Violence in modern Colombia takes place in many forms. The three major categories are crime, guerrilla activities, and attacks committed by drug traffickers. Violence has become so widespread and common in Colombia that many people have now become numb to it. The Colombian economy has also benefited from the illicit drug trade; however violent it may be. During the 1970s, Colombia became well known, as one of the worlds most important drug processing, production, and distribution centers for marijuana and cocaine.
The shrubs and plants from which both drugs are derived from and processed has been well known in Colombia for centuries, but until the 1970s drug refiners and traffickers had not taken full advantage. The chewing of coca leaves was very well known in the South American Inca Empire in the 11th century. The Incas, the Colombian Chibchas and other local ethnic groups have always attributed mythical and religious power to the bush and to the alkaloids that were extracted by its leaves by chewing on them.
The existence of a drug, cocaine, which could be chemically extracted from large volumes of leaves was not discovered until 1884 by an Austrian ophthalmologist. Marijuana is a drug extracted from hemp, a plant from which coarse fibers are also obtained for the manufacture of cloth, cordage, and sacking. The development of marijuana in Colombia took place in the mid 1940s during the administration of President Mariano Ospina Perez. The government at this time imported various fibers producing species from different parts of the world in an attempt to improve the postwar textile industry.
The imported fiber plant included cannabis sativa (hemp) from Asia, and jute and sisal from Mexico. The Ministry of Agriculture was distributing these plants throughout the countryside of Colombia, and peasants and farmers were encouraged to plant them. During this same period, the consumption of marijuana was beginning to become a problem among the Bohemians in Medellin. As a result of this increasing drug problem, especially among the Bohemian members of the middle and upper class, on March 11, 1946, the Ospina administration passed the nations first anti-drug law, Decree No. 896.
This law prohibited the cultivation, distribution, and sale of coca and marijuana, and ruled that all local and regional governments had to destroy all coca and marijuana plantations (Osterling). Colombia has not always been a violent country. It should be noted that in the past, Colombia experienced periods of peace and tranquillity. During this time, the levels of violence were lower than many European and American Countries. Colombia has gained international fame as one of the major centers in the world for drug trafficking. Anytime a country has a problem with drug trafficking, crime is always high.
In 1973, homicide was the seventh highest cause from death, but since has become the first since 1990. More than 165,000 have had a violent death between 1980 and 1990. During this decade, the homicide rate was 77. 5% per 100,000 people. In comparison, the United States has been regarded as a violent country, but yet the homicide rate was only 8. 0%. Contributing to this violence in Colombia is the possession of firearms. Colombians possess more than three million firearms, and more than half is possessed illegally. This adds greatly to the crime and violence in Colombia (Posada-Carbo).
It is extremely difficult to measure the magnitude, type, and location of violence in Colombia. Another problem in measuring the amount of violence is that not all violent cases are reported. It must also be noted that any media report of violence must also be read with caution; for it may or may not have occurred. Violence seems to be a nationwide phenomenon. Almost all aspects of the Colombian population experience some degree of violence. Almost everybody is a potential victim; violence does not prefer a particular socioeconomic class, profession, race, or ethnic group.
However, some geographical locations have been more prone to violence. The entire Cauca River Valley, including the cities of Cali and Medellin, and the areas between southern Cundinamarca, southeast Tolima, and northeast Haila, seem to have been the most violent (Chepesiak). According to some Colombian observers, intimidation and revenge has caused many to look the other way when violence occurs. It has also cause many people to change jobs and to concentrate more on their own safety. Many judges and police officers have been murdered as a result to see justice done.
Colombians have come to feel that they cannot depend on public institutions to provide safety and see justice done. The police departments of Colombia are underpaid, understaffed, poorly equipped, and underbudgeted. Many threats and kidnapping cases are unreported because the families of the victims have no faith in the police. Most Colombians feel that the violence will continue unless the government takes the necessary reforms and makes the justice system truly effective and strictly enforce the law (Osterling). Guerrilla activity and drug trafficking almost go hand in hand.
Drug traffickers are enemies of the state; guerrillas are also enemies of the state. However, drug traffickers and some guerrilla groups have formed an alliance. They protect their plantations and laboratories against the actions of the army and the police. On the other hand, some guerrilla groups are fighting drug traffickers, joining the Army and government to combat the drug traffickers, Guerrillas are against private property and in favor of expropriation, which threatens the drug traffickers. As landowners, drug traffickers take the role of keeper of law and order against the guerrillas, therefore becoming allies of the army and police.
