University of Minnesota





Of all the Latin American countries, with the exception of Brazil, Colombia has experienced the greatest economic growth in the last 30 years; in the 1980s it had the highest growth in all South America. Colombia's rate of demographic growth has been dropping rapidly and even though social indices like life expectancy, infant mortality, literacy and schooling have markedly improved and the number of people with unmet basic needs has declined, social inequalities persist and wealth is still very concentrated. Colombia continues to be a country of stark contrasts, a country where people of enormous economic prosperity coexist with people who live in dire poverty.

According to recent data, the situation of economic and social rights in Colombia is as follows:

Between 1970 and 1986, poverty levels in Colombia dropped; but in recent years there has been no significant improvement in this regard. By a conservative estimate, measured on the basis of unmet basic needs (housing, education, public services, etc.), in 1990 the poor accounted for 36% of the population (11,960,000 people). But this figure climbs to 49% (16,116,000 people) if the criterion is the so-called poverty line, i.e., the income levels needed to purchase the minimum in the way of food and to satisfy other basic needs (see Libardo Sarmiento, "La revolución pacífica: una mirada premoderna sobre los derechos sociales in Colombia" in Economía colombiana. Bogota, No. 188, p. 33). At present, only 20% of Colombia's population has social security even though an IDB study shows that the average coverage in Latin America for the 1985-1988 period was 43% (See IDB, Economic and Social Progress in Latin America. Special Report: social security. Washington, 1992, cited by Coyuntura Social, No. 7, p.23).

The cause is not the lack of resources, but other factors instead. The concentration of wealth continues to be high: while the poorest 50% receive only 17.6% of the income, the wealthiest 20% receive 55% (Libardo Sarmiento. op.cit., p. 35). At the farm level, while less than 2% of the owners control 40% of the farmland, 60% of the peasant farms account for only 5% of the land (See CEGA. Reforma agraria: elementos para el debate. Bogota, 1987, pp. 11-12). Government social spending is also down sharply. While in 1984 it represented 9.4% of GDP, by 1989 it had dropped to 7.6%, while debt service went from 3.1% of GDP to 7.5% in that same period. (See Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic. Informe Financiero, May 1990, p. 9). According to DANE, whereas wages accounted for 44% of GDP in 1983, they were only 39% in 1990. (Libardo Sarmiento. op.cit., p. 29). All this could help explain why social indices have been at a standstill since the mid-1980s.[1]

The contradictions implicit in persistent inequities despite economic development and slower demographic growth and the tension resulting from the ideological-political debate have been a constant source of conflict in Colombia during the period under study. Some of the principal protagonists in this conflict are the guerrilla movements and organized crime, which operate outside the law through a confusing combination of alliances and simultaneous clashes either in one specific place or in various places throughout the national territory.

In the last 15 years, organized crime has radically changed all aspects of Colombian society, but has had a particularly heavy impact on values and the justice system. The guerrilla movement, on the other hand, has been losing its ideological influence because it resorts so routinely to the common crimes it is known for, such as extortion, kidnapping and the murder of civilians.

Ironically, the most embattled and violent areas are rich in economic development and wealth but poor in social development; in these areas, rural property and wealth are concentrated in the hands of a few and the State's presence is mainly in the form of military spending.


This report contains a chapter devoted exclusively to violence, because it is one of the principal causes of human rights violations in Colombia. There are few who understand the problem of violence as well as the Colombian people do, or are as disturbed by it. In Colombia, the causes of the violence have been studied and investigated for many years now. In 1958, for example, the Government of General Rojas Pinilla established the First Committee to Investigate the Causes of Violence. In January 1987, almost 30 years later, the Ministry of Government, then headed by Dr. Fernando Cepeda Ulloa, created another committee to study violence in order to update the research on that subject, develop some hypotheses on violence in the future and some recommendations as to the type of measures that could be adopted to curb it. This committee found that violence in Colombia has consistently been used as a tool of political action. The study distinguishes three stages in the country's political violence: the first is one of civil wars, basically involving the problems or rivalries among the country's governing classes during much of the XIX century; the second is known historically in Colombia as "La violencia" and took place in the mid-twentieth century. The third phase is insurrectionist violence.


The Frente Nacional [National Front], which began as of the fall of General Rojas Pinilla on May 10, 1957, opened up a period of reconciliation that lasted approximately 16 years. This was a new and different phase in Colombia's political life: the reins of power went back and forth between liberals and conservatives, who between them shared the country's government offices in an effort to maintain the kind of stability that would allow economic and social development.

Once the National Front was consolidated, armed resistance groups identified with the liberal wing of political thinking disbanded and laid down their weapons. Once this period of basically civil violence was over, the Armed Forces once again took the lead in combatting the guerrilla groups that were beginning to form, especially in rural areas. These were people who had not availed themselves of the amnesty or who had chosen to continue to try to defend their own interests and principles. And so, moral, political and economic principles were among the reasons or factors behind the mobilization and violence that began around that time. But there was another factor contributing to the guerrilla violence in Colombia as well, which was the influence of the Cuban revolution.

