Drugs, Oil, and Insurgency in Colombia

Norman, Susan, Foreign Affairs - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Waldner, David, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

This dissertation compares the effects of licit and illicit commodity production on the nature of insurgent authority in frontier regions of Colombia between 1978 and 2004. Specifically, I focus on illicit drugs and oil as two commodities that are consistently linked to the onset, duration, and lethality of internal conflict. In Colombia, a puzzle arises wherein illicit drug production correlates with robust and legitimate insurgent authority at the local level. Legitimate authority is defined as the exercise of power by popular consent. In Colombian regions with oil extraction, insurgents were, in contrast, a predatory authority, exercising power based on coercion alone. When insurgents have legitimate authority, the result is less violence toward civilians in the short term, but in the long term there are greater obstacles for undermining insurgent control and establishing the authority of the state.

To explain the different effects of oil and illicit coca on insurgent authority, my central thesis underscores the role of the state. I argue that state repression of illicit coca production in Colombia created incentives for coca producers to cooperate with insurgents. Insurgents offered security and protection and in exchange the population benefited from and so consented to insurgent control. I argue that state protection of the oil industry, on the other hand, incentivized oil companies to resist insurgent control. Hence, insurgents extracted resources with coercion, over time transforming into a predatory authority.

I validate my hypothesis with a qualitative comparative case study approach. I compare Arauca and Caquetá, two Colombian departments where insurgents exercised authority. In Arauca, the discovery of a major oil field in 1983 and the subsequent militarization of the region led to deteriorating relations between the civilian population and the increasingly predatory National Liberation Army (ELN). In Caquetá, the onset of illicit coca production in 1978 and ensuing state repression allowed for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to exercise legitimate authority vis-à-vis the local population.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Colombia, drug policy, insurgency, violence, civil war
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