Colombia: Militarism and Social Movement

Globalization News from IRC

March 4, 2005

Introducing a new commentary from the International Relations Center

Colombia: Militarism and Social Movement
By Raúl Zibechi

“Half of the country is in the hands of the paras,” Paula says by the candlelight in a bar in La Candelaria, the historic old town of Bogotá that has been declared a World Heritage Site. “Wherever they establish their domain, they impose strict rules on daily life and customs: the haircuts of the young people, the closing times of the bars and clubs, and above all, they control and harass the women.” Paula works for an environmental organization and she cannot hide her anguish over a country that she and many other Colombians feel is slipping out of their hands. Daniel, a university professor, more calmly adds, “Here there was a war and the paramilitaries won. The paramilitaries are not only auxiliaries of the state, but they are also the embodiment of a societal project that hopes to wipe out the social advances and conquests of more than a century.”

Both assertions, at first glance, appear exaggerated. Friday night, La Candelaria is full of young students from the private universities that abound in the area who flock to the many bars that dot this beautiful neighborhood of narrow, cobblestone streets and old colonial houses. The night seems peaceful with nothing to reveal that the country is at war and, as my hosts claim, controlled by the military. But upon leaving the bar, we see uniformed patrols entering the nightspots, asking for documentation or simply observing the clientele. Back at the hotel, we turn on the television to a program about the Colombian armed forces, with beautiful young women extolling the virtues of the military’s social work.

Raúl Zibechi is a member of Editorial Council of the weekly Brecha de Montevideo, teacher and researcher of social movements at the Multiversidad Franciscana de América Latina, and adviser to social groups. He is a monthly collaborator of the IRC Americas Program (

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Also see:
Legal Questions Mar Colombia's Paramilitary Disarmament
By Samuel Logan with John Myers reporting from Bogotá

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