of the field. Although many peace seekers have internal values and religious convictions, there is no morality or ideology or even wishful thinking necessarily involved in conflict resolution. As described by Burton, this is a mere costing process that includes deep thinking and evaluation of the potential cost and gains of continuing the conflict or promoting a peace process. (110) Costing is a usual process in decision making process that avoids wishful thinking by being as realistic as possible in a given situation and evaluating the pros and cons of the alternatives and the costs involved.

After a close look to the direct and indirect cost associated with a civil war such as the Colombian, it is not difficult to conclude that trying to solve it using pacific means is very realistic. But costing has been limited within the power frame because of the assumption that, with sufficient power, submission can be achieved. The problem is that in recent times, power politics have failed, domestically and internationally, to provide long-term solutions to an increased list of protracted social conflicts.

Social conflicts involving basic human needs(111) cannot be solved with application of social and legal norms and coercive processes. The power and rights based approaches to these conflicts fail to recognize that "human behavior is not wholly malleable"(112). Basic human needs, such as identity and recognition, will be pursued regardless of the pressure applied by power or rights based structures. If suppressed by force, they will return stubbornly and conflict will reappear.

For many, the Colombian conflict is caused by failures of the power-based or the rights-based structure such as "the absence of the state"(113) or "the impossible enforceability of the law."(114) But the reason for that impossibility is not explored. The Colombian history is the story of unfulfilled basic human needs such as identity and recognition.

This implies that, if conflicts are to be resolved, institutions may have to adapt to the human needs rather than the other way around.(115) Anyone with a serious peace project in Colombia must understand that success will require a collective soul-searching journey into the very essence of the nation. It is not going to be easy or inexpensive. It will require planing, hard work, perseverance and a lot of realism.

A Multi-track Approach

It is clear that peacemaking in protracted social conflicts requires that efforts be pursued at different levels simultaneously.(116) Therefore, a peace process in Colombia will require the design of a plan including multiple approaches acting coordinately at several levels of the society. This will include the use of traditional means such as diplomacy, but the core of the strategy must be centered in three tactics:

First: The creation of a constituency for peace

The creation and support of a strong network of institutions and individuals working inside and outside of the country to provide the peace process with a citizen-based constituency.

Internal Constituencies

The introduction of third parties acting as a constituency for peace is essential for the long-term success of the peace process in Colombia. The creation and nourishment of citizen-based organizations such as the National Conciliation Commission and the Network of Initiatives for Peace and Against the War have been one of the most important achievements of the past three years. They should be supported, increased in size and power and have a coordinated plan of action. In the future, their institutional role should not be that of a mediator or even a facilitator of the dialogue. They must act only in key moments of the peace process as constituents and ultimate owners of the process.

By increasing their number, power and influence these institutions will protect also their members from the very real danger of being targeted as war objectives.

External Constituencies

As important as the creation of internal third parties is the inclusion of an external constituency to the Colombian peace process. In the past, the government was concerned about the "equal status" that the guerrilla was going to gain if members of the international community intervened. The efforts of the government to deal with the "guerrilla issue" as an internal problem of Colombia failed in past negotiations. The truth is that the armed conflict in Colombia is not a mere internal issue. All the Latin American countries have been affected by this conflict, especially neighbors such as Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru.

Recognizing the reality of the internationalization of the conflict, the new government decided to look for advice and help outside of the country. This was most clear in the meeting held last August in South Africa in the non-alienated countries meeting. Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro were two of the personalities consulted by President Pastrana. These and other high-profile international individuals and institutions must act as an international constituency of peace. The intervention of the United States should be discrete and supportive of the general peace plan. In this case, the low profile of this nation is essential for the success of the effort. The United Nations and the Organization of American States as well as other international organizations should coordinate their efforts towards peace in Colombia and increase their support of citizen-based organizations and other initiatives of peace.

Second: The use of a team of international facilitators

The introduction of a team of skilled individual facilitators that can serve as communication channels between the parties. The team should include Colombians that enjoy the trust of both parties, such as Alvaro Leyva. But it must be composed in its majority by experienced international facilitators. This team of facilitators must coordinate effort with national and international institution as well as with the parties.

Their work must be confidential but visible and perseverant. They must try to have the parties accept a set of ground rules for the future of the process that include the management of escalation through an integrative reframing of the conflict, the control of behavioral problems such as hate speech and the involvement of the media.