The distinction between guerrillas and drug traffickers therefore becomes very difficult, for it depends on which guerrilla group is being focused upon, and which drug traffickers are involved. Law enforcement officers are victims of attacks from both guerrilla groups and drug traffickers. It has been estimated that more than 230 policemen were shot dead by drug traffickers in the Medellion in 1990, when the cartels offered to pay 2 million pesos for each dead policeman. But, police officers were also susceptible to corruption, playing the role of allies to the drug traffickers.
The state has made efforts to stop corruption. In 1993-94, about 6,000 policemen were caught, that is about seven percent of the police force. However, the results of this discovery still has had minimal success against the corrupt officers that still exist. Corruption within the army and the police also has direct consequences for the abuse of human rights. Many state agents have had links to drug traffickers and other criminal organizations have tended to be involved in some of the most noted assassinations and massacres.
One major question has remained in the wake of all the violence that Colombia has endured. How has the government been able to sustain a democratic, civilian regime and experience economic growth? The Colombian economy has been, next to the Chilean economy, the most solid Latin American economy in recent decades. Since the 1950s, the country has had uninterrupted growth. Colombia escaped the worst of the Latin American debt crises. In recent years, the country has also had important gains in the social development. It seems that violence has not affected economic performance (Posada-Carbo).
Colombias economic management has been widely praised, but some have suggested that that the countrys success is closely linked to the illegal drug trade that is so apparent in the society. It is also noted that the Colombian economy is heavily dependent upon money stemming from the drug trade and that their version of the war on drugs is petty. The involvement of the drug trade in Colombia is seriously underestimated by looking solely at their economic statistics. The drug trade provides resources to a very small group of outlaws that have enormous power to corrupt the countrys social and political players (Belov).
All estimates of illegal activity in Colombia are highly speculative, due to the large amounts of unreliable information. It is estimated that $300 billion each year in illegal money transfers across borders, and a third of it is generated by profits from the trafficking of illegal drugs. Most say that fully half the total drug trade begins and ends in Latin America. At least $50 to $80 billion each year passes through or is taken in by Latin America. A CNN broadcast reported an annual flow of up to $7 billion in drug money. The $7 billion appears as a low estimate.
Drug revenues as Colombias biggest source of foreign income, nearly 36 percent of its total gross national product. With a gross national product of around $50 billion, it is suggested that Colombia receives $18 billion a year from drug exports. Federal drug exports estimate that between $200 and $500 million, of outbound currency, remains blocked in the United States awaiting transfer out of the country. Even though this amount seem unimaginable, $500 million is still less than two percent of the entire take in the United States along from the Colombian cartels cocaine sales each year.
The yearly revenue of the Colombian cartels in the United States could reach as high as $25 billion, which are roughly 50 percent of Colombias gross domestic product (Steiner). In 1978, the proceeds from marijuana and cocaine involved in trade were estimated to be between $16-28 billion. Of that money, 1 percent went to the producer, 1. 7 percent to the middleman in Colombia, 17. 5 percent to the wholesaler and 79. 8 percent to the retailer. After the cost of production, it was estimated that marijuana accounted for 2. ercent of Colombias gross domestic product.
Compared to cocaine, the United States Embassy in Bogota assumed that a US market of 17 tons, 80 percent of that was supplied by Colombians. In 1978, Colombian drug exports would have represented 3. 6 percent of the gross domestic product (Belov). In a recent issue of the Colombian weekly, it was suggested that two Colombians had a fortune of around $12 billion. The list of billionaires was impressive: one person had $11 billion; one had eight billion; five had six billion, and one had three billion.
Compared to Americans, Bill Gates of Microsoft led all with a net worth estimated at $18. 5 billion. Mr. Knight of Nike came in sixth with $5. 3 billion; he would have been tenth in Colombia; Ross Perot was worth $3. 3 billion and might not have made the top twenty in Colombia (Steiner). The violence in Colombia has had a devastating effect on the society. However, the economy has not suffered due to this violence. Even though drugs and the drug cartels have a hold over the country, the economy continues to stay stable, even with the illegal drug money.