From cold war origins to the neoliberal order: Formation, trajectory and social base of Colombia's far-right

17 March 2018

How can Colombia's contemporary right-wing populism be traced back to the historical trajectories of its rural struggles?

In Colombia, three decades of neoliberal policies have driven deeper inequalities, precarious livelihoods and displacement amongst the rural poor. Yet the particularity of the Colombian case is that it is the far-right that has taken political leadership over the dislocations and discontents generated by neoliberalism. Here, a form of reactionary authoritarian populism, with origins in counterinsurgent groups, landlords and narco-mafias, has strengthened its dominance over both the state and civil society in the contemporary era.

This paper seeks to provide an interpretation of this phenomenon through a closer examination of the dynamics of political mobilisation around the processes of agrarian change. My argument is that contemporary right-wing populism can be traced back to the historical trajectories of Colombia’s rural struggles. Throughout the course of capitalist development in the Colombian countryside, landlords linked to local and regional political machines and military forces have blocked reforms at every turn, instead engineering a landlord-led, reactionary path of agrarian change. Since the 1980s and 1990s, these reactionary forces have gradually augmented their political power by building counterinsurgent paramilitary militias with a strong social base amongst the displaced, informal and unorganised new working classes in semi-urban areas. Taking a case study of the dynamics of mobilisation, organisation and alliance-building amongst various political forces in the face of a rapidly transforming rural society in the Middle Magdalena region, this paper seeks to provide new insights into the everyday politics of far-right mobilisation Colombia.

This paper was presented at the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI) 2018 Conference: "Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World"