The guerrilla movement of the 1950s, as noted earlier, began as a response to government-sponsored persecution of the liberal party in rural areas. Hunting down liberal peasant farmers became an excuse for expanding capitalist agriculture and for forming and consolidating the traditional latifundio. Estanislao Zuleta, a leading expert on the violence who has analyzed the political situation at that time,[2] maintains that it was not simply a question of killing people but also of driving them out by terrorizing them, "using the most sadistic and horrifying methods imaginable."

In spite of the peace agreements that followed the formation of the Frente Nacional, the people who remained in the countryside and who were unable to avail themselves of the amnesty created a second brand of violence during what came to be called the period of bandolerismo. This went on for years and by the time it reached crisis proportions in 1964, "there were more than 100 active bands of armed peasant farmers operating in more or less organized fashion; ignoring the peace agreements concluded among the official leaders of the traditional parties, these bands prolonged the bipartisan struggle."[3] But just as this "bandolerismo" was beginning to fade in the 1960's, guerrilla groups began to surface. These groups had their own political agenda and their own political ideologies. This marked the start of a truly revolutionary war, not so much against the government as against the system of land distribution, social injustice and a two-party monopoly that excluded the country's other political forces.

The doctrine known as National Security developed as a response to the guerrilla insurgency that lasted from the 1960's through the 1980's, when the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - National Liberation Army), the M-19 (Movimiento 19 de Abril - April 19th Movement), the EPL (Ejército Popular de Liberación - People's Liberation Army), the ADO (Autodefensa Obrera - Workmen's Self-defense), Ricardo Franco and Quintín Lame (an indigenous guerrilla group) emerged.

Guerrilla Groups

FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia
- Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia)

The FARC are the oldest guerrilla groups. They have a longer history and are better organized in Colombia and elsewhere in Latin America. According to Estanislao Zuleta, the FARC trace their roots to the guerrillas of the 1950s and even back to earlier peasant struggles in the 1930's and 1940's, when the first agrarian leagues and syndicates were established. The FARC have always been linked to the communist party and in fact are regarded as the armed wing of the Colombian communist party. They also had ties with the international communist party, first through Moscow and then through Havana, which provided them with ideological and military support, supplies and training until the late 1980s when the communist world fell apart. They date back to 1947, when the Central Committee of the Colombian Communist Party decided to organize a populist self-defense system against the then conservative regime of Ospina Perez that had taken over in 1946. The FARC had close ties with the Colombian peasantry, which was their mainstay of support. This organization, originally designed as a means for the people to defend themselves, would later become a guerrilla movement. Its tactic was to hold out in jungle areas, which made it very difficult and costly for the regular army to combat, pursue and eliminate it.[4]

The FARC won the support of large sectors of the peasantry in certain areas of the country when they defended the peasants against the abuses of land owners and local authorities. However, the FARC never managed to win broad-based peasant support. Later, when their support began to erode, they often resorted to threats and terror tactics to hold on to that support. The FARC have been part of the Colombian Communist Party's strategy, whose policy was one of "combining all forms of struggle"; so while the FARC operate on the military front, there were also legal political organizations to win over voters or serve as social organizations.

The FARC would become not only the largest guerrilla movement in Colombian territory but also the best equipped, both materially and financially, for an armed struggle. They obtained their resources illegally, through kidnapping, extortion, collecting money in a procedure known as "vacunas" [vaccinations], and robbing banks and businesses, etc. Later, the FARC would also get funds through associations with drug cartels. But the alliance that drug traffickers and paramilitary groups formed would ultimately bring about the clashes still taking place with the guerrilla groups.

ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - National Liberation Army)

The ELN was created by FARC dissidents influenced by the ideas exported by the Cuban Revolution. This group won the support of certain labor sectors in the department of Santander. University elements joined its ranks as did a number of Catholic priests, following the example set by Father Camilo Torres who joined the movement and died in a clash with the Army in 1966.

The ELN has become a very dogmatic guerrilla group, probably the result of the combination of Marxist ideology and a religious, messianic fanaticism introduced by priests who have joined the ELN, like its present leader the Spanish priest Father Manuel Pérez. From the start, this group has gone to great lengths to preserve the movement'_ unity and to keep it ideologically uncorrupted and has executed many of its members either for treason or for deviating from the ideological line.

EPL (Ejército Popular de Liberación - People's Liberation Army)

The People's Liberation Army was organized and surfaced in 1965 as the armed wing of the Maoist Communist Party. It was, in other words, the most orthodox wing of the armed guerrilla struggle. Originally, it refused to participate in the peace efforts initiated by President Belisario Betancur. Finally, however, one of its leaders, William Calvo, shifted his position and signed the peace agreements in 1980. While some EPL members took advantage of the political amnesty, many of those who had been reassimilated eventually returned to guerrilla warfare when William Calvo was assassinated on a Bogota street on November 20, 1985. The EPL was a party to the peace agreements concluded during the Barco administration and, under the present administration, its members have rejoined civilian life and its name has been changed to Esperanza, Paz y Libertad (Hope, Peace and Liberty). Its members are in the reassimilation process and are dealing with the problems that this program has encountered. A disproportionately high number of EPL members being reassimilated into mainstream society have been assassinated; its leaders basically blame the dissident faction that did not sign the peace accords and the FARC, as well as paramilitary groups opposed to the peace negotiations.

