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He is also Director of the Andean Studies program at that institution. In the post-World War II period the Colombian countryside has undergone an accelerated process of capitalist transformation. Still an essentially precapitalist, agrarian society as late as the early s, by the mids the country boasted one of the most modern, diversified and productive agricultural sectors in all of Latin America, despite remaining pockets of traditional peasant agriculture.

This remarkable transformation was not, however, a painless one. Indeed, at least since the mids Colombia has been one of the most violent countries in Latin America.

Since and the inauguration of the bipartisan National Front Frente Nacional arrangement that formally brought an end to the Violence, Colombia has experienced continuing high levels of rural unrest accompanied by cyclical protest movements among the peasantry and the rural proletariat and permanent armed guerrilla warfare.

As of the mids rural violence had become so widespread that it constituted a serious challenge to state control and a major impediment to further capitalist expansion in key rural areas of the country. This essay seeks to explain why in the mids the Colombian regime confronted a rising spiral of rural unrest and guerrilla violence.

In Huntingtonian terms, over the last twenty-five years the processes of political institutionalization in Colombia simply have not kept peace with the profound social changes and rapid mobilization of new groups into politics, thus producing the conditions for prolonged violence and instability.

Nonetheless, the monopoly over political office and state decision-making power granted to the two traditional parties under the National Front introduced elements of rigidity and immobility into the Colombian regime that prevented it from undertaking either the socio-economic or political reforms necessary for the institutionalization of a stable and legitimate political system. While other Latin American countries have experienced analogous processes of accelerated capitalist modernization in the post-World War II period, none — with the possible exceptions of Guatemala and El Salvador in Central America — has witnessed anything like the levels of peasant protest, rural violence, and guerrilla warfare registered in modern Colombia.

A structuralist approach focusing exclusively on the underlying processes of social and economic change is useful but insufficient to explain the Colombian experience. An adequate analysis must also consider how the political regime and state policies have shaped and molded elite-mass relations and contributed to attenuating or exacerbating social and political tensions in the countryside. At the political level, the bipartisan monopoly over political office granted to the Liberals and Conservatives under the Frente rules eliminated the need for the two parties to compete between themselves for votes.

As a result, inter-party rivalry was replaced by increased intra-party competition and factionalism that led to a loss of party coherence and discipline. The failure of the National Front to institutionalize effective channels of participation meant that many of the rural movements that did arise took the form of radical challenges to the two traditional parties and to the legitimacy and stability of the political regime itself. Their tactics ranged from reformist gestures through party-based ideological appeals, patronage-based cooptation and state-led divisionary maneuvers to official and extra-official repression, according to the severity of the perceived threat to the stability of the system.

For analytic purposes, state-peasant relations in Colombia during the Front and post-Front periods are subdivided into five basic phases. This subdivision is based on the extent to which inclusionary cooptive versus exclusionary repressive strategies and tactics were employed to maintain state control.

The first phase began with the Interim Military Junta and the launching of a Community Development Program Accion Comunal or AC and other rural pacification efforts designed to reincorporate the peasantry into national life, restore political order, and reestablish state control in the violence-torn countryside.

By the mids, however, the agrarian reform and related reformist programs had begun to falter and the AC program entered a stage of sharply increased militancy. This early phase in state-peasant relations ended in when the Administration of Liberal President Carlos Lleras Restrepo successfully reasserted central bureaucratic control over the radicalized segments of the AC program, while stepping-up military pressure against the armed guerrilla groups operating in the countryside.

Despite these and other reformist initiatives, however, the conditions of many segments of the peasantry and rural poor continued to deteriorate throughout the late s and early s, while the political system proved incapable of accommodating peasant demands for greater participation in and access to the political process. The Administration of Conservative President Misael Pastrana Borrero , the last president elected under the National Front arrangement, effectively ended all land redistribution and moved to reassert state-control over ANUC in The result was the rapid radicalization of ANUC, increasing conflict between the state and the organized peasantry and an expansion of guerrilla activity during the early and mids.

The suppression of the radicalized ANUC by the state and the upsurge of guerrilla struggles in both the countryside and the cities in the mids during the Administration of Liberal President Alfonso Lopez Michelsen , ushered in a new phase of state-peasant relations. The fourth phase was initiated in August by newly inaugurated Conservative President Belisario Betancur Cuartas with his proposals for truce and dialogue with the guerrillas and for major socioeconomic and political reforms.

