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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest


The Colombian Civil War
Bert Ruiz

Jefferson, McFarland and Company, Inc.: North Carolina, 2001
279 pp. PB $45.00 0-7864-1084-1

The attention to Colombia and its internal conflict is most often cast in terms of the role of the cocaine and heroin trade in the present violence between government, paramilitary and guerrilla forces. Not surprisingly, the United States and Europe both define the conflict in ways which support their own interests, and with a few notable exceptions, their respective institutions tend to follow suit. These exceptions include investigative journalists, NGOs and researchers that force policy makers to think twice about the true complex nature of the conflict and the dangers of oversimplifying it and portraying it in terms of only the aspects that concern them. Moreover, criticism of policy by mainstream media and institutions rarely explores the underlying causes of the civil war in order to make sense of how the narcotics trade fits into the present hostilities. As with most conflicts, the Colombian civil war is one whose roots lie deep in history and whose causes are far older than the drug trade that now plagues the nation. Bert Ruiz explores these causes and ties history to the present in The Colombian Civil War, giving the reader a more complete understanding of current events.

Utilizing sources that range from government documents to interviews with Colombian and U.S. officials, Ruiz outlines a brief history of the conflict and places government neglect, the interests of the elite class, and the relationship between the army, the paramilitaries and the guerrilla into a larger context. The book is focuses on the Colombian civil war, its relationship to the United States and the current issues with the narcotics trade. However, Ruiz makes a considerable effort to link the historical neglect of the landholding class and the government to the formation of both the early guerrilla bands during the era of La Violencia and the subsequent formation of the FARC and the ELN, the largest guerrilla forces, who continue to wreak havoc in the country today.

Although Ruiz?s style is a bit fragmented in parts?he skips from present to past in a way that is less than seamless?he presents a wealth of information regarding the paramilitaries, the guerrilla, the roots of the links to the army with paramilitary groups and death squads and their connection to the drug war in an effective manner. The United States? role in the conflict is ever present in his explanation, and helps shed light on its role in both the war and the peace process.

The Colombian Civil War is an excellent tool for those wishing to have a broader understanding of the historical roots of the present conflict. In addition, Ruiz is not afraid to point fingers at policy makers in both Colombia and the U.S. with regard to both successes and failures of the drug war, the peace process and the factors that exacerbate the tensions between the actors.

Aaron Drayer, Project Administrator, Colombia Alternative Development Project, Chemonics International

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