Cocaine, Crime and Conflicts – What’s Colombia’s Story?



Having faced over 50 years of civil war, Colombia has a history full of change and adjustment. Similar to other Latin American countries, Colombia developed into a segregated society in which there’s a divide between wealthy Spanish families and poor Colombians. This divide caused left-wing rebel groups in Colombia, the two main groups being the E.L.N. and F.A.R.C. Since the 1950s, the rebel groups have strengthened from peasant organizations into large militias responsible for the death of 220 thousand Colombians.


What is now Colombia was originally inhabited by indigenous peoples. This changed in 1499 when the Spanish arrived for a period of conquest and colonization, creating the Viceroyalty of New Granada, with its capital Bogotá. In 1819, independence was won from Spain, and Colombia and Panama became the Republic of New Granada. In 1886, the Republic of Colombia was officially declared, and Panama withdrew in 1903.

Between 1948 and 1958 was Colombia’s period of “La Violencia.” During this time, some peasants formed groups in support of communist ideologies. By the late 1970s, there were roughly a dozen guerrilla groups, the most popular still being the E.L.N. and F.A.R.C.

As a reaction, right-wing paramilitary groups formed to protect against the guerrilla activities and forces. Civil war has been in Colombia since.


Last month, the Colombian government and rebel groups were engaging in peace talks, hoping at last end the conflicts. They agreed to discuss four key topics, hoping to agree and make changes on land reform, political participation of rebels, drug trade and transitional justice for combatants.

Today, the talks are still underway. No final agreement has been made.


The rebel conflicts have influenced much of the history, culture and development of Colombia today. Tens of thousands of people have suffered in the wake of the rebel guerrillas and their activities.

The F.A.R.C. is supported by profits made from kidnappings, tax manipulations, threats, and drug trade. In the 1970s, the group began trafficking cocaine to fund its activities. The F.A.R.C. takes roughly $500 million to $600 million annually from drug trading, according to The F.A.R.C. supplies more than 50 percent of the world’s cocaine. Some 90 percent of America’s cocaine comes from Colombia (BBC 2013).

These conflicts and ongoing activities are a large result of Colombia’s weak central government. Colombia lacks state institutions throughout much of the country, and little government enforcement has ever existed.

One of Colombia’s respected academics and conflict analyst, Fernan Gonzalez, says that much of the social organization was left to colonists to decide.

“Since the beginning of the sixteenth century the most isolated and inaccessible territories were settled by marginalized groups. In these areas of peripheral colonization the organization of social relations was left to individuals and social groups, and the state lacked the monopoly on justice and the legitimate use of force.”


Colombia’s gap between the wealthy and poor is vast. Between 1990 and 2010, inequality in Colombia’s urban areas grew by 15 percent (Colombia Politics, 2013). Colombia’s economy is run by monopolies, where the rich have a firm grip on business that keeps lower classes out of their way.

Colombia had an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent in 2015 (Forbes, 2015). The United States had an unemployment rate of 5 percent that year.

With more than 50 million Colombians today, Colombia has a high literacy rate of 94.6 percent.

Given the lack of justice in Colombia, it’s surprising to see the government organized similarly to the United States’ government. Colombia has a representative democracy with a central government and three branches – executive, legislative, and judiciary.

But, this system isn’t effective for Colombia’s diverse population and geography. Ethnically, Colombia has a varied cultural heritage with its people descending from regions worldwide. The country’s landscape made for strong regional groups and identities, as land barriers prevented exploration.

Colombia has strong history with its neighboring countries, having been a territory with Panama in the 1800s. It shares borders with Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru. Colombia is situated on the northwestern side of South America.

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Up to two thirds of the world’s emeralds are produced in Colombia. In the 70s and 80s, a series of battles happened between emerald barons to establish power and turn away newcomers.


In 2013, the “Emerald Czar” Victor Carranza, one of Colombia’s most prominent emerald barons, was murdered. Carranza is said to have controlled 40 percent of the industry’s trade. Since his death, a series of attacks against members of the emerald industry have happened, as emerald barons are seeking new control of the sector.


