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Colombia: Crime and Political Violence
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Crime and Punishment > Crime and Political Violence


The rising crime rate reflected an increase in politically motivated violence as well as criminal violence. During the Betancur administration's temporary cease-fire with the guerrillas in 1985, less than 10 percent of the crimes committed were adjudged related to political violence. However, following the abandonment of the cease-fire later that year by all but one of the nation's guerrilla groups, the incidence of political violence again began to increase. This trend continued throughout the latter half of the 1980s. Moreover, the increase in other forms of crime during the same period made this statistic on political violence less meaningful in absolute terms. Throughout the first ten months of 1987, political leaders were being killed by death squads at a rate of about 100 per month.

Data published by the Colombian government in 1987 estimated that nearly 80 percent of the crimes committed in the nation went unreported. In turn, of the 20 percent reported to the authorities, only 1 percent resulted in conviction and sentencing. In addition to the poor conviction rate, the administration of criminal justice was complicated by the mounting backlog of cases. In 1983 about 80 percent of those held in the country's prison system were awaiting trial. At that time, there were nearly 400,000 new penal cases each year, and the average load of 600 cases per judge was rising. In June 1983, the Colombian Institute of Penal Reform determined that the number of criminal cases awaiting adjudication exceeded 1.3 million.

Among the crimes plaguing the nation, drug abuse was considered to be a serious, escalating problem in the late 1980s. Illegal domestic narcotics consumption also appeared to be related to the rise in such other crimes as theft and murder. The circulation of other forms of contraband through the nation also challenged law enforcement authorities. By 1984 Medellín, the center of Colombia's narcotics trade, also had established its reputation as the country's contraband capital. In Medellín a wide range of items, from guns and emeralds to methaqualone and United States cigarettes, was sold on the black market.

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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