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Understand The Colombia Drug War History Timeline and Internal Conflict

Updated on October 27, 2013

The Colombian Armed Conflict

The internal conflict affects all factions of the population
The internal conflict affects all factions of the population | Source

Quick Intro To The Never Ending Colombian Civil War

Colombia has been involved in a 60-year-old internal conflict that can be traced back to the country´s first civil war… or should I say wars, since they are divided into 9 different civil wars between the 1800´s and 1900´s (although you can consider the actual conflict an offspring of that civil war, and thus, its continuation). The timeline explained here begins where the modern conflict is thought to begin. But I consider the conflict has its roots even before the first Civil wars, the conflict in my opinion began when the first conquistadors banished the native pre-columbines from the land, and then fought each other for it.

I consider the Colombian Civil War very similar to the Conflict in Israel. Instead of rooted religious claims and settlement disputes, the Colombian conflict is rooted in simple political differences that evolved into a mess of conflict of interests between American capitalism, communism and a prosperous narcotic industry. In the end it is just a story about revenge, power and greed.

Answer this

Which side do you support?

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5 Historical Guidelines To Understand The Colombian Conflict

1. Conquistadors fighting pre-columbine natives (or what we call Indians) for their land and riches

2. Colombian settlers fighting the Spanish Crown for independence

3. Colombian newly formed Conservative Granadine Confederation fighting the rebel liberal factions in a Civil War for control over the country.

4. The conservative and liberal parties engage in a populist bloodshed to reign supreme over the other

5. The extreme liberal factions become communist during the Cold War and begin a guerrilla warfare with the government of Colombia

Conservative Asassin or "Bird"

A screenshot of the movie "Condors don´t get buried every day" about the Violence Epoch in Colombia
A screenshot of the movie "Condors don´t get buried every day" about the Violence Epoch in Colombia | Source

Mob of Liberals

A mob of liberals gather with machetes on the streets
A mob of liberals gather with machetes on the streets | Source

Nobel Prize Winner Novel Depicting The Colombian Conflict "One Hundred Years Of Solitude"

One Hundred Years of Solitude (Leatherbound Classics)
One Hundred Years of Solitude (Leatherbound Classics)
"One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. Inventive, amusing, magnetic, sad, and alive with unforgettable men and women -- brimming with truth, compassion, and a lyrical magic that strikes the soul -- this novel is a masterpiece in the art of fiction." - Amazon Top Review

Conservatives vs. Liberals Explained

To better understand the Colombian armed conflict it is precise to explain the political factions involved.

Conservatives: Political Party very similar to the Republicans in the U.S. Actually, in their beginnings as the ruling power they divided Colombia into federal states, very much like the U.S. is divided today.

  • Right, center-right
  • Ruled by rich elites
  • Associated with Nationalism and Patriotism
  • Maintain things as they are. Change is a threat to stability.
  • Catholic and family beliefs and traditions
  • Capitalists (Pro-Americans)
  • Protectionists during the early economy days (Now they play chow with the U.S.)
  • The use of force is necessary to keep anti-Christian and communist ideologies away. As Catholics they thought God would justify violence against the enemies of the church.
  • Were very violent against the liberals in the beginning of the 20th century. They viewed Liberals as a contagious disease that menaced the Christian ways.
  • Extreme Conservatives initiated a social cleansing of the Liberal Party, even killing pregnant women of liberal followers as to eradicate future Liberals. They used to wear black suits with hats and were illegal gunmen called “Pajaros” or “Birds”, named like this because they did their work fast; “shoot and run”. These were the first Colombian paramilitaries, and the ones that provoked the arming of the first extreme liberal factions.

Liberals: Political Party very similar to the Democrats in the U.S

  • Left, center-left
  • Ruled by populist leaders and followed by peasants and the working class
  • Critics of the Catholic Church. Many where atheists and promoted secularism
  • Looked for equality between the social classes, especially the poor.
  • Always are looking to change the traditional ways
  • Prone of an open economy market
  • Extreme Liberals conformed bands of armed men, lead by peasants and public university students that fought the establishment for change. Most were driven by revenge after conservative “Birds” killed family members or threaten their lives. They viewed the rich, no matter if they where women or children, as evil that needed to be destroyed.This were the first guerrilla groups.

1928 - The United Fruit Massacre

Known in Colombia as the “Massacre of the Banana Plantations” happened when workers of the American multinational the United Fruit Company initiated a protest against low wages and terrible working conditions in the Pacific jungles of the country (most workers where afro-Colombians who received a discriminating treatment). The protest gained such popular support (1,000 protestors) that the central government sent a military unit of around 300 to control them. In the central plaza of the town the 300 soldiers surround the protestors and shoots them to death. Around 300 were killed between men, women and children. Very few escaped running to the jungle to tell the story.