The three guerrilla groups still active form what is called the Simón Bolívar Guerrilla Steering Group.

M-19 (Movimiento 19 de Abril - April 19th Movement)

The M-19 began as an urban movement mounted against the traditional parties and the oligarchy. It was a populist movement that sought to win over the urban masses by ridiculing democratic elections as a means of effecting change in the country. Small by comparison to the FARC, the M-19 was always given to sensationalism and spectacle to draw media attention to its activities.

Indeed, the name of the movement comes from a spectacular robbery the group pulled off on April 19, 1974, when it stole the sword of General Simón Bolívar. The robbery took place at the Quinta Museo del Libertador, located in Bogota, where it had been housed for many years. M-19 emerged in national politics as the ally of the movement called the Alianza Popular Nacional [National People's Alliance], which was originally linked to General Rojas Pinilla, who had failed in his new bid for power in the elections held on April 19, 1970. ANAPO's electoral defeat, where it won only 500,000 votes as compared to the 3,000,000 won by candidate López Michelsen, not only frustrated the M-19's political aspirations but also caused it to reject thereafter the democratic system of elected government. In all its years of armed struggle the M-19 operated clandestinely. It defined its political ideology and activity as being a continuation of the popular struggles for national liberation and for socialism; it described itself as a nationalistic and revolutionary political-military organization fighting for the cause of socialism, made up of armed ranks driven by a political-military principle and practice designed to wage the people's war.[5]

M-19 joined Colombia's democratic system in March 1990, thus breaking Colombia's traditional two-party system. It participated in the elections for the Constitutional National Assembly and its candidate Antonio Ramiro Wolff won the highest number of votes nationwide. Though the M-19, now called the M-19 Democratic Alliance, is still critical of the Government of President Gaviria, its contribution has been a constructive one.


The paramilitary movement is nothing new in Colombia, as it has precedents well back in the country's history. Paramilitarism is precisely the opposite of a monopoly or total control of power by the armed forces, using in its place unlawful organizations made up of individuals who would replace the State's system of authority and justice with their own brand of vigilante violence exercised through mercenary militia that are in some cases supported by agents of the State.

The first self-defense groups to surface in Colombia'_ history were created by the Colombian Communist Party to protect peasant farmers from Army violence. On December 5, 1975, at the XII Congress of the Colombian Communist Party the following agreement was adopted: "Article 1. Self-defense is a movement of the people open to anyone whose physical safety and interests are threatened by reactionary repression, the greed of the latifundistas, and the territorial, economic, political, ideological and cultural conquest of Yankee imperialism."

As the guerrilla movement of the 1960's developed, other even more extremist and violent groups surfaced and the subversive armed movement became more technologically sophisticated with the international support and advisory assistance it received. This was a problem for the Colombian Army, which was prepared for a different style of national defense, not for an internal confrontation with other Colombians. As the subversive war escalated, it deviated from all the traditional patterns. And as noble and important as its professed objective of social justice was, there was no way to rationalize the atrocities it committed against its military adversary and against the Colombian people that it claimed to be defending.

This problem, the relatively small size of the Colombian armed forces and the difficulties of financing any expansion of the armed forces prompted civilian politicians in charge of governing the State to opt instead to provisionally arm the private citizenry. There were precedents, as the civil wars of the XIX century had basically pitted armed civilians against one another.[6]

The 1968 enactment of Law 48 created the self-defense groups. As a result, groups of individuals with ties to economic or political sectors in the country's various regions emerged in the 1970's and became entrenched in the 1980's. With the sponsorship or acquiescence of sectors of the armed forces, these groups used violence to protect partisan or group interests. Originally, the relationship between the self-defense groups and State national defense organizations was occasional and informal in nature. However, these legal self-defense groups started to grow stronger and to coalesce precisely when the Army was finding it increasingly difficult to perform its function of defending public law and order in the country.

As these paramilitary groups were being formed, the doctrine of national security emerged in the late 1970's and early 1980's as a means of dealing with subversive warfare. It was a new strategic and military concept based on the East-West confrontation that dominated that era. Its premise was that the antagonism between the United States and the Soviet Union polarized every conflict, based on deep ideological roots, with Western Christian civilization on the one hand and Eastern Communist dialectical materialism on the other. At stake was the domination or liberation of the world. It held that Soviet Communism engaged in a permanent and systematic offensive of world domination; that subversive activities were international aggression orchestrated from abroad and planned and executed from within. It put the blame on the demagoguery of the traditional politicians who had systematically sown ugly hatreds and made Utopian promises that could never be fulfilled.[7] The doctrine held that a new national unity had to be formed around a concept of man and society based on Western Christian thought; the purpose of that national unity was to overcome the antagonisms among the various human groups within a nation that the theory of class struggle had sown; because the problem was so complex, a global strategy had to be mapped out on all fronts: political, economic, cultural and military. According to the doctrine of national security, the enemy is omnipresent and anyone who gives the enemy aid and comfort must also be regarded as the enemy; that subversive groups had infiltrated the universities, workers associations, professional organizations and labor unions, which made them all potentially dangerous organizations, as were some villages and communities that had also been infiltrated.

