Colombia

Between the Lines

For more than 40 years a civil war has raged in Colombia in which the principal victims have been civilians, particularly those Colombians living in rural regions. Political violence has left more than 200,000 dead and three million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes and land - making Colombia the country with the second-largest internally displaced population in the world after the Sudan.

The Colombian people have been caught in the middle of a conflict being waged by the US-backed Colombian military, right- wing paramilitaries and leftist guerrillas that has made the country the worst human rights catastrophe in the Western Hemisphere.

On May 27, 1964, the Colombian military attacked the region of Marquetalia in the department of Tolima. Planes dropped US-supplied bombs on remote villages as 16,000 troops attacked peasants who had settled in the region after fleeing government repression in other areas during the late 1940s and 1950s, a period known as la Violencia.

A small group of armed peasants survived the Marquetalia attack and shortly afterwards formed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The FARC and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN), which was also formed in 1964 by middle class intellectuals influenced by the Cuban Revolution, sought to overthrow the government in order to install a socialist regime that would address the country’s gross social and economic inequalities.

During the past 40 years of conflict, the FARC and the Colombian government have made several attempts to conduct peace negotiations. In 1985, following the signing of the La Uribe cease-fire accords between the FARC and
President Belisario Betancourt, the rebel group established a political party, the Patriotic Union (UP).