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National Security Doctrine in Colombia


By Alex Juanmarti- IPO

Like most Latin American countries during the cold war, Colombia suffered the effects of the Pentagon´s National Security doctrine. The United States promoted National Security doctrine in all of the Latin American dictatorships in the latter half of the twentieth century. National Security doctrine is laid out in a series of manuals for internal warfare and studies about how to deal with subversive guerrilla groups and “internal communism.”
The goal was to put an end to social mobilizations and squash expectations for political and economic change, as well as dealing with the development of revolutionary armed struggle in Latin America. This was accomplished through coups, dirty wars, and “low intensity” warfare.
Colombia is a key country for U.S. interests. On the one hand, Colombia has become part of the United States’ “back yard”, and can influence neighboring countries. On the other hand, there are major economic interests at play: oil, uranium, platinum, silver, nickel, phosphates, coal, gas, emeralds, fishing, coffee, bananas, cotton, rice, tobacco, flowers. And finally, drug trafficking, which permeates all aspects of the war and keeps the war going with the money it provides.
In the 1960s, the two main guerrilla groups in Colombia, both still active today, were formed: the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (National Liberation Army). At the same time, the Colombian National Army maintained close relations with the U.S. army. Colombia was allied to the western block, and was the only Latin American country that sent troops to Korea in the 1950s.
The Colombian armed forces were more than willing to use civilians against the supposed enemy, whether the enemy was a political opposition, the guerrilla groups, or those suspected of supporting them. This fit in the U.S. strategy of providing military aid to governments that fought the communist enemy. The United States government believed that most effective irregular groups of civilians were those that included army reservists, anti-communist retired officials, and civilians who were familiar with the area where they operated.
One of the die-hard defenders of this policy was the commander of the Colombian armed forces in 1960, Alberto Ruiz Novoa. In February 1962 he invited a high-level team of counterinsurgency specialists from the U.S. Army Special Warfare Center in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The director of the Center, General Yarborough, argued in a secret report that:
“[A] concerted country team effort should be made now to select civilian and military personnel for clandestine training in resistance operations … This should be done with a view toward development of a civil and military structure for exploitation in the event the Colombian internal security system deteriorates further. This structure should be used to pressure toward reforms known to be needed, perform counter-agent and counter-propaganda functions and as necessary execute paramilitary, sabotage and/or terrorist activities against known communist proponents. It should be backed by the United States.”
These recommendations were incorporated into Plan Lazo, the new counterinsurgency strategy that commander Ruiz was devising, and which was officially adapted by the Colombian armed forces on July 1st, 1962.
Plan Lazo was publicly presented as a campaign aimed at the “hearts and minds” of Colombians, winning their support with public works and campaigns to improve the conditions that strengthened the guerrillas. But privately, Plan Lazo incorporated the recommendations made by Yarborough’s team. Armed civilians, operating under various names, worked directly with the military throughout the following decades.
The repressive strategy of the Colombian state can be analyzed through a series of counterinsurgency manuals published between 1962 and 1987. A primary axis of the manuals is the maintenance of paramilitary structures, but another focus has been to take the civilian population as the fundamental target of the counterinsurgency effort. “The existence of the subversive groups is based on the civilian population…”
In this way, the civilian population became one of the central targets of the army units. To achieve this, all of the manuals contain information about intelligence operations and psychological warfare.
In terms of Intelligence, the manuals offer different strategies to uncover the soul of the civilian population, discovering and registering their ideological tendencies, political sympathies, leaders, and customs. The manuals aim to classify the civilian population in different lists, based on their collaboration with the army.
In terms of psychological warfare, the manuals aim to influence civilians’ opinions, emotions, attitudes and behavior, in order to gain their support for the “national objectives”.
These strategies took place in the framework of civic-military actions, projects directed by the army to alleviate the basic needs of the civilian population. According to the definition given in the manuals, “the best method available to the army in the fight against the guerrillas is the necessary support of the population.”
Throughout the past decade, all of the these strategies have had the tacit approval of the executive, judicial and legislative branches of the government.
The methods used by the State as a violent actor have been the following: false accusations, arbitrary detentions, legal frame-ups, unfair trials, torture, forced disappearances, individual and collective killings, forced displacement, destruction of goods needed for subsistence, indiscriminate bombings, threats, attacks, sexual violence, and “false positives.” These methods aim to combat and exterminate a way of thinking, an ideology, an alternative model of society that is fundamentally opposed to that advocated by the western or national model.

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