In answer to the disturbing question of why self-defense groups and paramilitary groups had to be created in Colombia, Father Adolfo Galindo Quevedo states the following:

It was often said that this was the logical reaction. In three months there are "x" number of kidnappings and 600 million in ransom is demanded. The owner of a ranch says to himself: "Well, if I have to pay 20 million in ransom for every kidnapping, then I'll pay a million for protection and save 19 million in the bargain". If a hundred people think that way, then there's a hundred million for self-defense groups. A peculiar coincidence occurs: in Puerto Boyacá all these elements from the extreme right come together: wealthy young men from good families, colonels with very special ideologies all their own, and people who say to themselves that these types have to be defended. Someone came up with the expression "if you want to take our property, you're going to have to fight for it." This is my analysis. It's a violent situation and the one who bares his teeth the most controls... [8]

For its part, the subversive movement had grown considerably. Each group had its own way of exacting tribute, which was obligatory but called "voluntario". It was a system in which certain people were required to pay a war tax. The decision to form the self-defense groups was not just a necessity for entrepreneurs in the agrarian sector; it was also good business since it was less expensive to maintain a small army of completely loyal men willing to do anything than to pay tribute to the guerrillas, which was more costly and would only keep the area in chaos and unrest. Moreover, the war tax was no guarantee that guerrillas would not attack or would remain neutral. Another phenomenon that triggered the development of the self-defense groups was the fact that entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector and the civilian population engaged in agriculture understood that there was a natural alliance between the Army and the farmers.

The combined operations of self-defense groups and members of the Army were, at the beginning, simply a matter of self-defense groups collaborating with members of the Army for the sake of protection and defense; gradually, however, they began to engage in actual attacks and pursuit of guerrillas. One of the first types of operations that the Army and self-defense groups conducted jointly was known as "fumigating" a region, which meant driving out all subversives. Galindo Quevedo has the following explanation: "The `vaccination' process had already gotten underway. The paramilitaries countered with the "fumigation" process. Paramilitary groups began "fumigating" all elements that had heretofore been "vaccinating" or those they suspected of subscribing to the vaccination policy."[9]

The Chairman of ACDEGAM had the following version of how this spiral of violence took shape and of how the self-defense groups were created:

Here, a movement was created 20 years ago to combat thieves; it preached equality... that it had to fight the rich, that they were exploiters... Then came the turbulent period of kidnapping, family quotas, vaccinations, blackmail, extortion, "boleteo". Life here became unbearable. Those people who could pay became the victims of multiple kidnapping. They ultimately left and we were left behind to fend for ourselves. Although not rich, we had farms, a few head of cattle. But the burden that the rich had once shouldered, we now had to take on our own backs. They began to kidnap people who had no means of paying ransom... It was then that the people abandoned the farmland. That was about four and a half years ago (1981-1982). Those people were dying of hunger... until at last they decided that they would rather die at the hands of some bandit who might shoot them, than to die of hunger with their families... So the people joined together and began to gravitate to the farms nearest the town and where the guerrillas were already kidnapping people ... less than 45 minutes from the town and 20 minutes from the Military Base known as Calderón. They were all united and, of course, carried their pistols around with them, ready to fight anyone. These people became rebellious; they wanted respect. It was then that they began to join forces with the Army.[10]

The Colombian Government was compelled to increase the Army's power because self-defense groups were spreading to the point that many of them had become virtual paramilitary armies that the Army--as it was--was helpless to control; countless outrages and atrocities were, in one way or another, being blamed on the Colombian Armed Forces; and the guerrilla movement's attacks posed a constant threat. The anti-subversive struggle led, almost inexorably, to the country's militarization and gradually became more a military than a political matter. In the end, the military was left to map the strategies for this warfare. The independence of the military gradually eroded its members' respect for the law; a kind of tolerance of violence against guerrillas and against the civilian population suspected of being linked to guerrillas began to set in.[11]

As the paramilitary groups became stronger, some of them began to be absorbed and then run by drug cartels. The cartels originally used them as a means to protect the lawful businesses that they had acquired with their ill-gotten gains. Later, however, they began to use them as actual armies, to eliminate political opponents and to deal with and resolve problems between drug cartels, especially between the groups in the Medellín cartel and those in the Cali cartel. The paramilitary groups also started to carry more sophisticated weaponry and were given highly specialized training, for which Israeli, British and mercenaries of other nationalities were recruited. These mercenaries established training camps and actual schools to train the paramilitary and hired gunmen that drug traffickers used in their gang wars and on their suicide missions to assassinate prominent people and Colombian politicians.

To control the spread of the paramilitary movement made possible thanks to Law 48, enacted in 1968, provisions were enacted, especially under the administration of President Barco, to restrict and later to prohibit altogether the activities of paramilitary groups. The government ban on paramilitary activity was upheld by the Supreme Court in a ruling that declared unconstitutional the 1968 Decree that had eventually become Law 48. The Council of State also came out against paramilitary organizations and ordered that private citizens who had weapons of war in their possession were to return them to the Army and to refrain from using them.