Third: The use of Interactive Conflict Resolution (ICR)

The use of a needs-based approach, such as the interactive conflict resolution workshop, is required to aggregate to the work of the other two fronts. Third party facilitators and other methods could achieve control over behavioral and environmental factors of the conflict. But their ultimate success depends on recognizing and treating the character of intractable social conflict of the Colombian civil war. And this essential change of attitudes required for a lasting agreement must be initiated through a parallel process of interactive conflict resolution.

In the Colombian case, interactive conflict resolution should be used to prepare the parties for negotiation and mediation and to provide a parallel track once an official intervention is initiated.

The arguments for the use of Interactive Conflict Resolution include:

Conditions for the Realization of Problem Solving Workshops in Colombia

Sponsors: Following Burton's (1990) set of rules, the Sponsor should identity the parties and issues relevant to the conflict, but should not approach the parties without being sure that the available resources are enough to continue the process. Very few entities have the necessary resources and will to get into a process such as this. The organizations that can be contacted are the OAS (Organization of American States) the UN and private foundations such as Carnegie, Ford, Kellog and Packard.

Settings: The academic setting is essential to create a 'safe' environment for the parties and give them an alternative set of norms that can counteract the norms that typically govern interactions among conflicting parties (Kelman, 1992). We propose the use of an academic institution located in a 'neutral' country. (i.e. The University of Salamanca in Spain)

Participants: The criteria used to choose the participants must follow the directives of the Interactive Conflict Resolution theory. High level, politically influential but unofficial participants with broad experience and credibility in their communities.

Ground Rules: The workshop proceeds on the basis of a set of rules that provide the parties favorable conditions for joint thinking and creative problem solving.

Privacy and confidentiality: All aspect of the meeting is considered confidential, including the names of the participants. Protection of the life and reputation of the participants is critical.

Open discussion: The parties will be encouraged to actively speak and listen to the other. The meeting is a safe place to experiment with new ideas.

Expectations: The parties must be aware in advance of the nature of the meeting. It is not official dialogue or a peace process by itself. A 'product' is not expected (but welcomed) at the end of the meeting.

Third party role: The third party will not participate in the substantive discussion. Its role is to serve as moderator and facilitator of communication.

Pre-workshops interviews each participant is going to be interviewed by members of the panel. These interviews will include the clarification of doubts about the ground rules. It is very important that these ground rules are clear since the beginning for the participants and the interview is the best place to do it. As an assignment, each participant will provide the panel with an interview follow-up feedback.

Pre-workshop meetings: One day before the workshop, the panel will meet with each party separately. This meeting is designed to reduce intragroup tensions and reinforce the set of rules. It is also a good opportunity to create a personal communication with each participant and address the questions posed in the interview feedback.

The Workshops: The duration of the workshop is about five days. The first day will be dedicated to introduce the parties to the process, create the appropriate environment and establish the parties' needs with rephrasing from the other party. The second day will include the analysis of the parties' needs and stimulate joint thinking. The rest of the days will have an open agenda that will follow the parties needs. The communication will be controlled by the third party in order to maintain the ground rules. The final part of the meeting would include analysis of constrains and ways to overcome it.

Summarizing, the proposal of an intervention into the armed conflict in Colombia is a multi-track approach that includes the support of a strong network of actual and future internal and external constituencies for peace; the intervention of a mixed team of national and international facilitators; and the use of interactive conflict resolution workshops that reinforce the work of constituencies and facilitators.


The historical patterns of the Colombian conflicts are: systemic problems of political access, social injustice and repression, tragic events of relative deprivation, zero-sum thinking and ethnocentrism igniting open conflicts characterized by extreme levels of moral exclusion, dispositional attributions and weakening of normative consensus.

To rationalize and justify the use of contentious tactics both parties use the aggressor-defender model. This creates psychological states in the parties and structural changes in the conflict, which escalates and polarizes the conflict even further. The civil population is the main victim of this polarization.

The objective factors of the violence have been fairly identified. Stronger and smarter equality and need criteria must be introduced as part of the social allocation of good and services. Political access mechanism must be improved as part of the solution.

Subjective and conflict process factors such as the psychological states created by the heavy tactics used by the parties, the negative perceptions and attitudes, the zero-sum thinking and other characteristics must be acknowledged by the parties and peacemakers as an important variable of the conflict.

The Colombian conflict must be understood as a protracted social conflict that cannot be managed exclusively with interest-based tools such as the principled negotiation theory. The basic human needs involved require an approach that 'educate' influential actors of the conflict about the needs of the other party in a more transformative manner.

The long-term goal of any peace process must be the transformation of the parties through the understanding of the other's unfulfilled needs.

In the short and medium terms, the peace process must concentrate in keeping the communication channels open, strengthening national and international constituencies, conforming an appropriate third party to facilitate the process, and initiating a series of interactive conflict resolution workshops.

