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Paramilitarism and Colombia's Low-Intensity Democracy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 April 2006

Political Science, University of Nebraska, Kearney.


In the late 1980s and early 1990s political liberalisation, including the reduction of the military's institutional prerogatives, occurred in Colombia despite the increasing strength of an internal insurgency. Why would Colombia's national political elite weaken the institutional role of the armed forces in the context of an escalating internal war? What was the role of paramilitary groups, which were responsible for the vast majority of massacres and political violence against suspected unarmed civilians, during the 1990s? This paper argues that the elite civilian politicians who dominated the Colombian state promoted formal institutional changes, but tolerated paramilitary repression in order to counteract a strengthening guerrilla insurgency. These civilian leaders represented a modernising elite focused upon co-opting political opposition and establishing neoliberal economic reforms, thus constructing a Low-Intensity Democracy.

Research Article
2006 Cambridge University Press

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The author would like to thank Richard Avilés, George A. Gonzalez, Soleiman Kiasatpour and Kenneth Fernandez, as well as the anonymous JLAS reviewers, for their helpful comments and suggestions.