This campaign against the paramilitary movement found support in one sector of the citizenry, but encountered violent criticism and opposition in another. The latter argued that outlawing the self-defense groups jeopardized its safety and left a large sector of the civilian population that was fundamentally productive without any means of defense; this sector argued that it was obvious that the State was unable to do what the self-defense groups had done to protect businessmen, farmers, ranchers, industrialists, and other economic groups in the country.

Even though the law now makes it illegal to form private, armed self-defense or paramilitary groups, many such groups continue to exist, although they no longer have the open, legal support they enjoyed prior to 1989. A few have turned in their weapons, availing themselves of the 1990 laws that enabled them to do so in exchange for suspended sentences for belonging to unlawful armed groups or for bearing arms. Others have disbanded because of differences inside the group or because the major drug traffickers who controlled them have died or fled. Others are weaker now because in some cases the Army has taken them on. However, in many rural areas, land owners continue to use armed groups to defend themselves from possible guerrilla attacks and to kill those whom they believe have ties to the guerrilla movement. The government's weakness in enforcing its own provisions ordering the dissolution of the self-defense and paramilitary groups continues to be one of the factors most disruptive of the peace in rural areas. Although the Government has dismissed some officers for providing clandestine aid to paramilitary groups, it is frequently charged--and never disproved--that in some places local military authorities continue to promote the formation of self-defense groups or encourage the peasant farmers to join them.

The Government's credibility on the human rights issue depends in large measure on its ability to control these groups effectively. The excesses committed by paramilitary groups and the State's inability to control them are doubtless a major source of human rights violations for which the Colombian Government is responsible: 1) because it is not providing the citizenry with the protection to which it is entitled; 2) because many of the paramilitaries' actions have some kind of support from members of the Armed Forces, and 3) because almost 90% of the murders and atrocities committed by paramilitary groups have never been punished and the facts will never be brought to light. The latter not only damages the international image of the justice system in Colombia, but also tarnishes the images of recent administrations, despite their obvious and genuine efforts to control the violence rampant in Colombia.

To illustrate the magnitude of the problem, given the uncontrolled harmed it is inflicting, the following is an alphabetical listing of the paramilitary groups that, according to some news sources and nongovernmental human rights organizations, are operating or have operated in the last ten years in Colombia, either on a national scale or in certain regions:


Juventud Anticomunista de Colombia (JACOC)
Muerte a Secuestradores, MAS, founded in 1981
Alianza Anticomunista Americana, Triple A
Movimiento Anticomunista Colombiano
Mano Negra
Los Pájaros
Comandos Revolucionarios de Colombia
Alianza Anticomunista Colombiana
Los Extraditables


Autodefensas del Nordeste Antioqueño (ANA)
Escuadrón de la muerte (Medellin and Pereira)
Estrella Roja
Comité Estudiantil Unión Revolucionaria
Muerte a jíbaros y basuqueros (Medellín)
Muerte a Revolucionarios del Nordeste (Segovia)
Amor a Medellín (Medellín)
Limpieza total (Medellín)
Muerte a jueces, MAJ
Juventud Obrera Estudiantil Nacional Socialista, JOENS
Movimiento Obrero Estudiantil Nacional Socialista, MOENS
(Antioquia, Urabá, Córdoba and Magdalena Medio)
Los Magníficos (Antioquia, Urabá and Córdoba)
Muerte a Delincuentes Comunes (Urabá)
Matando a viciosos
Muerte por la fe, el recato y la moral (Medellín)
Ojo por ojo (Urabá and Córdoba)
Sendero Luminoso
Grupo Obrero Revolucionario


El Grupo, Atlantic Coast
Muerte a Abigeos, MAOS
Castigo a firmantes e intermediarios estafadores, CAFIAS
Muerte a invasores, colaboradores y patrocinadores, MAICOPA
Muerte a Antisociales, Sindicalistas y Comunistas, MASCO
Los Rebeldes
La Mano Negra


Muerte a Secuestradores Comunistas


Muerte a Delincuentes
Banda de los López
Banda de los Barrera


Movimiento de Autodefensa Ciudadana (Manizales)
Muerte a homosexuales (Manizales, Medellín and Calí)


El Escuadrón Machete
Mundo Libre (Florencia)


Fuerzas de Autodefensa del Casanare, FAC, or
Movimiento de Autodefensa del Casanare

CAUCA (14)

Alianza Revolucionaria Bolivariana
Falange Bolivariana (Cauca)
Frente de Amistad Juvenil
Los compañeros de la paz (Popayán)
Escuadrón de la Muerte Bolivariana
Muerte a ladrones del Norte (Popayán)
Frente Democrático de Amistad
Frente Democrático del Pueblo
Grupo Bolivarense Antiterrorista
Grupo Juvenil 12 de octubre
Movimiento Democracia
Muerte a Militares y Paramilitares


Terminator (César or Santander)
Comando Unificado de Acción Revolucionaria


Roya 87


La Cascona (Córdoba and Sucre)
El Orcón, counterrevolutionary group
Grupo Camilo Daza
Los Mazudos
Los Mochacabezas