The presence of a third party is essential to the success of any peace effort. This third party must be respected by both parties and either have or provide for a professional approach of the conflict.

The Problem Solving Workshops format with influential personalities (although not official representatives) has the potential to address subjective factors that have been neglected in the diagnosis and prescription of the conflict. By working in the perceptions and attitudes of key influential actors, the method facilitates the job of substantive interventions. These workshops can be planned and implemented with the support of a sponsor in an academic setting using the procedure developed during the last part of this paper.

The peace process must be planned and implemented in a multi-track approach with coordination and professionalism. The track include: support and reinforce internal constituencies, the creation of external constituencies and a strong network between them; the creation of a group of mixed facilitators and the use of interactive conflict resolution workshops to reinforce the work of the other tracks.


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Paul, R. Dialogical Thinking: Critical Thought Essential to the Acquisition of Rational Knowledge and Passions. Center for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique. Sonoma State University, 1994

Payne, J. Patterns of conflict in Colombia Yale University Press, New Haven, 1968

Pearce, J. Colombia: inside the labyrinth Latin America Bureau New York N.Y., 1990

Princen, T. Intermediaries in International Conflict Princeton University Press. New Jersey, 1992

Raiffa, H. The art and science of negotiation Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1982

Rey Navas, J. Newsletter of the armed forces, vol. LI, No. 160, July-September, 1996.

Rios, J.N. & Pena, D Informe de la Comision Exploratoria de Paz presentado al Presidente de la Republica, 9 de Septiembre de 1997.

Rouhana, N. & Korper, S. Unofficial third party intervention in international conflict: Between legitimacy and disarray. Negotiation Journal, 1996

Rouhana, N. & Kelman, H. Promoting joint thinking in international conflicts: An Israeli-Palestinian continuing workshop. Journal of Social Issues, 50, (1), 1994

Rouhana N. & Bar-Tal, D. Psychological dynamics of intractable ethnonational conflicts In press, 1998

Rubin, J. Z; Pruitt, D.G.; Kim, S.H. Social Conflict MacGraw-Hill, 1994.

Rupensinghe, K. Conflict Transformation St. Martin Press. London, 1995

Sandoval, M. Gloria Cuartas, porque no tiene miedo, Editorial Planeta, Bogota 1997

Silverstein, B. and Flamenbaum, C Biases in the perception and cognition of action of enemies. Journal of social Issues. 1986

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Vargas, R. Drogas, Poder y Region en Colombia Cinep. Bogota 1994-1995.

Vazquez, Johnson, Jaffe, Stamato (Eds) Beyond Confrontation; The University of Michigan Press. Ann Arbor Michigan, 1995

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Walters, K. Re-thinking reason State University of New York Press. New York, 1994

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Wesley, M. Casualties of the new world order: the causes of failure of UN missions to civil wars St. Martin Press, 1997

Zamoc, L. The agrarian question and the peasant movement in Colombia: struggles of the National Peasant Association: 1967-1981 Cambridge University Press. United Nations Research Institute for Social Development. Cambridge Massachusetts, 1986

Zartmann and Rasmussen Eds. Peacemaking in International Conflicts, United States Institute for Peace, Washington D.C., 1997

Newspapers and Magazines

El Colombiano.

El Espectador

El Pais

El Tiempo.

Revista Semana



The Economist

The Miami Herald

The Times, NY

The Washington Post

Internet documents:

"Colombia counts of long-running guerrilla war" (

The Carter Center State of world report. Colombia (

Amnesty International News Release (

Informe de la Comision Exploratoria de Paz (http://www.

Casa Editorial "El Tiempo" (


Inform of the Peace Exploratory Commission

Viana Accord

Maintz Agreement

Inform of the Peace Exploratory Commission

(September, 1997)

First - The conditions of the armed conflict in Colombia violate the standards of the International Humanitarian Law. "[The guerrilla movement] kills disarmed people that are not part of the conflicts because it consider them 'war targets', it also kidnaps, has minors in its ranks, persist in the blowing of pipelines ignoring the protection of civil property and causing a great deal of environmental damage; uses indiscriminate acts of terrorism and 'land mines'. The self-defenses [paramilitary] center their action in the assassination, intimidation and forced displacement of people that are not part of the conflict, forgetting that the obligations of the International Humanitarian Law are not based in reciprocity but must be unilaterally respected. (…)

The strategy of these irregular armed parties seems to be oriented more to the consolidation of their zones of influence and the attack of the enemy zones, looking for population and territorial control and using the same means of terror and actions directed to the civil population. This has created the forced displacement of the population in great numbers."

