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Internal and External Factors of Civil War in Latin America

Rosa Lopez Oceguera
Ana Lucia Gomez Mejia

Uppsala, Mayo 29 – 2001.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The role of systemic and regional level conditions
3. The Conflicts in El Salvador, Guatemala y Colombia

.3.1.El Salvador

3.2. Guatemala

3.3. Colombia

4. Similarities and Differences in the correlation of internal and external factors

5. Conclusions


While most of the literature on peace and conflict resolution focus in the internal factors of instrastate conflict, and considers external factors only as the intervention of a third party, adding to its exacerbation if negative or its resolution when positive, this essay builds on the notion that, for historical and structural reasons, in Latin America violent conflict is a permanent feature of foreign intervention.

It will be argued through the comparative analysis of the dynamics of civil war in three countries –El Salvador, Guatemala and Colombia- that although internal factors take preeminence in the consideration of the sources of violence, state level factors do not operate in a vacuum, and that the combination and interaction of regional and systemic level conditions, and the actions undertaken by the hegemonic power in the region play a significant role.

Both aspects –conditions and actions- derive from the application of National Security Doctrine that the United States divised in the context of the cold war and that functioned as ideological legitimization of the global expansion of U.S interests.

In the Western Hemisphere, the doctrine took very concrete expression in a set of policies designed to secure the United States traditional sphere of influence in the bipolar international system. According to U.S conceptualization of regional security, Latin America armies role was to guarantee internal stability, which meant preserving mainly as counterinsurgency strategies to meet the challenges posed by the guerrilla movements. The net results were the further polarization and destabilization of those societies, as in the case of violent and prolonged civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala and as in Colombia, the oldest armed conflict in the region.

Edward Azars theory of protacted social conflict[1] that at the intermediate level provides a bridge between the generic models from the conflict resolution tradition and specific policies and historical explanations of particular conflicts, establishes the necessary links between internal and external causal factors of civil war. Although developed during the 1970s and 1980, this theorethical approach offers insight into contemporary conflict analysis and help to situate it the context of social and international conditions.

Drawing from Azars emphasis that the sources of civil wars lay predominantly within the state, and his recognition of the role that what he called “international linkages” play, this essay will develop the argument that the counterinsurgencies policies established to neutralize the guerrilla movements in Latin American countries in the early 1960 within the framework of the National Security Doctrine proclaimed by the United States in the context of the cold war, allowed the state to impose internal conditions of indiscriminate terror directed to the civilian population with the immediate consequences of thousand of deaths, massive displacement and human right abuses and with unforeseeable results at societal levels, contributing to the further fragmentation of already highly polarized internal situations.

The three case study conflicts were selected with the criteria that:

In section 2 we will present the conditions at the systemic and regional levels. Section 3 gives a brief description of the three case studies. Section 4 summarizes the common features and main differences in the correlation between internal and external factor in the dynamics of conflicts in the cases. Section 5 concludes.

The purpose of the present paper is promote discussion about the interaction of internal and external causal factors in view of its implications for conflict resolution theory and practice. As both an analytic and normative field, conflict resolution is not only concerned with the symptoms of destructive conflict but with the causes as well.

[1] Azars theory developed through a series of studies, but it is best display in his book The Management of Protacted Social Conflict: Theory and Cases, Aldershot: Dartmout, 1990. 
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