This analysis begins with a brief overview of the origins and structure of the National Front and the evolution of state policies toward agriculture at the outset of the Front period.

It then proceeds with detailed analyses of the Accion Comunal program, ANUC, the resurgence of the rural guerrillas in the s, and the peace and reform efforts of the Betancur government in the early and mids. The National Front was not, however, simply a pact to reestablish political peace and civilian leadership. Of particular concern to the dominant fractions of the bloc-in-power were the low levels of production and productivity in agriculture. Industrialization requires an efficient and productive agriculture sector in order to provide in-puts for industry, to free rural labor for work in the factories, to produce cheap and abundant foodstuffs for the expanding urban work force, and to generate the foreign exchange necessary to import modern machinery and technology.

Since , Colombian agriculture had made significant strides toward commercialization. Responding to these conditions, Liberal Alberto Lleras Camargo — the first president elected under the National Front arrangement — proclaimed that the modernization and diversification of agriculture through an agrarian reform would be one of the first priorities of his government.

As of the early s, there were roughly a million peasant families with 20 hectares or less who made up approximately one-third of the total Colombian population. Because of high population growth rates, widespread rural violence and increasing competition from commercial agriculture for the use of the land, the lower levels of the peasant strata found it especially difficult to retain a foothold on the land.

Between and , 2. Redistributive agrarian reform also received a significant impetus from international sources: the Act of Bogota in , the Punta del Este Conference in , and the subsequent creation of the Alliance for Progress.

Along with military operations against guerrilla revolutionaries and rural bandits, the Interim Junta started a series of community development projects in early , prior to the inauguration of the Front, that were designed to encourage local development, pacify the countryside, and tie isolated rural communities closer to the central government. These programs were subsequently continued and expanded under the Lleras Camargo government. To understand this early phase of state-peasant relations in Colombia, it is necessary to examine the dynamics of the Accion Comunal AC program in detail.

The major Frente non-military pacification effort was channeled through the Community Action program. For the founding dates of this and other major peasant organization in Colombia see Table 1. The objectives of the AC program were to promote economic and social development in local communities through self-help projects and to create a sense of popular participation in local government through community cooperation.

The basic unit of the AC program was the Community Action Board Junta de Accion Comunal organized at the rural neighborhood vereda and urban neighborhood barrio levels. In practice, the AC program constituted a new source of governmental funding for local public works projects in poor rural and urban neighborhoods. Several ministries e. Congressmen were also entitled to make allocations from special funds auxilios parliamentarios to local AC groups in their departments, thereby providing a patronage linkage to the traditional Liberal and Conservative party leadership.

Many private or semi-private agencies also became actively involved in the AC program during the early s. The Catholic Church backed the AC program through its organizations as well. Additional support for the AC program was received from various international organizations active in Colombia during the early s. With this impetus from local, national, and international organizations, the AC program expanded rapidly.

Roughly one thousand school rooms per year were constructed by AC groups in the s and hundreds of bridges, roads, water and sewerage systems and community centers were built as well. The growth of the AC program was spectacular. Combined with military actions against the remaining guerrilla bands and rural bandits, the AC program helped to curtail the power of armed peasant groups while reestablishing effective state and party control in many rural areas by the mids. The government encouraged Accion Comunal in both rural and urban areas by directing state development programs through the AC organizations.

Access to these resources greatly strengthened the local political leverage of the AC leaders, for they could build patronage networks that translated into control over votes in their neighborhoods during elections.

As a result, AC leaders were often local party leaders as well and at times even ran as party candidates for local municipal elections. The government officials in charge of allocating AC funds e. While the AC system proved to be an effective mechanism of political-governmental control over the bulk of the peasantry and the urban poor, the limited availability of AC funds and the favoritism and corruption that often attended their disbursal, combined with the slow pace of land reform and other state reform programs, produced strong undercurrents of frustration and discontent in many communities.

Valencia and the Conservatives were far less convinced of the need for agrarian reform, particularly land redistribution, than were the Llerista Liberals.

As a result, implementation of the Agrarian Reform proceeded very slowly during the Valencia Administration. The failure of the Frente programs to ameliorate grinding poverty and landlessness in many rural communities during the early s exacerbated the peasant discontent and rural conflicts throughout the country. The growing political sophistication of some AC groups during the mids produced a trend toward the formation of regional AC federations.