Second - Although the situation is very complex and delicate, the civil society has been creating a space for discussion of different initiatives. Among them the National Commission for Conciliation; the Web of Citizens Initiatives for Peace and Against War; The Foundation Free Country; The Mandate for Life, Peace and Liberty; The Committee in search for Peace; The Labor Unions; Destination Colombia; among other regional worktables. This surge of peace initiatives is backing and feeding in different level the environment for future negotiations.

Third - the discourses of the parties coincide in several important issues:

The parties and the society recognize the political nature of the conflict and the need to search for negotiated solutions to it.

The parties acknowledge that violence has deep-rooted causes that must be addressed during negotiations in order to give the country a lasting peace.

The parties also acknowledge the need to implement the International Humanitarian Law in the war in order to take the civil population and commercial activities out of the confrontation.

The establishment of a "State Policy Of Peace" that includes the creation of a National Peace Council and guarantees for the right of social protest.

The parties agree that the involvement of third parties (nationals and internationals) in order to help during the process is desirable.

The parties agree that demobilization and cease-fires are not prerequisites for eventual negotiations and that if necessary the war is going to be fought during them.

The government and the insurgents agree that 'distension zones' are possible to facilitate the negotiations.

Fourth - Some of the particular requests in some of the parties' discourses that can become issues in pre-negotiation stages:

The FARC-EP leader, Manuel Marulanda in letter dated 15 of June 1997 insisted on

Conditions such as: changing the 'theory of national security', paramilitaries and Convivir cooperatives and the introduction of democratic changes in the State structure.

- Recognition to the speakers of the parties.

Rewards that actually are in place for the capture of guerrilla and paramilitary leaders.

The paramilitaries are very concerned about their role as a political party in the negotiation. They have threatened to boycott any agreement made without their presence.

ELN is interested in the realization of a National Convention that includes the society and not only the actors of the conflict into the process.

The insurgency have declared that the government must make peace with the people of Colombia more than with them, and that they will remain a guarantors of these pacts.

Fifth - Some of the most important practical obstacles of the process are:

-Lack of trust. " There is deep-rooted mistrust among the parties which is translated into a tragic paradox: while all agree on the importance of a negotiated solution, it seems that everyone is conditioning the other party in ways that make difficult the approaching and the possibility of initiating a real reconciliation process. This high level of mistrust is rooted in mutual perceptions of past unfulfilled promises was expressed in the difficulties that the Commission had in order to make direct contact with some actors of the conflict in order to develop the task in a better way. It is clear that there are not fluid, direct and permanent communication channels between the government and the insurgency."

- Use of the peace processes as a unilateral political or military tool. The insurgency views the negotiations as part of their achievements and is always ready to use them in order to gain as much as possible military and political advantage. On the other hand, the 'peace processes' had become a battle horse of many presidential candidates and politicians in election years.

- Polarization of the society. Some part of the society is concerned about the use of the peace process as a political weapon for this government and in favor of the official candidate of the liberal party.(118)

Viana Accord

(February, 1998)

"Aware that the solution to the political, social and armed conflict in Colombia requires an ample process of arrangement and dialogue that includes all sectors of the Colombian society to fund the transformation of the country and its institutions with the objective of reaching peace with democracy and social justice, the Colombian government and the Army of National Liberation with the participation of the National Commission for Conciliation and thanks to the help given by the Spanish government, accord:

1. The summoning of a National Convention for peace, democracy and social justice that will try to structure an agreement to be developed in all law-making instances and spaces, including convoking a Constitutional Assembly as proposed by the insurgency or to a referendum that calls for the ample, democratic participation of all Colombians.

2. The summoning of a National Convention that will result from a preparatory meeting to be realized in June 5,6, and 7 of this year in a place in Colombia previously defined by the parties. This National Convention will have the following characteristics:

The government and ELN will have 3 delegates each. Decisions will be done by consensus.

The CCN (National Commission for Conciliation) will have 3 representatives and its mission will be to facilitate dialogue and negotiation.

As witnesses of the process will be: a delegate of the Spanish government, a delegate of each presidential candidate for the second round -in case that would be necessary-, a delegate of the elected president and a delegate of the majority party different from that of the elected president; the president of the Congress, the president of CUT, the president of USO, a delegate of the guilds council, a representative of non-governmental organizations in charge of the defense of human rights, a representative of the Mandate for Peace and a representative of the Communism Party.

The sessions of the preparatory meeting will be private and the decisions will be known by the public opinion through common communications of the parties.