Note: Gabriel García Marquez, a Colombia writer who won the Nobel Prize for his novel “100 Years of Loneliness”, narrates the massacre in his novel along with other key events in the history of the nation. Although a novel, its one of the best reads to understand the internal conflict in the country.

The United Fruit Massacre - Painting

The american representing the United Fruit Company thanks the military captain for getting rid of the protestors
The american representing the United Fruit Company thanks the military captain for getting rid of the protestors | Source

Jorge Eliecer Gaitan

Jorge Eliecer Gaitan in a $1,000 Colombian pesos bill (roughly 60 cents) with his populist support on the background.
Jorge Eliecer Gaitan in a $1,000 Colombian pesos bill (roughly 60 cents) with his populist support on the background. | Source

Oficial Presidential Campaign Poster of Gaitan

“With Gaitan to Victory”. A populist flaming poster that raised awareness from the ruling parties.
“With Gaitan to Victory”. A populist flaming poster that raised awareness from the ruling parties. | Source

Burning Traincart During Bogotazo Riots

This picture was taken in front of the Presidential building.
This picture was taken in front of the Presidential building. | Source

1948 - "The Bogotazo” Riots, The Capital In Flames

Jorge Eliécer Gaitar was a political leader of socialist ideology, very well educated in politics in colleges from Colombia and Rome were he graduated with honors.

He had led an investigation in relation to the United Fruit Massacre back in 1929 in congress where he put on trial the military leaders involved.

His political career was ascending as Minister of Education in 1940 with programs like:

  • Free shoes for students (I guess shoes were expensive at the time. Peasants used sandals or barefeet in the countryside).
  • Restaurants with free food for students
  • An itinerant (moving) educational cinema
  • Massive cultural education
  • Began the National Hall for Artists

In 1948, Gaitan intends to become president of Colombia targeting in his political speech the ruling classes of the country, something that signed his terrible fate.

His populist movement was a threat to the conservative ruling party and North America who were in the beginning of the Cold War.

"They Murdered Gaitan!"

After leaving from a meeting in Bogota, Gaitan is murdered by a man waiting at the entrance of the building.

An angry mob gathers near official buildings were military tanks shoot them, killing more than 300 people.

One month of violence begins in the city were many governmental buildings are burned and more than 3,000 people died.

From this point on liberal factions group and arm themselves in order to seek political power by force against the ruling government. This is the beginning of the revolutionary guerrilla armies and the initial date of the “Violencia” epoch.

Curious Note: Gaitan was murdered just before a meeting with young Fidel Castro.

This is the end of Part 1 of this series of articles about the Colombian Internal Conflict. Before you move on into Part 2,

I have included some videos depicting the "Bogotazo" and a scene from the movie "Condores No Mueren Todos Los Dìas" (Condors Don`t Die Every Day) about the "Violence Period" and one of the Conservatives assassin, "the Birds". Both are in spanish but soon I`ll include english translations beside the videos.

And Finally: At the end of this hub I have listed some great books in english about the Colombian Conflict. Noam Chomsky and other photograph books about reporters are extremely recommended. But the best read is definitely the Nobel prized novel "100 Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

At the end of this hub you`ll find a link to Part 2 of this series.

Bogotazo Documentary (Spanish, but images speak by themself)


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    • David Trujillo profile imageAUTHOR

      David Trujillo Uribe 

      7 years ago from Medellin, Colombia

      To date there is a peace process going on on Cuba for almost a year. It goes on slowly, with no cease fire, but they seem to be getting along so far. At least both sides desire peace, but the guerrilla will not give up without the promise of political participation, where they plan to continue their struggle.

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 

      7 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Great history and analysis of the complicated political history of Columbia. It is very unfortunate that so many outside forces have harmed Columbia's development. Excellent Hub, David.

    • David Trujillo profile imageAUTHOR

      David Trujillo Uribe 

      7 years ago from Medellin, Colombia

      Thanks for the feedback Pamela. My country is a bit unstable, although we have learned to live with this like nothing were happening. A peace process has been ongoing for 1 year now. The government and guerrilla groups have found some common ground on key issues. Although it is unlikely an agreement will result before elections. A new president could ruin everything, but lets see what happens.

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Dapples 

      7 years ago from Arizona now

      Very sad, but very interesting. I love it when someone's hub can lead to a whole new area of study that I've never know existed. I will be looking up the book you have recommended. Voting up.

    • David Trujillo profile imageAUTHOR

      David Trujillo Uribe 

      7 years ago from Medellin, Colombia

      Thanks Sara

    • saraisbella profile image

      Sara Vilaire 

      7 years ago from NY

      This was amazing!

    • David Trujillo profile imageAUTHOR

      David Trujillo Uribe 

      7 years ago from Medellin, Colombia

      Thanks Theophanes,

      As always, your comments are appreciated

    • Theophanes profile image

      Theophanes Avery 

      7 years ago from New England

      Well, it's as they say, "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely." It's never good to have too few in charge - tends to go to their heads no matter the situation - be it government, money, or even high religious status.

