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Colombia: Guerrilla and Terrorist Groups
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Internal Security Problems > Guerrilla and Terrorist Groups


During the late 1980s, four major leftist guerrilla organizations were operating in Colombia: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia -- FARC), the 19th of April Movement (Movimiento 19 de Abril -- M-19), the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional -- ELN), and the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación -- EPL). A number of smaller, less structured guerrilla groups also carried out operations against the government. These included the Workers' Self-Defense Movement (Movimiento Autodefensa Obrera -- MAO), the Workers' Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores -- PRT), Free Homeland (Patria Libre), and the Quintín Lamé Command. The Quintín Lamé Command received substantial support from Colombia's small Indian population. During the late 1980s, analysts estimated that there were between 8,000 and 10,000 guerrillas. In late 1987, guerrilla-controlled territory reportedly included a vast area in the eastern plains, Arauca Intendancy, the area at the southern end of the Golfo de Urabá in Antioquia Department, southern Huila Department, and most of Caquetá Department.

In 1984 the FARC, the M-19, and the EPL signed the cease-fire agreement that established the vaguely defined National Dialogue, designed to help set the terms for the guerrillas' peaceful reincorporation into national political life. In 1988 the Patriotic Union (Unión Patriótica -- UP), which represented the political arm of the FARC, was the only group that continued to adhere to the terms of the agreement and had reintegrated itself into the political process. Nevertheless, both government and guerrilla representatives participated in efforts to achieve a political settlement in 1988.

During the 1980s, six organizations -- the FARC, the M-19, the ELN, the EPL, the PRT, and the Quintín Lamé Command -- attempted to develop comprehensive political and military strategies through the National Guerrilla Coordinating Board (Coordinadora Nacional Guerrillera -- CNG). The drive for unity intensified in the late 1980s, following a rash of assassinations of guerrillas and sympathizers by right-wing groups. As a result, the CNG was restructured in late 1987 as the Simón Bolívar Guerrilla Coordinating Board (Coordinadora Guerrillera Simón Bolívar).

Right-wing terrorist groups became increasingly active during the Barco administration and repeatedly targeted for assassination UP members (including many public officials) and members of militarily active guerrilla organizations. The guerrillas justified their reluctance to comply with government demands that they surrender their weapons by referring to the threat posed by the terrorists. In 1988 the DAS identified 128 active right-wing "paramilitary" groups. Most of these groups were small, obscure, and capable of carrying out operations in a given region within the country's departments. Several groups, however, had distinguished themselves for their national-level operations. The most prominent of these were Death to Kidnappers (Muerte a Secuestradores -- MAS) and The Extraditables (Los Extraditables), both of which had ties to the narcotics traffickers.

Data as of December 1988

Last Updated: December 1988

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Colombia was first published in 1988. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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