In a communique issued Monday, the National Liberation Army of Colombia, ELN, clarified that the over 50-year-old conflict in the country was rooted in state violence and state terrorism, instead of the common belief that state violence was the consequence of the armed conflict.
The rebels pointed to the impunity that intelligence agencies have enjoyed in the country for almost a century, recalling the Banana Massacre in Cienaga, Magdalena in 1928 and the violent response to the early revolutionary movements of the 1930s.
State violence reached a peak with the assassination of popular and progressive leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan on April 9, 1948, which many consider a key date to understanding the current conflict in Colombia.
“After his assassination, state agents began to target the popular rebellion and to systematically justify the increasing assassinations,” the rebel group argued in a historical recollection of state abuses in Colombia. State terrorism increased with the help of the U.S. and paramilitary forces that the Colombian state “created and strengthened,” under the pretext of a “communist” domestic enemy.
“A decade later there was an increase in these illegal paramilitary groups justified as necessary for the protection of rich peasants and businesses against the economic pressures of the insurgency,” allowing the Colombian state to assassinate popular leaders and members of guerrilla organizations outside of combat.
Paramilitary groups then drove the development of drug trafficking in the country, which became a profitable business, enriching businessmen, politicians and military officials, while murdering and displacing millions of campesinos.
In a bid to legitimize itself on the international scene, the ruling class then supported former President Alvaro Uribe's move to “demobilize” 30,000 paramilitary members, trying some of them, although most of them were actually acquitted before they would again return to their activities.
However, “not even today, with the publicity given to the peace process and President Santos receiving the Nobel Peace prize, has state terrorism declined. Paramilitary groups and state agents have continued in their illegal practices of assassinating popular leaders throughout the country.”
A recent U.N. report found that in 2016 there were 389 attacks on social movement and human rights activists, including 127 assassinations, most of which occurred in areas recently vacated by the FARC guerillas.