The combination of rural and urban poor in these informal regional federations made them, at least potentially, highly effective vehicles of popular mobilization outside of traditional party control. The demands of these emergent federations sometimes involved direct challenges to local government officials and to the local power structure. In some municipalities, the AC federations went so far as to launch independent slates of candidates in municipal elections to challenge the traditional party lists.

The emergence of a variety of AC regional federations as political forces independent of, and frequently antagonistic towards, governmental and party elites was fostered by the ideological and organizational efforts of a small number of urban, anti-Frente, and leftist groups active in the AC program during the late s and early s.

His contacts with radical and Marxist student groups during his tenure as Chaplain and Professor of Sociology at the National University in Bogota during the late s and early s undoubtedly contributed to his increasingly radical political stance as well.

In addition to his training courses, he also began to organize student and Church groups around the country to work with the AC program in both urban and rural areas.

If we consider community action not as a government agency but as a method for awakening the consciousness of majority groups, for organizing them to exercise pressure on decisions, we find it involves organizing the majority to have real power.

If people are confronted with their real problems and a system does not permit their solution, then whatever the intention of the organizer, the people, having achieved a consciousness of what they want, will become a majority pressure group.

Sooner or later the majority pressure group will institute a true democracy…Community organization is not in itself a political party, but it is the school for the formation of a majority political party. From on, Torres became deeply involved in anti-Frente political organization.

He repeatedly toured the country, holding mass rallies among the peasants, workers, students, and urban slum-dwellers, to communicate to them his vision of Christianity and peaceful revolution. In fact, throughout and , he lived in constant fear of assassination at the hands of government secret agents.

In June he was given an ultimatum by the Church authorities to abandon either his political activities or the clergy. Although committed to the priesthood and Catholicism, he accepted reduction to lay status rather than renounce his pursuit of radical social change.

In many senses, his evolution foreshadowed much of the debate over the Theology of Liberation that continues to shake the Catholic Church in Latin America today. Despite the bitter personal attacks launched against him by the press, the parties, and the government and the Catholic Church hierarchy in Colombia, Torres continued his organizational work among the peasants, the urban poor and workers. In late following his defrocking, he founded the United Front of the Colombian People Frente Unido del Pueblo in an effort to create a political framework for a grassroots, multi-class movement of peasants and workers.

What made the platform significant was scarcely its radical content alone, but rather that it represented the emergence of new political forces in Colombia which promised to develop an overwhelming mass following. The Frente Unido proved incapable of mounting a serious challenge to the patronage-based clientele networks dominated by the Liberal and Conservative parties.

Torres attracted large crowds and inspired a small number of dedicated activists mainly students, intellectuals and other priests to work with him, but was never able to create a viable political alternative to the leadership of the two traditional parties.

Fearful of assassination, frustrated and increasingly radical in his approach to sociopolitical change, Torres joined the guerrillas of the Army of National Liberation Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional—ELN in late After only four months with the guerrillas he was killed by government troops in February in the mountains outside of Bucaramanga, Santander. Through his organizational efforts and those of other urban radicals drawn from the Church, the universities and a range of small leftist splinter parties , however, the AC movement had reached a new stage of militancy.

The last group of AC promoters who had been trained by Torres during were simply refused jobs with government agencies. Instead of increasing the number of promoters, the government blocked new appointments while burdening existing promoters with new bureaucratic requirements. Assertions of state authority over the flow of patronage proved to be a highly effective instrument of political control in many local areas.

Lleras Restrepo also reorganized lines of bureaucratic control over the AC program. A new supervisory agency was established—the Consejo Nacional de Integracion Popular—to coordinate and oversee all community development efforts. The new council included the Minister of Government, two special advisors to the president, and one representative each from the Catholic Church, the Armed Forces, the Association of Medical Faculties, the Teachers Federation, and the Association of Charitable Organizations.

Lleras created the regional Consejos de Integracion Popular in late to supplant the informal regional AC federations that had emerged spontaneously during the mids. These Consejos were set up in nineteen regions and municipalities around the country, including Sumapaz Cundinamarca , Puerto Tejada Cauca , and Pitalito Huila , where strong regional boards had developed. These Councils were ostensibly created for the purpose of coordinating the activities of the previously uncoordinated agencies involved in rural development.

A third step was taken in when the Lleras government reorganized the Ministry of Government. In this reorganization, the Division of Community Action and the Indian Affairs Department were combined into a single new bureaucracy called the General Office of Integration and Community Development.

To screen the AC promoters more closely, formal educational requirements for the job of promoter were imposed.


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