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Explaining violence against civilians: insurgency, counterinsurgency and crime in the Middle Magdalena Valley, Colombia (1996-2004)

Vargas, Gonzalo (2010) Explaining violence against civilians: insurgency, counterinsurgency and crime in the Middle Magdalena Valley, Colombia (1996-2004). PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.vi8g3z7u9h4b


During the last decade there has been intense controversy over the nature of contemporary armed conflicts and their connection with religion, ethnicity, crime and natural resources. Central to the discussion is the question of why armed organisations use violence against civilians. Recent contributions underscore the self-interested behaviour of individuals and suggest that war, violence and collaboration are increasingly driven by personal ambitions rather than political goals. Combatants, warlords and politicians seem less interested in victory than in satisfying their lust for power and money, usually at the expense of the population; meanwhile, fearful but rational civilians try to exploit the opportunities that conflict throws up, engaging in individualistic alliances with armed organisations and even prompting the use of violence against their fellows. These trends, it is argued, are compounded by the convergence between crime and warfare, and the Colombian conflict is often cited as a typical example. This dissertation examines these claims by studying a recent outbreak of violence against civilians in the Middle Magdalena Valley, in Colombia, that left nearly 2,000 civilians dead and more than 110,000 people forcefully displaced. Based on data obtained from official and unofficial sources on conflict and violence, interviews with key informants and news reports, the dissertation argues that violence was used by armed organisations and, to a lesser extent, by the state, to extend and strengthen the territorial and political control they had over the region. Despite the salience of illegal economies, there is no evidence that economic motives have significantly contributed to the production of violence. Furthermore, civilian collaboration went beyond the narrow sphere of private interests as politicians, parties and social organisations took part in alliances with armed organisations and aimed to advance the interests of the social groups they represented. The dissertation thus challenges common misconceptions and influential contributions in the field of armed conflict and political violence; it also sheds light on the nature of the Colombian conflict.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2010 Gonzalo A. Vargas
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > International Development
Supervisor: Harriss, John and Faguet, Jean-Paul

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