BOGOTA — I must say I'm not surprised by the resurgence of terrorism in Colombia, where on Jan. 18 ELN (National Liberation Army) guerrillas killed at least 20 in a bomb attack on a Bogota police academy.
Nor am I surprised by the rise in the homicide rate, when solid academic literature shows the existence here of objective conditions for the emergence, permanence, and expansion of illegal armed groups. These are factors that undermine the state's ability to monopolize the use of force. And as works by Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler of Oxford University, and James Fearon and David Laitin of Stanford University pointed out, part of the problem is the existence of steady sources of finance for armed gangs.
The strengthening of the armed forces and police in the first decade of the 21st century was a considerable step toward addressing the state's historical inability to secure its territory, and it led to the defeat of the FARC insurgency (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - People's Army) and to negotiations in Havana. But unfortunately, the process is stagnating in this second decade, and coca cultivation has again been allowed to expand to levels not seen since 2000 (some 200,000 hectares).
Even worse, the state has made the terrible mistake of qualifying drug trafficking as a political conflict-related offense. It has also failed to take over the areas formerly under FARC control, allowing groups like the ELN to control not only coca production but also activities like illegal mining and gold trading. The state's strength is further weakened by the protection Venezuela is giving the ELN, just as it did before with the FARC along with Rafael Correa's government in Ecuador.
I'm not surprised by the resurgence of terrorism in Colombia.
And then there's that particular Colombian cultural trait: The tolerance some of our intellectuals and our social sectors show toward illegal armed groups. Even before our independence, liberator Simón Bolívar complained in his 1815 Letter from Jamaica of the light sentences given to those who had risen against a legitimate government. And that was during the struggle against the Spanish empire.
At a 2017 conference hosted by the Universidad de Los Andres, in Bogota, Professor James Robinson of the University of Chicago pointed out the lenient history of Colombia when it comes to punishing people involved in armed insurrection. That's without mentioning the amnesties often given to those convicted of heinous acts of violence.
Another example of this attitude is, of course, the 1863 Constitution, which consecrated the right to rebellion by the "sovereign states" of the then United States of Colombia. A great motivator for insurgent groups and terrorists is the firm belief that sooner or later, the Colombian state will grant them some form of legitimacy, if not of a state-in-making, as it did with the FARC in Havana.
Pained by the deaths of our young police cadets and other victims, we must support the firm position President Iván Duque is taking not just against terrorism, but against the objective conditions that feed it. Because if we don't, last week's bomb in Bogota could again become a common occurrence.
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