      I imagine a lot of people are probably good people at heart - just in a bad situation. That seems to be the case around the world. That's what makes it hard for me not to care as so many others do... just ignore all the conflict in the world and go on with their lives. It's easier... SIGH.

      I will read your second part at some point today. I am afraid I have to go get some stuff done for now but I will be back!

    • David Trujillo profile imageAUTHOR

      David Trujillo Uribe 

      7 years ago from Medellin, Colombia

      Absolutely with you my friend. Governments would prefer us zombies that work, watch TV and dumb themselves with video games stepping out from reality issues out there. Most of these conflicts could`ve been prevented if rulers weren`t looking for votes or the friendship of supreme nations. Vanity and Power... so sickening.

      This story has a twist though. The guerrilla`s I have written about seem nice fellows who are simply defending themselves. But when drugs get them some money in the pocket they get really twisted. I believe they no longer have the intention of seeking peace; they want absolute power one way or the other. Its sick!

      By the way, I just published part 2 of this story.

    • Theophanes profile image

      Theophanes Avery 

      7 years ago from New England

      That's interesting. It seems such a delicate balance.

      It is unfortunate when a people are not taught their history in full - I think it is important to know if you're ever going to achieve change. But with that being said the US isn't much better. We teach our children about our history but a lot of it is actually completely made up! Or written in a way to soften the blow... and if we look poorly in one conflict or another we just chose not to mention those things. The Vietnam War would be one of those things... Yeah, we know it happened, but our schools spend all of one day teaching it to our kids and many things don't get mentioned at all. It's pointless. No one can get an in depth understanding from that.

      I'm afraid we're also ignorant of other countries for the same reason. We don't learn about any of them in school. It doesn't matter if they are allies, so is France, technically on most things, and we've talked shit about them for years! When they refused to back us in invading Iraq (which was a good decision - I mean they had nothing to do with it for one) we put up a big stink - some restaurants even renamed their french fries "freedom fries." It was just.... stupidity. All of it. Stupidity. We're not even particularly friendly to our neighbors. Canada we're constantly calling soft for never getting involved in wars and Mexico... ha! There's talk of building a big fence between the US and Mexico we hate them so badly. Maddening stuff.... and what difference does it make in the long run? Maybe we should be learning why Mexicans are fleeing here to begin with and try to solve the issue there rather than bitching about Spanish potentially becoming our second language and spreading fear and hatred. Maybe. Too logical?

      So anyway, thank you for taking enough interest in yourself to learn these things and try to pass them on. It is a valuable to know and to share. I liked learning a bit too. Columbia isn't a country we get to hear about very often.

    • David Trujillo profile imageAUTHOR

      David Trujillo Uribe 

      7 years ago from Medellin, Colombia

      The conflict in Colombia is a complicated one that cannot be easily understand if you don´t know the whole picture. That is the main reason I wrote this guide, which will get more complicated with the Cold War, Mafia drug lords and paramilitary groups.

      As to where do our rich come from... the same as from any other country. In the beginning the conquistadors made their wealth from mining gold, slavery and agriculture. There´s a lot of farm land in Colombia which is actually one of the key points in the conflict, the rich have to many and the peasants so few. Colombia is one of the top economies in Latin America after Brasil, Chile and Mexico, so there´s plenty of industry down here besides oil, tropical fruits, coffee and cocaine. Just as North America, our first political leaders (as well as most of Latin America) where masons that followed the French revolution. With the only difference that these well instructed leaders failed to maintain power and ideals in the country after the independence.

      It kind of bothers me how little is known about Colombia besides the drug trafficking. After all, Colombia has been the U.S. biggest ally in the region; we fought in the Korea War (theme for another hub) and Vietnam, just signed a free trade agreement with them.

      But then again, we are to blame for our bad reputation even if it is a safe and incredible place to live. Read: "Is Colombia Safe To Travel? Update for 2013"

      Thanks for your question Theophanes, the whole point of writing these series of hubs about my country´s history is to enlighten foreigners about our reality. By the way, most Colombians (like 95%) do not know this entire history. Schools do not teach this in depth. I probably knew more about North American history than Colombian before writing this hub.

    • Theophanes profile image

      Theophanes Avery 

      7 years ago from New England

      Wow... there's a lot going on there. I hadn't realized Columbia's issues with wars and violence was so long-lasted or deep rooted. It's hard for a country with no real living memory of peace achieve it but I wish you and your country the best of luck with that. I know that we as a human species longs for peace even when we don't know what that means.

      Just out of curiosity where did your rich come from? I know a lot today are probably drug lords but I mean before that... merchants? slave owners? That is where the super rich in the United States started, with slave owners back in the day. Now it's more corporate personalities. Large business owners and whatnot. It's a shame that class has to be such an issue. We are all human after all.


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