The government and ELN will give to the participants of the reunion the required security guarantees, using the same procedure used in Santa Ana, Antioquia, in November 2 1997. The government will give the necessary guarantees for transportation and negotiation.

The preparatory meeting will determine the elements of the National Convention such as:

Definition of the basis for the transformation of social and political structures throughout a concerted action that takes into account, among other things, the operation of human rights; social and economic justice; political democratization; the definition of the role of the Armed Forces in a peaceful country; and sovereignty, integration and internationalization.

Determination of the participants in the National Convention that cannot be more that 100 people, representing the social, economic and political forces.

Date and place for the National Convention, must be after the second round of the presidential election.

Methodology for the National Convention.

Other elements natural to the convention.

3. Simultaneous to the search of the social and political conflict, the complementary aspects for the development of a process to end the armed confrontation will be established.

While the confrontation exists, the parties will agree on a pact for protecting lives and the humanization of the war in the context of the International Humanitarian Law that will preserve the civil population.

4. The dialogue process in search of a political solution that is initiated with the signing of this pre-accord and its ratification will have the backing of the international community, beginning with Spain, Mexico, Costa Rica and Venezuela. The government of Spain will act as a facilitator of the process, agent of good offices and host when necessary, This group could be widened by agreement between the parties.

International help must be preceded by the principles of neutrality, impartiality and discretion.

5. The present agreement must be ratified by the ELN in meetings to be held in Itagui with the commanders Francisco Galan and Felipe Torres and with representatives of the Central Command in the place determined for it. The representatives of the National Commission for Conciliation and the government signing this agreement can attend these meetings. The president of the Republic must ratify this agreement.

6. The Colombian government, the ELN and the CCN thanks the government of Spain for its collaboration and hospitality offered in order to reach this act of pre-agreement and the friendship with the Colombian people.

This act is signed in the Viana Palace, Madrid, Spain, February 9th 1998 by the government of Colombia, Jose Noe Rios and Daniel Garcia, By the Central Command and the direction of the ELN Milton Hernandez, responsible of the International front, Juan Vazquez member of the International Front, by the CCN Augusto Ramirez Ocampo and Ana Mercedez Gomez. Witnessed by the government of Spain Fernando M. Villalonga, secretary of state of international cooperation and for Hispanic America, Eduardo Gutierrez de Burunga, general director of international policy for Hispanic America.

Maintz Agreement

(July, 1998)

The civil society, here represented, the E.L.N. and the National Committee, with the facilitation of the Episcopal Conferences of Germany and Colombia


Initiate the Peace Process with the E.L.N.

With respect to the participation of the civil society

Recognize and promote the permanent action of the Civil Society to reach the completion of the Peace Process.

Promote more work in the investigation of proposals about the peace issue that search for structural changes or partials in the life of the nation.

Call forth meetings with different sectors to consolidate what has been achieved in the Peace Process.

Promote the projection of this document to the Government and continue the action in favor of Peace with the collaboration of the international community.

Facilitate meetings of the Government with the Commanders of the E.L.N. and E.P.L. At the same time, promote a meeting of the signers of this agreement with the commanders of the FARC, the CGSB and other actors of the war. In this sense to salute as valuable for the future of the Peace the meeting of the elected president, Andres Pastrana Arango, with the Commanders of the FARC.

Put ourselves at the service of the great national movement inspired in the Mandate for peace that has surged in all the country, promoting its increase and consolidation in events such as the Permanent Assembly of the Civil Society for Peace.

Procure that the Civil Society search for spaces with the Government to demand the fulfillment of the political guarantees and citizen's liberties covered by the Constitution in all the national territory.

With respect to the humanization of the war

Condemn hostile actions and massacres of civilians financed from different sectors and that are increased by action or omission of some agents of the state.

The ELN agree to suspend the retention or privation of personal liberty of persons with financial purposes, in the measure in which other means of financing can be used and while the peace process with this organization is progressing, the organization is not weakened strategically. Moreover, from now on cease the retention of minors and people over 65 years old and in no case pregnant women will be private from their personal liberty.

Demand the real overcoming of impunity in crimes of lesa humanity, such as forced disappearing, massacres, genocide and torture, which respond integrally to the spirit of the international order regarding the matter.

Based in the concepts of the UN, being alert that the Regional Justice is not prorogued over the actual legal mandate. In the same way, insist in the urgency of recovering for Justice its efficacy, promptness, impartiality and process guarantees.

Regarding the difficult problem of the forced displacements, to foment and support their organization and defense of their legitimate interests and needs, specially the return, the titling of their land if pertinent and their integral development and their region's.

