Demonstrators march through the streets of Bogotá, Feb. 4, 2008, holding up a sign that reads in Spanish "No more FARC" during a protest against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. AP
One of the oldest democracies of the hemisphere, the former Spanish colony that gained its independence in the 19th century has been the centre of a bloody civil war between conservatives and liberals since the 1940. Partly as a result of the so-called La Violencia (the Violence), numerous Marxist-Leninist extremist groups were created in the 1960s as armed wings of the Colombian Communist Party. The National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN) was founded by Colombian students who had studied in Cuba. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) was mainly influenced by the Soviet movements. The extremist groups grew in power in the 1980s, fuelled by drug trafficking, and they are still active in the jungles of the south-eastern part of the country and at the foot of the Andes mountain range. Approximately 10 - 20 000 armed guerrillas are active on some hundred different "fronts" both in Colombia and neighbouring countries. The list of crimes committed by the paramilitary organizations and the ideological organizations fighting the government is extensive. Both FARC and ELN are pursuing communist reforms: division of wealth of land, destabilization of democracy and the state, but in reality they've gained infamy mainly thanks to terrors, murder of civil citizens, armed attacks against various political targets, kidnappings, seizing hostages and drug trafficking.
During the period from the 1970 until the end of the 1990s, more than 200 000 people have fallen victim to the activities of the guerrillas, government forces and paramilitary organizations. Over 35 000 of them have died within the last 15 years. This death toll is comparable to the ethnic cleansing that took place in Yugoslavia. Approximately 10 people die every day as a result of politically related strife. The number of kidnappings has gone down recently (from 3 700 in the year 2000 to 800 in 2005), and the number of homicides has fallen by 48% over the period from July 2002 and May 2005. The numbers of Guerrillas has fallen from 16 900 insurgents to about 8 900 insurgents. 1.3 million refugees have been displaced during the conflict.
The conflict between the guerrillas and the government that spans four decades escalated in the 1990s and the fragile success achieved at peace negotiations that commenced in 1999 were nullified after further attacks by FARC in 2002, when a national mediatory policy was dropped until 2006, when agreements were reached with several smaller guerrilla organizations.