Muerte a jaladores de carros (Bogotá)
Muerte a ladrones del Norte, MAL, or
Muerte a rateros del Norte, MARNO or MURN (Bogota)
Movimiento de Cristianos Anticomunistas (Bogota)
El Gatillo (Guadas)
Organización revolucionaria contra ampones, ORCA (Bogota)
Autodefensa Obrera y Campesina (Yacopí)
Plan Fantasma (Bogota)
Muerte a gamines (Bogota)
Comité de Seguridad y Autodefensa Civil de Cundinamarca
Coordinadora Nacional de organizaciones paramilitares (Bogota)
Brigadas populares del Suroriente


Comandos Urbanos Democráticos Latinoamericanos, CUDL
Comité de Vigilancia y Desarrollo de Colombia
Comunidad de Huila
Los Vampiros


Siete Machos


El Embrión
Alfa 83
Prolimpieza del Valle del Magdalena
Los Tiznados
Los Grillos
Muerte a revolucionarios, MAR
Comando Cor. Rogelio Correa Campos (Magdalena Medio, Santander)
Autodefensa Magdalena Medio

META (11)

Amor por el Llano (Villavicencio)
Frente Contra-guerrillero
Frente Llanero de Autodefensa Democracia Nación
Boinas Rojas
Frente Revolucionario Campesino
Hombres de maíz
Amnistía Narco
Los Mechudos
Autodefensa de los Bienes de los Narcotraficantes
La Mano Negra


Los Rampuches
Autodefensa popular (Cúcuta and Norte de Santander)
Rambo (Tibú)
Sociedad de amigos de Ocaña, SAO (Ocaña)
El Justiciero


El justiciero quindiano, JUQUIN
Ejército clandestino obrero
El Vengador Anónimo (Armenia)


Muerte a prostitutas y ladrones (Pereira)
Escuadrón de la Muerte
Las Aguilas Blancas


Falcón 2
Los Vampiros
Legión de las águilas blancas (Barrancabermeja)
Escorpión (Barrancabermeja)
Los Caracuchos
Bandera Roja
La Gota Negra
Comando Ariel Otero
Estrella Móvil
Comando Henry Pérez
Comando Pedro Gordillo
Movimiento Muerte a Revolucionarios y Comunistas (Marco)
Comando Rojo Simón Bolívar
Ejército de los Pobres
Toxicol 90
Boinas Verdes


Los Justicieros (Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta)




Juventud inconforme de Colombia, JIC (Cali and Valle del Cauca)
Comandos verdes (Cali and Valle)
Kan-Kil (Cali)
Boinas rojas (Valle, Santander and Meta)
Bandera negra (Cali, Buga and Tuluá)
Nosotros, Palmira Eficiente (Palmira)
Frente Unido Silencioso
Alianza Democrática
Fuerza Militar de Occidente
Justiciero Implacable
Escuadrón Limpieza Cali (Cali)
Muerte a ratas (Cali)
Los vengadores (Cali)
Ejército Popular Revolucionario
Movimiento Cívico Revolucionario
Organización del Pueblo Armado, OPA
Organización Militar del Pueblo
Muerte a Jíbaros, MAJI


(These groups do not operate nationwide or in any single region in particular)
Ejército Rojo
Los Cobras
Los Kils
Los Monjes
Los Nevados

GROUPS OF COMMON CRIMINALS OR HIRED KILLERS: There are other groups that work for these paramilitary organizations and, according to government spokesmen, belong to them. These include: los Priscos; los Tesos; los Quesitos; los Cuchos; los Picados; los Nachos; los Nata; los Cucarachos; los Rebeldes (active in the Atlantic coast region); los Barriales (active in Cali); the group known as the Federación de Organizaciones Revolucionarias y Obreras, FORO (active in the Viejo Caldas and Valle area); Grupo Bolivarense Antiterrorista (active in the Cauca region); Orden y Patria (active in Bogota); and Democracia (active in Antioquia and Valle).[12]

When the present Head of State, Dr. César Gaviria Trujillo, was Minister of Government under President Virgilio Barco, he addressed a session of the House of Representatives, of which he was also a member, on September 30, 1987, and reported that State security forces had uncovered 128 paramilitary groups in Colombia.[13]

The self-defense groups: their organization and financing

The Commission received information about the modus operandi of the most well-known self-defense group in the country, the one in Magdalena Medio. Even though with the death of its leaders it ceased to operate on a national scale since its structure was similar to the structure of other groups of equal or less importance, its functional structure is described below:

1. Staff: Members of the Staff had nationwide authority and were responsible for coordinating and issuing operational instructions. Composition: a) a national military chief, and a chief for each region; b) a political and public relations chief, each region having its own representative (for some time, this was the position held by Luis Antonio Meneses Báez, alias Ariel Otero); c) a logistics chief in charge of coordinating the arms and provisions supply networks for each region (the chief of transport of the self-defense groups in the Magdalena Medio was Hans Ortiz Loaiza whose body was found on December 16, 1991, in Mariquita, Tolima); d) a chief of training responsible for training the members; e) a chief of intelligence and counterintelligence who coordinates security measures that the groups must use in each zone.