Looking for their subtraction from the actions of the actors of the war, to proceed with the leadership of the civil society and the coordination of the National Procurator Office and the Office for the Defense of the People the identification and demarcation of the goods protected by the International Humanitarian Law such as:

Aqueducts and Dams


Health centers for humans and animals


Centers and means of provisioning of the civil population

Ambulances, firefighters and help vehicles

Vehicles, ships and airplanes of civil use that are not being used in military operations

Hygiene campaigns for humans and animals of social interest

Education, sport, cultural, recreational and religious centers

Infrastructure of electric transmission for the civil population

Installations containing repressed dangerous forces such as repressed water or nuclear material

The ELN reaffirm their unilateral honoring of the recommendations made by Amnesty International for the insurgency in their inform of 1,994 about Colombia. Those recommendations are:

Treat with humanity the prisoners, wounded and those trying to surrender,

civilian or members of the armed forces. They should not be killed.

Forbid deliberate and arbitrary homicides of non-combatants in any circumstance.

Not to use prisoners as hostages. They will be identified the detained and their liberation guaranteed.

Personal mines will not be used to kill and mutilate civilians deliberately.

Abuses committed by members of the guerrilla will be investigated to determine responsibilities.

Guerrilla fighters in suspected of committing or ordering abuses will be moved from any authority post or positions where can continue such abuses.

Impulse with all armed actors and parties the respect to the autonomy, beliefs, culture and rights to neutrality of the indigenous communities and other ethnic groups and their territories.

Reaffirm the commitment of civil society and the E.L.N. in the respect of the Children Rights and this organization will not incorporate minors (16 years or younger) to the permanent military force. In the future the age will be 18 years old.

Promote the ratification of the Ottawa convention by the Congress about prohibition of personal mines in risking places for the civil population, especially for the children. To demand the fulfillment of the prohibition of bombing areas used by the civil population.

The reunion considered that prisoners and detained of the insurgency should be treated with humanity, respect of their dignity and their privilege as political prisoners. The no penalization of social protest will be supported.

Natural Resources

The signers of this agreement will promote the realization of an ample forum within the National Convention for the discussion of the problem of sovereignty over natural resources, among them the oil, with the objective of proposing to the Congress and the Government, changes in the policy and norms. This forum will be done in a territory whose clearance will be asked to the Government. The National Convention will be done in Colombian territory, in an area in which the two parties can agree to a cease-fire and the necessary guarantees will be given to the participants.

Coincidentally with the realization of the National Convention, we exhort the search for facts of peace of a greater signification, such as a cease-fire and the cease of offensive operations in the national territory.

The signers of this agreement are committed in its projection, support, evaluation and follow-up and in the inclusion to this work of other sectors representative of the Colombian Society and want to thank our infinite gratitude to the Episcopal Conferences of Germany and Colombia for their hospitality and cordiality dispensed to us to reach this mission.

Signed this agreement, July 15, Wurzburg, Germany the following persons:



1. Brown, M., Ed. International Dimensions of Internal Conflict The MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1996. P. 14

2. Brown, M, p. 4

3. The Economist "Colombia on the brink" August 8 1998.

4. FARC is its acronym in Spanish for "Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia".

5. ELN is its acronym in Spanish for "Ejercito Nacional de Liberacion"

6. Bercovitch, J. Ed. Resolving International Conflicts: the theory and practice of mediation Lynne Reinnier Publishers. London, 1995 p. 165

7. Bergquist, C. Coffee and Conflict in Colombia. Durham, NC Duke University Press, (1978) p. 57.

8. Bergquist, 1978, p 131.

9. Sicard Briceno to the Minister of War, Fusagasuga, June 21 1901 cited by Bergquist, 1978.

10. Bergquist, (1978) p. 217.

11.Braun, H. The Assassination of Gaitan: public life and urban violence in Colombia The University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.p. 20

12.Braun, H. 1985 p. 39

13. Braun, H. 1985, p. 41

14. Braun, H. 1985, p 52

15. Braun, H, p 60

16. One of the preferred ways to attack Gaitan was trying to ridicule him with cartoons in the national newspapers. In one of the cartoons, a fortune-teller informs Gaitan that his future was dark as the color of his skin. In others The Gaitanistas were depicted as "Savages Negroes" killing a white man with a knife".

17. For more information about the "Bogotazo", the destruction of Bogota after Gaitan's assassination see Braun, H. The Assassination of Gaitan: public life and urban violence in Colombia The University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.

