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Victoria Sanford

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Learning to Kill by Proxy: Colombian Paramilitaries and the Legacy of Central American Death Squads, Contras, and Civil Patrols

Sandford’s discussion of the widespread paramilitary phenomenon throughout Colombia analyzes how armed conflict has affected all segments of that society. She documents U.S. interventionism, the difficult task of a human rights defense, and the possibilities of a strengthened civil society that might emerge from the chaos. Although the history of paramilitaries in Colombia is often traced to the 1997 unification of paramilitary groups under the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defense of Colombia) or to the “private” armies of large landowners, drug traffickers, and other elites of the 1980s, paramilitarism in Colombia is neither new nor haphazard. Sanford traces the founding of Colombian paramilitaries to the Cold War era when the United States helped the Colombian and Central American governments establish proxy paramilitary forces in its fight against “international Communism.” She then summarizes the devastating effects this paramilitarism had on Colombian and Central American society during the 1960s to the late 20th century.

paramilitary groups, history, violence, military aid, foreign policy, guerrilla forces, human rights, Colombia, Central America, United Self-Defense Forces-Colombia

Citation: Social Justice Vol. 30, No. 3 (2003): 63-81