2. Civilian security and surveillance committees or local self-defense boards. There is one such committee or board for every region where there are groups. The members are people who live in the area and their functions are to collect funds and divide it between the Staff and the front, to organize the ranchers who sponsor the organization in each locale, to coordinate health and sporting activities, among others. Each board is made up as follows: a) a chairman directs the board's activities and coordinates activities and operations with the front; b) a secretary replaces the chairman in his absence and keeps a record of the board's meetings; c) a treasurer does the accounting and sends 10% of the monies collected to the Staff; the remainder is distributed between the board and the front; d) an auditor checks to see how the money is being used and the board's activities; e) two members settle differences in the decision-making process. Board sympathizers do intelligence work, provide transportation, means of communication, housing, etc. This is the structure in Rionegro (Antioquia) and El Guavio (Cundinamarca), the Magdalena Medio valley, which includes portions of Santander, Antioquia, Western Boyacá, Caldas, the southern portion of Bolivar, Urabá and the mining area of Antioquia; Sinú valley (Córdoba); the Magdalena banana area; Viejo Caldas, Sur del Huila, Caquetá, La Guajira, Putumayo, Cauca, Casanare, Meta, Tolima, the Cauca Valley and Sucre.

3. Armed fronts. The fronts serve as regional coordinators of other groups operating at the local level; as yet it has been impossible to determine exactly how many such fronts exist. Each one has a command group made up as follows: a) a commandant or individual in charge of military affairs; b) a political chief; c) an intelligence chief; d) an economist; e) the members, who are the combatants, drawing a salary that ranges between $100 and $150,000.

4. Financing. These vigilante organizations are bankrolled with funds from a variety of sources, among them: a) the amount that ranchers, businessmen and farmers in the region are required to pay, collected by means calculated to conceal the fact that the money will be used for criminal purposes; b) payment received from drug traffickers for the services rendered in each region; c) money received for performing criminal activities for which they were hired; d) profits from the use and exploitation of farms, and e) the resale of arms.


Today Colombia's institutions are in crisis. There are injustices in every sphere of society. These are the manifestations of a selfish and intolerant society. The phrase "culture of violence" that appears in some of the studies.. is debatable... Commission of Studies on Violence, coordinated by Gonzalo Sánchez.

The findings of the 1987 Committee to Investigate the Causes of Violence were published in a 1988 report titled "Colombia: Violence and Democracy". Its authors call themselves "experts on violence". The crisis in our society is fed by intransigence and an intolerance for different views, even in key sectors of national politics.

The human rights situation in the country also has to do with the poverty in which much of the population lives. According to DANE statistics, while 3,000,000 Colombian households are poor, 1,200,000 live in abject poverty, unable to cover even their basic food needs.

That endemic violence has been plaguing our society for some time now. However, there are now agents, catalysts of violence, who have made the problem even worse. In addition to poverty, human rights violations have become widespread, all part of the problem of violence.

The nature and causes of the human rights violations are many, but to understand the problem better one must bear in mind that apart from the political violence, especially the political violence caused by extremists on both the right and the left, there are other forms of violence that bring death or violate the right to life, the right to humane treatment, and other rights. Drug trafficking, abuses of authority, socio-economic violence rooted in social injustice and land problems are but some of the forms of violence that lead to human rights violations.

There are other, more insidious violations not so heavily reported in the press, such as enforced disappearances of families and individuals. Individuals or entire families are displaced. And yet, there are no laws that address these outrages. On the other hand, guerrillas engage in kidnapping, extortion, "boleteo", the vaccinations, theft of livestock, while drug-traffickers kidnap or hold hostage journalists, entrepreneurs and relatives of high-ranking state officials. The incidence of these violations has increased in recent months.[14]


In 1992, violence by drug traffickers, guerrillas and common criminals left 27,100 people dead in Colombia, higher than the 25,100 violent deaths in Colombia in 1991. Within that same period there were 1,136 kidnappings and 1,100 assaults.[15] The alarming number of kidnappings in 1992 was, nevertheless, one third less than the previous year. The cities hardest hit by the violence were Bogota, in the Department of Cundinamarca, and Medellín in Antioquia. Bogota had 7,081 murders and Medellín 6,662.

According to government reports,[16] in the war on terrorism Colombian authorities rescued 131 kidnapping victims; they seized 28,016 kilos of cocaine; they destroyed 83.5 million poppy plants, seized 17,318 weapons, deactivated 149 explosive devices and arrested 61,333 people. All this cost the lives of 600 policemen.

The number of people killed illustrates the terror now rampant in Colombia. The members of the Special Commission that visited Colombia were told by any number of people that no one in Colombia knows when or where one of these attacks, which happen every day, will claim the life of a friend, a loved one, or even one's own life.



[1] Andean Commission of Jurists, Colombian Branch. "Las ilusiones perdidas? Derechos humanos y derecho humanitario en Colombia en 1992. Bogota, 1993, mimeo.

[2] Estanislao Zuleta, Colombia: Violencia, Democracia y Derechos Humanos, Ediciones Attamir, Bogota 1991.

[3] Gonzalo Sánchez, Dony Meertens. Bandoleros, gamonales y campesinos: El Caso de la Violencia en Colombia, Bogota, Ancora, 1985, p.42.

[4] Op.cit. Estanislao Zuleta, p.125.

