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Government and Politics Cultural Organization, commonly referred to as UNESCO, called Colombia “a culture built on illegality and force.” A May 11, 2007, news item in The UNESCO Currier, indicated that “In the absence of a legitimate state [a government in control], guerrillas, paramilitary forces and organized crime have each managed to lay down their law.” The article went on to indicate that violence claimed 38,000 lives in 2006 and cre-­ ated 10 times that number of refugees. Clearly, Colombia’s long nightmare continues. Who are the “players” in this ­conflict? (1) ­ Left-­wing insurgents. Colombia, as is true of many Latin American countries, has a sharply divided society. There are a small number of very wealthy and powerful people, most of whom are Spanish. The great majority, however, are poor, landless, powerless, and of mixed race. This is the ethnic com-­ bination that has contributed to conflict throughout much of Latin America. It was a situation in which ­ left-­leaning Marx-­ ists (and others) found fertile ground for planting the seeds of rebellion. The ­left-­wing insurgents fall into two major groups: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). (2) ­Right-­wing paramilitaries. In order to protect their lives, land, and businesses against ­ left-­wing insurgents, Colombia’s wealthy hire vigilante groups. So do drug traffickers seeking protection against leftist rebels. During recent decades, these paramilitaries have grown in power far beyond their original purpose. Today, many of these groups are deeply involved in the narcotics trade and other illegal activities. The United ­Self­Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) is the primary ­right-­wing paramilitary ­group. (3) Drug cartels. According to many observers, the real power in Colombia is held by drug lords. Many believe that they also are a major source of the ongoing conflict. Accord-­ ing to a United Nations source, drug barons financed the election of President Ernesto Samper during the mid-1990s. Clearly, they have the financial capability to exert a very strong



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