18. Braun, H. 1985, p. 198

19. Lara, P Siembra Vientos y Recogeras Tempestades Ed Fontamara, 1982, p. 60

20. Instituto de Estudios Politicos y Relaciones Internacionales - Universidad Nacional & Colciencias, Colombia: Violencia y Democracia, 1986

21. Lara, P 1982

22. Instituto de Estudios Politicos y Relaciones Internacionales , 1986.

23. Declaration of the President and Ministers (18.06.87), en Presidencia de la Republica, p. 324

24. Garcia, M. Peace Processes Editorial Antropos, Bogota, 1992 p.105

25. Garcia, M. 1992, p. 110

26. El Tiempo, 05.10.89 p. 1 - 7A

27. Consejeria de Paz, FARC/ELN - Cronologia Negociaciones p. 5

28. Garcia, M. 1992 p. 222

29. Garcia, M. 1992 p 225

30. Garcia, M. 1992 p. 235

31. El Espectador, 10.03.92 p.1 y 7A

32. Rey Navas, J. Newsletter of the armed forces, vol. LI, No. 160, July-September, 1996.

33. Rios, J.N. & Pena, D (1997) Informe de la Comision Exploratoria de Paz presentado al Presidente de la Republica, 9 de Septiembre de 1997.

34. This is an unofficial translation made by the author.

35. This is an unofficial translation made by the author.

36. This is an unofficial translation made by the author.

37. For example, while being President of the United States, George Bush maintained that the war in Bosnia between Serbs, Croats, and Muslims grew out of "age-old animosities" as cited by Jack Snyder in E. Brown, ed., Ethnic Conflict and International Security; Princeton, NJ: Princeton University press, 1993, p.79

38. Both Bergquist, and Braun see this paradigm as a very simple explanation of the real phenomena.

39. Interview with official of the Colombian government, March 1998.

40. See, for example Barry Posen, The Security Dilemma and Ethnic Conflict

41. Brown , 1996 p. 14

42. Some examples are: Palacios, M. Entre la Legitimidad y la Violencia en Colombia 1875-1994; Instituto de Estudios Politicos y Relaciones Internacionales - Universidad Nacional & Colciencias Colombia Violencia y Democracia; Ricardo, V Drogas Poder y region

43. Lara, 1982 contains several references made by Jaime Bateman, the first leader of the M-19, about his training in Russia during the 1960's.

44. Brown, 1996 p. 16

45. The Economist "Colombia on the brink" August 8 1998

46. Brown, 1996 p. 19

47. Vargas, R. Drogas, Poder y Region en Colombia Cinep Bogota 1994-1995.

48. The questionnaire was developed by the author as a way to gain direct information from actual and former decision-makers in both sides of the table as well as scholars with direct knowledge and experience. Some questionnaires were filled in direct interviews with the author; others were answered by the interviewees in writing. In all cases, the interviewee was assured of anonymity.

49. Rubin ,J. Z; Pruitt, D.G.; Kim, S.H. Social Conflict MacGraw-Hill, New York 1994 P. 5

50. John Burton cited by Fisher, R. Interactive Conflict Resolution, 1997

51. Rouhana N., Bar-Tal, D. Psychological dynamics of intractable ethnonational conflicts, 1998 in press.

52. Restrepo, J. El Tiempo, March 28 1998, translated by the author.

53. Rubin, J. Z, Pruitt, D.G.; Kim S.H. , 1994 p 15

54. Fisher, R. Interactive Conflict Resolution Syracuse University Press, Syracuse New York, 1997, p. 6

55. El Tiempo September 4 1997. Interview to Nicolas Rodrigez Batista, ELN

56. President Samper accepted this in his televised farewell in August 6 1998.

57. Londono, F. El Tiempo, March 31 1998.

58. Deutsch, M. The resolution of conflict. Constructive and destructive processes. Yale University Press, New Haven 1973 pp. 6-16

59. Deutsch, M. 1973, p. 16.

60. Interview to a high Colombian official, March 1998.

61. Folger, R.; Sheppard, B; Buttram, R. Equity, Equality and Need. In Bunker, B. & Rubin J. Conflict, Cooperation and Justice Jossey Bass San Francisco, 1995.

