Why cutting the spiral of violence in Colombia would cause negative externalities in the Andean Countries

27 February 2012

For several years illegal armed groups have profited from the underdeveloped conditions suffered by many in Colombia to swell the ranks of their armies. The main victims of recruitment have usually been illiterate peasants with unsatisfied needs, of whom only a small portion joined the groups voluntarily. However, as the state response has augmented, trends are changing and voluntary enrolment is now less common.

Since the standing illegal groups have grown further apart from their initial ideals and are in a phase of narcotics dealing they now recur to force, forcing children and adults to enrol and become part of a transnational narcotic smuggling network.

Policies focused on the education of the forthcoming generations and state intervention in the Colombian job markets have been proposed with the objective of cutting the flux of new combatants to the illegal groups and avoid the recycling of old ones.

One option is a shift in the education model in rural and impoverished urban areas, aiming to extract children from conflict scenarios by isolating them from poor and violent environments and teaching them arts, crafts, and other vocational skills. At least 3 extra schooling hours per day could be used to do this, fostering stronger societal links and decreasing the chances of the next generations entering the conflict.

Likewise, after having signed peace agreements with many of the actors in the conflict, a majority of left-wing guerrillas in the early 1990s and the right-wing paramilitary groups in the mid 2000´s, some 54.121 demobilized people have exited the conflict. This has presented the state with the vast challenge of preventing these ex-combatants from returning to violence.

For many, combatants are aliens, and accepting them back into their communities is not an easy process. The reincorporation of these people into civil life is another prime need/ Because of the obstacles that are likely to exist in incorporating former fighters into the job market, the government must advocate for the long term benefits of the reincorporation of the demobilized for society as a whole. It must introduce laws that punish through higher tax rates or fines the companies who do not commit to equal bases in their selection process, whilst simultaneously subsidising those who welcome them.

However, the effectiveness of the state response to reduce the supply of combatants in Colombia may have negative consequences for regional stability. As has been reviewed by the media, drug trafficking augmented dramatically in Venezuela in 2009 and likewise the Ecuadorian border has become a source for recruitment and drug plantations as well as a refuge for members of illegal Colombian groups.

The Andean region has been typically ill equipped to manage societal issues because of its recent history of violence and because it has often lacked the institutional structures to peacefully resolve internal societal problems. The conditions that once lead to the conflict in Colombia are increasingly present today in its neighbours.

It is therefore necessary to implement international cooperation policies and urge the governments of countries neighbouring Colombia to adopt a coordinated response to drug trafficking beforehand, this will reduce the chances of a beyond borders conflict escalation.

Juan Palacio-Madrid

UCL - The School of Public Policy