Colombians Struggle for Stability Amid Civil War

Stentor Danielson
National Geographic News
June 5, 2002

Armed conflict between guerrilla and paramilitary groups has been raging in Colombia for 40 years, displacing millions of Colombians and uprooting the institutions people depend on in their daily lives.

The weakness of the Colombian state has left Colombians searching for social structure and ways of governing themselves, according to journalist and documentary filmmaker Helena Cavendish de Moura.

Many Colombians are compensating for a lack of police and army security by joining paramilitary or guerrilla groups, she said. Others are working to empower themselves and others in efforts to create a better society.

De Moura was inspired by the stories of people she met in Colombia who have dedicated themselves to improving the lives of children who have been affected by the war. She profiled three such men in "Colombia's Forgotten Children," a new National Geographic Channel documentary that airs tonight at 9 p.m.

The program looks at the effects of the war on an estimated two million Colombians who have been displaced by the fighting in the past 15 years, particularly the country's children, who have suffered a heavy toll.

Guerrilla groups often recruit children as young as 10 and 11 years old. Many children have been forced to flee with their families from the countryside to urban areas.

De Moura said civil society and ideological change are needed to bring peace to Colombia. "The hopes I have for Colombia are based on these people I met," she said.

Shifting Balance of Power

The fighting in Colombia is largely between leftist guerrilla groups and illegal paramilitaries.

Two separate guerrilla groups are involved in the conflict. The larger group, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), is based in the south. It was founded in 1964 by peasants who wanted to spread a Marxist ideology, according to Miguel Ceballos, director of the Center for the Latin American Studies Colombia Project at Georgetown University.

The other group, Ejercito de Liberación Nacional (ELN, the National Liberation Army), is based in the east. Although it is weaker militarily, ELN is a more sophisticated and intellectual leftist group that often targets multinational corporations and oil companies operating in Colombia, Ceballos noted.

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