Colombia’s history of internal conflicts has created a dangerous profession for journalists. With the lack of a strong central government, press and free speech are not protected by government regulations. This means that many crimes are committed against journalists in Colombia, from kidnappings to threats and murders. Additionally, the government fights against journalists who share information and stories that may put them in a negative light.

Vicky Davila, a Colombian radio journalist, resigned from her job earlier this year after receiving a gift from the government that she interpreted as a personal threat. Davila had been reporting on a male prostitution ring operated by the national police force. She also claims that the government had been spying on her. Davila is one of many journalists threatened for her work. Roughly 50 journalists total have been murdered in Colombia. The full story about Davila is available here.


Aside from the danger that comes with being a Colombian journalist, the media is also versatile for its diverse audience. The majority of Colombia’s news publications are in Spanish, but many are also available in English. Additionally, the local newspapers and publications were written for those who live in Colombia, whereas many of the online publications are friendly toward those unfamiliar with Colombia or its history. Many of these news stories include brief background history. Some newspapers also included news from surrounding countries, like Panama. This correlates with the president’s desire to increase tourism in Colombia. Last week, the president removed the 16 percent sales tax for all tourism related services. With the production of more news with background and history of Colombia, tourists can learn and access their stories.

The majority of the stories about Colombia in American publications are about the rebel conflicts and drug trafficking. Because of this, my impression of Colombia was that it was poor and underdeveloped. By reporting only the conflicts in Colombia, the media is giving readers a false perception of the country. I was surprised to find out that 94.6 of the population is literate, as I originally assumed the majority of the population is uneducated. Perhaps pairing negative stories with positive ones could help produce a more balanced perception of Colombia.


This week, the peace talks between the government and rebel groups are continuing, but with no resolution made yet. Currently, the F.A.R.C. has put a hold on negotiating until the government admits the existence of the far right paramilitary groups. Colombia Reports has produced multiple stories about the progress of the peace talks this week, each one building upon the last. However, American news publications are releasing fewer stories about the topic, but in more depth. The American stories include extensive history and background on the subject. It’s clear that American publications are writing for an audience that isn’t as familiar with the conflicts as Colombia is. Additionally, the reports being made from non-Colombian publications have a darker outlook on the subject. For example, LA Times’ story is titled, “Colombia peace talks miss goal and are likely to last for months.” However, Colombia Reports came out with a story today titled,”Colombia rebel leader ‘certain’ of success of peace talks with government.” The drastic dichotomy between the stories is leaving me confused about the current state of the peace talks.

All conflicts aside, the news this week showed some recent triumphs in Colombia. A new application is now available called “Seak,” made by Diego and Felipe Avila. Seak gathers marine life data through photos and GPS navigation from its users. The application is meant to be a learning tool to explore many of the unfamiliar and undiscovered ocean animals. Now available in the Apple Store, anyone with a mobile device can use Seak. But, the only online news stories about Seak are from Colombian publications. I found it interesting that, although marketed for a worldwide audience, Seak was only written about in Colombian publications. For comparison’s sake, I chose to research 2009 articles when Uber was first created. There were Colombian publications, as well as other publications worldwide, that wrote about the app’s creation. Uber was created and is headquartered in San Francisco, California, nowhere near Colombia. Perhaps publications have a tendency to look at America when they write stories about new technology.

However, other news from Colombia this week was published worldwide. This week, the highest court in Colombia approved same sex marriage in the conservative Roman Catholic Church. The story is in popular American publications like ABC and Vice, as well as publications from other countries. Many of the stories were similar in content and style, however, there some stories from the US that featured a celebrity’s reaction to the issue. I felt that this is representative of our culture and values. In America, we can make money writing about one well-known person’s opinion on a hot topic. Perhaps in Ghana the same story wouldn’t be as popular. It’s easy to see some of the values a country has by looking at what they choose to write about.

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