62. The author uses elements from Deutsch, Burton and others in developing this chart.

63. Inter Press Service, August 21, 1998.

64. Rubin, J.Z. & Levinger, g. In search of generalizable knowledge In Bunker, B. & Rubin J. 1995

65. Constantino, C. A & Merchant C. S. Designing conflict management systems Jossey-Bass San Francisco, 1996

66. This is an eclectic selection taken from Pruit's & Carnevale (1982), Rubin, Pruit and Kim (1994) and others

67. Bercovitch, J. Social Conflicts and Third Parties Westview Replica, Colorado 1984, p. 7

68. Warren, K in Walters, K. Re-thinking reason State University of New York Press, 1994.

69. Power is not always equivalent to force or coercion. Other forms of power include reward power (giving people what they want or taking away what they dislike); referent power (having people identify with you; share mutual goals and/or want to be like you) that uses respect and love; expert power (possession of general superior knowledge) and informational power (possession of specific superior knowledge).

70. Paul, R. Dialogical Thinking: Critical Thought Essential to the Acquisition of Rational Knowledge and Passions. Center for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique. Sonoma State University 1994

71. Rouhana, N. Bar-Tal, D. Psychological Dynamics of Intractable Ethnonational Conflicts: the Israeli-Palestinian case 1998 In press

72. Brewer, M. B. The Role of Ethnocentrism in Intergroup Conflict Worchel & Autin, 1986.

73. Burton, J (Ed) Conflict: Human Needs Theory. New York, N.Y. St Martin's Press1990

74. Rouhana, N. Bar-Tal, D. , 1998

75. Azar, E. in Fisher, R 1997 p. 85-86.

76. Rubin, Pruit & Kim 1994 p. 73

77. Message of Manuel Perez, commandant of the ELN to the "First day of peace and human rights in Colombia."

78. Rubin, Pruit & Kim 1994 p. 73

79. Interview to Manuel Jose Bonett; Colprensa, Santafe de Bogota, 1997

80. Rubin, Pruitt and Kim 1994 p. 85.

81. Tyler and Lind, 1992

82. Bunker, B, & Rubin J. 1995 p. 273

83. U.P. (Patriotic Union) was the political wing of the FARC, which disappeared after 2,000 of their members were assassinated during the 80's

84. Interview to general Alvarez, El Tiempo, August 14 1998

85. Rios, J. N. & Pena, D 1997

86. Opotow, S Drawing the line: social categorization, moral exclusion and the scope of justice In Conflict, Cooperation and Justice by Bunker, B. Rubin, J. 1995

87. Translated by the author.

88. Sandoval, M. Gloria Cuartas, porque no tiene miedo, Editorial Planeta, Bogota 1997, p.17

89. Kelman & Hamilton, 1989

90. Opotow, S. (1990) Deterring moral exclusion, Journal of Social Issues, 46 (1) pp.173-182

91. Interview to general Alvarez, El Tiempo, August 14 1998

92. Rubin, Pruitt and Kim, 1994 p. 111.

93. Rouhana, N. ; Bar-Tal, D 1998 In press

94. Bercovitch, J. 1984 p. 21

95. As stated by Carnevale, Lim and MacLaughlin, 1989; Rubin 1992.

96. Bercovitch, J, 1996

97. As stated in several occasions by representatives of the guerrilla

98. Fisher, Ury & Patton, Getting to Yes 1981, p. 22.

99. Kolb, D. Strategy and tactics of mediation Human Relations, 36 (3), 1983

100. Baruch-Bush, R. The dilemmas of mediation practice: A study of ethical dilemmas and policy implications. Washington D.C: Institute for Dispute Resolution, 1992

101. Interview to General Alvarez El Tiempo August 1998

102. In Bercovitch, J Ed. 1995 p. 165

103. In Bercovitch, J Ed. 1995 p. 43

104. Fisher R. in Zartmann and Rasmussen Eds. Peacemaking in International Conflicts, United States Institute for Peace, Washington 1997

105. Fisher, R. 1997 p. 27

106. Fisher, R. 1995 p 27

107. Fisher R. in Zartmann and Rasmussen Ed. 1997

108. Moore, Christopher The mediation process: practical strategies for resolving conflict Jossey-Bass San Francisco, 1986

109. The difference between settlement and resolution is explained further in Bercovitch, J. 1984, p. 11

110. Burton, J. Conflict provention as a political system in Vazquez, Johnson, Jaffe, Stamato (Eds) Beyond Confrontation; The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 1995 p. 122

111. Basic human needs theory was applied to conflict resolution by J. Burton and others based on Abraham Maslow's classification.

112. Vazquez, Johnson, Jaffe, Stamato Eds. 1995 p. 120

113. Interview, March 1998.

114. Interview, March 1998.

115. Vazquez, Johnson, Jaffe, Stamato Ed. 1995 p. 120

116. Bercovitch, J. 1995

117. Mitchell, C & Banks, M Handbook of Conflict Resolution Pinter Press U.K., 1996

118. Rios, J.N. & Pena, D. 1997, p 8