Inside Colombia: Drugs, Democracy and War

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Inside Colombia: Drugs, Democracy and War provides a valuable introduction and quick reference guide to Colombia. With chapters devoted to history, human rights, the economy, drugs and relations with the United States, the book offers an easily accessible and comprehensive overview of the Colombian history.   It looks in detail at the US-backed counter-narcotics intervention,  Plan Colombia, and exposes the environmental and human cost of  the militarized counter-narcotics fumigation campaigns.  It traces the social roots of the drugs trade and identifies the winners and losers from drugs trafficking.    The book includes maps, facts and figures, personal testimonies,  a who’s who of the main actors involved in the conflict, lists of Colombian and foreign NGOs working in Colombia, further reading and Web links.

Praise for Inside Colombia: Drugs, Democracy and War

‘A great resource for students and scholars. Chock-full of up-to-date, reliable information, this book has practically everything you need to know about contemporary Colombia all in one package.’ –Herbert Braun, author of Our Guerrillas, Our Sidewalks

Debunking stereotypes and clichés about Colombia…  Livingstone captures the complex dynamics and the interrelationships of the Colombia conflict, which is not an easy task.  Regarding rebel groups for example she manages to walk the tightrope of resolutely condemning them for human rights violations against civilian populations (killings and kidnappings) while refraining from promulgating simplistic views of them (the narco-guerrilla concept).  Likewise her valuable discussion about the implications of September 11 show her understanding of the multifaceted Colombian landscape. .Livingstone’s book offers a well-documented analysis for the informed reader who would like to know Colombia better. — Suzanne Wilson, Latin American Politics and Society

‘Grace Livingstone has authored a balanced and probing journalistic essay of the Republic of Colombia. “Inside Colombia; Drugs, Deomocracy and War,” is a powerful presentation of human rights, history, the economy, the war on drugs and Colombian – American relations. Moreover, the text includes dynamic fundamental statistics that adds an important dimension to understanding the complexities of Colombia’s democracy.

To this end, Livingstone does not hesitate to inform the reader in the opening pages of this text that Colombia has the highest homicide rate in the Americas. “More trade unionists, journalists and mayors are killed here than anywhere else…Most notoriously, it has the highest kidnapping rate in the world… More than fifty thousand people have died in political violence since 1980 and the death rate is rising,” according to the author. Livingstone goes on to explain that the armed forces and illegal paramilitaries are waging a brutal counterinsurgency war in the countryside. She adds that the paramilitaries terrorize civilians in order to undercut support for leftwing guerrillas, who have been fighting the State since the 1960’s. To her credit, the author does not fail to objectively point out the recent human rights abuses by guerrillas.

However, this book does more than document the human rights abuses inside the borders of Colombia. Livingstone also provides a tier one study of the Colombian economy. The examination of clientelism, income inequality and the coffee & oil sectors are outstanding. A piece of the puzzle in understanding the economy is in the foreword where Jenny Pearce states, “Colombia’s political & economic elite have failed to govern in the interest of all Colombians. They have not constructed a state capable of building a nation which in turn would provide the cultural context for the political activation of ciizens and democratization of the state.”

Livingstone goes one step further and adds that, “the harmony between politicians, technocrats, businessmen, newspaper editors, is due, by and large, to the fact that they all come from the same class, were born in the same parts of the country, went to the same universities and moved in the same circles or belonged to the same families.” Obviously, the glaring absence of significant social and land reforms in Colombia is a direct result of the fact that the middle and lower class in Colombia has a tiny voice in promoting change. Nevertheless, the keystone to understanding why Colombia is what it is today is clearly articulated by Livingstone in the chapter on Colombian history, “In Colombia, it would be accurate to say there were a variety of regional elites to whom local power was more important than the abstract concept of a nation.” In completing this book one will likely conclude that Colombia will never find peace on earth until leaders in Bogota create authentic political inclusion and a fair administration of justice for all Colombians. Recommended.’–Bert Ruiz, author of The Colombia Civil War

Table of Contents

1. Forward by Jenny Pearce

2. Introduction

Drugs are not the cause of Colombia’s problems, whatever Hollywood or the news might have you think. The conflict began long before the trade in drugs started in Colombia and is rooted in longstanding social inequalities and political exclusion.

The first three chapters of the book look at the history of the war and its human cost. Chapters four and five explain why thousands of poor farmers have taken to growing illicit crops (coca, opium poppies and marijuana) and show the misery caused by the main response, fumigation. The final chapter looks at the United States’ role in Colombia. Last…

3. Human Rights

Colombia beats many international records. More trade unionists, journalists and mayors are killed here than anywhere else. It has the highest homicide rate in the Americas. Most notoriously, it has the highest kidnapping rate in the world. More than fifty thousand people have died in political violence since 1980 and the death rate is rising.¹ In 1996 there were eight politically-related deaths a day, by 2001 there were 18 a day.²

The statistics are so grim and the violence so widespread that it can appear a blur of incomprehensible horror. Sharpening the focus, it is possible to pick out themes:…

4. History

The Colombian State has never had control over all of its territory. Since independence there have been local armies, guerrillas, bandits, armed peasants and landowners controlling parts of the country. A glance at the map of Colombia will help to show why. It is a vast and diverse country, sliced by three Andean mountain ranges that historically have been the most populated areas. To the south is the Amazon rainforest and to the east are barren plains: these two lowland regions account for 56% of national territory, but contain less than 5% of the population. To the north is the…

5. The Economy

The Colombian economy has not behaved like a ‘typical’ Latin American economy in the last fifty years. It has not suffered bouts of hyperinflation, dramatic debt crises or cycles of boom and bust but instead grew steadily (on average about 2% per capita per year) from 1950 to 1997. It grew during the ‘lost decade’ of the 1980s when the rest of region plunged into recession as a result of the debt crisis. It appeared immune to the guerrilla war in the countryside and violence in the cities.

Colombia has always been the darling of foreign bankers and financial leaders….

6. Drugs

Sara Restrepo* is a small wiry woman with a huge smile. She is 48 years old and lives with her husband, Alberto, and five children in a wooden hut, three hours’ walking distance from a settler-town on the edge of the Colombian Amazon. When she was sixteen, she and Alberto left their homes in Tolima in central Colombia, in search of land. After working for a few years, they saved enough to buy a small plot, but soon found that the only crop that they could make a living from in this remote, inaccessible region was coca.

7.  Plan Colombia

Plan Colombia was heralded as the most ambitious campaign against drug trafficking in history. The Plan involves six years of heavily militarised aerial fumigation of illegal crops. The United States’ contribution to the Plan was to give Colombia its biggest ever military aid package, making the country the world’s third largest recipient of US military aid, after Israel and Egypt. The level of military aid raised suspicions that Plan Colombia was a thinly disguised counterinsurgency offensive and led to fears that US could become embroiled in an intractable civil war.

8.  The United States and Colombia

The war on drugs has been spectacularly unsuccessful. It has failed to reduce the production or consumption of drugs. It has caused misery, illness and environmental destruction. So why does the US continue to pursue this strategy and pour military aid into Colombia?

To evaluate US motives, we must take into account its history of almost two centuries of intervention in Latin America. The past record shows the US will intervene in any country in the hemisphere in order to protect its political and economic interests. Since James Monroe declared that Latin America was within the US sphere of influence…

9.  Facts & Figures

Buy Inside Colombia from Rutgers University Press

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