Militarization in Colombia and Alternatives for Peace from a Perspective of Conscientious Objection

Apr 23, 2015 | Anti-militarization, Conscientious Objection, News, Our Partners, Peace and Nonviolence, War and Conflict

This article on militarization in Colombia was written by Mario Andres Hurtado Cardozo of ACOOC, an organization accompanied by FOR Peace Presence. Translated from Spanish by Kaya Allan Sugerman.

Para la versión en español, haz click aquí

Colombia is a country with one of the oldest internal armed conflicts of all time; for over 50 years this war has intensified the inequality and poverty of many sectors of the population. This tragedy has generated around 7,000,000 victims[1] and it is estimated that each year 4,500 individuals lose their lives because of it[2] . Even given this bleak picture, the most common response by the Colombian state is to further fuel the conflict with use of force, thus neglecting the structural causes that gave rise to it.

This is clearly reflected in the high number of public resources invested in the security and defense systems, at the expense of the health, education, and agricultural sectors. In 2015 the country hopes to approve a draft general budget for the Nation including $ 216.2 billion Colombian Pesos (COP), of which, half will be used for the payment of external debt: $ 29.4 billion COP will be budgeted toward education, $ 28.1 billion COP for the defense sector, $ 26 billion COP for the labor sector, $ 19 billion COP for the health sector, $ 11 billion COP for social inclusion, and as for the sector of agriculture, one of the most sensitive points, only $ 4.5 billion pesos will be allotted[3].

Thus, Colombia would be situated as the second country in the region investing more into security and defense systems[4], reaching approximately 3.4 of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP)[5]. Despite the dialogues that are being held with the two guerrilla groups, the FARC and ELN, the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón continue to defend the high resources intended for these systems, thus maintaining the existent model of militarization clearly reflected in the increase in troop strength, increased military spending, the military-style solutions to social conflicts, and the increase in the systematic use of violence.

In the last decade the number of people who make up the entire defense apparatus grew significantly – having 148,000 members within the security forces to having 473,000 – therefore currently having the second largest army in the region followed by Brazil, with the difference being that Brazil is a country 6.5 times larger than Colombia. The consequence of such a high degree of militarization is that to date there are 5.5 soldiers per 1,000 inhabitants, while there is only one doctor for every 3,870 inhabitants. There are 220,000 teachers in the country, which is less than half the number of police. The ratio between soldiers and illegal armed actors is 36-1, which means high oversupply of armed forces, while the deficit of physicians (general practitioners and specialists) is 23,800.

Confronting this scenario, it is very difficult to talk about a real and lasting peace, given that for us as conscientious objectors peace is not only the arbitrary silence of guns and an edict achievable on paper. For us, peace building implies social, political and economic changes aimed at promoting a paradigm shift, which will help and strengthen the participation of grassroots organizations in decision-making. To achieve these paradigm shifts, it is essential to overcome and exchange the culture of war for a culture of peace that helps promote solidarity – replacing hierarchical and elitist organizational models with participatory processes of direct democracy and social justice.

Therefore, the demilitarization of society must be the deconstruction and transformation of beliefs and values ​​that have positioned the war. Situating the state to demilitarize means working to achieve a state where domination, submission, subordination, obedience, the elimination of things that are different, and polarization, are no longer the prevailing values ​​and principles of the Colombian entities[6]. Peace is not only the elimination of direct violence, but also of economic and cultural violence that generate poverty, hunger, inequality and repression.

For us, being conscientious objectors does not merely have to do with compulsory military service, but is also about defending an ethical and political posture in the face of war and militarization. We seek to resolve conflicts peacefully – above any violent action, assuming our role in society as peacemakers, with a critical look at sexism and patriarchy, which are social structures that support the militaristic practices based on the grouping of honor, strength and power[7].

We are sure that peace is the end of one process and the beginning of another, one that is necessary to create new relationships, which replace injustice with dignity, and pass from exploitation to liberation. These are new forms of organization and collective cooperation, which give us the possibility of eliminating violence, and thus ending the cycle of war that our country has experienced. To do this, we need to demilitarize our bodies and our minds and start building a true culture of peace, in which we learn to resolve conflicts peacefully and positively[8].

Mario Andres Hurtado Cardozo


February 20, 2015


[2] Informe conflicto armado en Colombia. Fronteras: La infancia en el límite. Un informe de la Coalición contra la vinculación de niños, niñas y jóvenes en el conflicto armado en Colombia y la Coalición para Acabar con la Utilización de Niños y Niñas Soldados




[6] Ponencia contexto de militarización y posición política del proceso distrital de objeción de conciencia frente al militarismo. (2014)