[5] Document called Concepción y Estructura de la OPM (Organización Político Militar del M-19), product of the Sixth Conference of the M-19, March 1978. A quote by Enrique Neira in the journal "Guión", Bogota, March 1980, pp.153-162.

[6] Al filo del Caos, Los Paramilitares y su Impacto sobre la Política, Jorge Orlando Melo, Tercer Mundo Publisher, May 1991.

[7] "Derechos Humanos: ficción y realidad", Elisabeth Reimann/Fernando Rivas Sánchez, 1979 Aaka publisher, Spain.

[8] Father Adolfo Galindo Quevedo, Autodefensas, Paramilitares y Narcotráfico en Colombia, Carlos Medina Gallego, Editorial Documentos Periodísticos, Bogota, 1990.

[9] Carlos Medina Gallego, op.cit.

[10] Ibid, p.177.

[11] Jorge Orlando Meio. Los Paramilitares y su Impacto sobre la Política, op.cit. pp. 482-484.

[12] Sources: nongovernmental human rights organizations and newspaper reports (El Tiempo, El Espectador, El Mundo, El Caleño, Voz and Vanguardia Liberal).

[13] El Espectador, October 1, 1987, pp. 1A and 13A.

[14] Conferencia Episcopal de Colombia. Document No. 2, Bogota, November 30, 1990.

[15] According to information supplied by the Government of Colombia and attached to this report, the number of kidnapping victims was higher in 1991; it was not 1,136, but 1,717. As for 1993, while there were already 513 kidnapping in the first six months, this would still seem to indicate that kidnappings have declined somewhat.

[16] Centro de Informaciones Criminológicas de la Policía (CIC).

[17] The voting results by party were as follows: Liberal, 1,055,033, 28.3, 24; M-19, 950,174, 26.82, 19; MSN, 555,403, 15.68, 12; PSC, 388,842, 10.9, 8; UP, 82,728.3, 2; OTHERS, 509,529, 14.3; Yes votes: 2,696,826; No votes: 71,836; Total number of voters: 3,541,480; 93.90% of the votes were tallied. Total number of votes: 3,438,418, 100.00%.

[18] Observations and Comments of the Government of Colombia on the IACHR's Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Colombia, August 3, 1993.

[19] It is legally incorrect to argue that the state of internal disturbance can be extended so that it remains in effect for as long as 360 days: it can remain in effect for up to 270 days; the other 90 days are how long the measures adopted can remain in effect, which is a different matter. If the 90 days following the first 270 days were part of the state of emergency, the government could adopt new measures, which is not the case. Notes and comments on the Commission's Report that are not part of the Colombian Government's official reply; they arrived at the Commission on September 22, 1993.

[20] As for the objection made by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to Decree 1810, which gave the Army criminal-investigation functions and which, as said before, was nullified, the Government of Colombia stated that the decree had been a temporary and strictly emergency measure and that with the Constitutional Court's ruling the guarantees of due process were better protected.

[21] The crimes listed under paragraphs 4, 8, 9, 10, 12 and 24 did not become permanent law.

[22] The acts criminalized in Decree 180/88 and in those that pre- and post-dated it: Decree 3564 of 1986, 474/88, 2490/88, 1194/89, 813/89, 814/89, 1857/89, 1858/89, 1895/89, all of which were State of Siege Decrees, became permanent law by virtue of Decrees 2253/91, 2265/91 and 2266/91.

[23] The decrees that have recognized these benefits are: Decree 2047/90, Decree 2872/90, Decree 3030/90, Decree 303/91 (all of which became permanent law under Decree 2265 of 1991), Decree 1933/92 (article 1), Decree 264/93 (which the Constitutional Court nullified in its ruling of May 3, 1993), and Decree 1495/93. The rules governing rewards for cooperation are now stipulated in the Code of Criminal Procedure, in articles 37, 37A, 37B and 369B (Decree 2700/61 and Law 81 of November 2, 1993).

[24] The public order judges are now called prosecutors during the investigation and pretrial hearing, and regional judges in the trial phase. The Public Order Tribunal is now the National Tribunal, and the Regional Jurisdiction has now absorbed what was once the Public Order Jurisdiction.

[25] Amended by Law 81, which provides that the parties to the proceedings have an equal right to copies thereof.

[26] Decree 2790/90 also became permanent law, but after the following articles were eliminated: 14, 15, 16, 41, 62, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 89, 91, 95 and 102.

[27] The practice of holding individuals incommunicado following arrest was declared unconstitutional and was not included in the permanent law.

[28] Declared unconstitutional and therefore not included as part of the permanent law.

[29] Sources: National Bureau of Criminal Investigation; Technical Corps of the Criminal Investigations Police; National Human Rights Unit, December 1990, and Andean Commission of Jurists, November 1993.

[30] A maxim of the law that means that agreements must be honored.

[31] The Party Law is revitalizing Colombian politics; it is requiring parties to modernize and is encouraging citizens to overcome their apathy and to exercise their democratic rights. since this statute did not include rules to govern the exercise of rights by minorities, the Government has pledged to present a draft opposition statute, as the necessary corollary of the new Political Party Statute. Footnote cited.


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