Ernesto Samper, the president of Colombia berfore the present Andres Pastrana, was elected in 1994, defeating Pastrana in the election. Pastrana claimed that Samper's campaign money was from a drug cartel, but Colombia's Congress does not impeach Samper. Later, it is clear that Pastrana's claims were true and leaders of the cartel surrender, are tried , and are put in jail during the term of Samper. The United States has already put military aid on hold to Colombia because it does not want to support the human rights abuses there. It does not suppport Samper either and withdraws its certifiation of Colombia as an ally in the drug war.
The question of establishing a peace in Colombia arises and President Samper demilitarizes five zones in Southern regions. For this, he asks for the return of 70 Colombian soldiers captured the year before by the FARC. Speculation arises that a peace agreement with the FARC is imminent, but guerrilla and paramilitary activity intensifies. In April paramilitary leader Carlos Castano (who the U.S. will be paying in Plan Colombia to help combat drugs) consolidates several paramilitary groups with 5,000 members under the AUC (United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia).
Before local elections in October, more than 40 candidates are
killed, 200 are kidnapped and 1,900 are persuaded to withdraw. In September
1997 a major government offensive claims 652 FARC members killed and 1,600
captured. Samper's subsequent overtures to the FARC and the ELN do little
good, and the violence spills over to congressional elections in 1998.
In late 1997 the Clinton administration lifts its ban on military aid,
but only if the money is used specifically against drug-related activities,
and in early 1998 it recertifies Colombia as an ally in the drug war.
Andres Pastrana, a former mayor of Bogota, narrowly wins the
presidency in a June runoff. Even before he is inaugurated in August, Pastrana
holds secret talks with the FARC in which he agrees to demilitarize a massive
chunk of FARC-controlled rain forest in southern Colombia in an attempt
to bring the FARC to the negotiating table. Even so, the FARC keeps up
its attacks on military outposts and paramilitary enclaves. In December
the U.S. Congress triples aid to Colombia for the drug war, from $88.6
million for 1997 to $289 million for 1998.
In early January, peace talks with the FARC begin, but are stopped when the AUC (paramilitary) retaliates for a FARC attack in Dec. of 1998. The AUC attack kills more than 100 people and the FARC says it will resume talks when Pastrana does something about government support of the paramilitaries. A devastating earthquake hits west-central Colombia, killing more than 1,000 people, injuring almost 5,000 and leaving nearly 250,000 homeless.
In February, the ELN seeks a similar deal with the government, but talks break off after a week. At the end of the month, three U.S. human rights activists are kidnapped and murdered. The FARC later claims the killings were mistakes, but the U.S. State Department believes they were ordered and refuses to meet with FARC officials.
In April, Pastrana forces two high-ranking military officers to retire amid allegations they assisted the paramilitaries. Later that month the ELN hijacks an airliner with 25 people aboard in hopes of gaining a demilitarized zone like the one FARC occupies in southern Colombia. Pastrana refuses to negotiate.
In May, the government and FARC settle on a 12-point plan for negotiations. The AUC, demanding to participate, kidnaps the head of the Colombian Senate's human rights committee. Pastrana again refuses to negotiate, saying blackmail is not a legitimate political tool. Several government officials resign over disagreements with the peace process. The ELN kidnaps 143 churchgoers in Cali, gradually releasing all but the wealthiest over the coming weeks.
When government talks with the FARC are delayed, the guerrillas launch a five-day offensive involving 15 towns, bombing banks, blowing up bridges and power lines, blocking roads and assaulting police barracks until suppressed by the Colombian army. U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey requests $1 billion in "emergency" aid for the drug war in South America, saying anti-drug and anti-insurgency efforts are interdependent. Talks with the FARC are suspended until July 30. On the same day the FARC launches another offensive, this time in Narino, destroying the downtown and killing 17 people.
Two high-ranking military officers come under scrutiny for failing
to stop violence by the paramilitaries. A judicial council orders the court-martial
of Gen. Jaime Humberto Uscategui for ignoring calls to stop a civilian
massacre in Mapiripan in 1997. In early September, Pastrana fires Gen.
Alberto Bravo Silva for failing to stop a massacre in Catatumbo in August
by ignoring information on impending paramilitary action. Pastrana visits
New York and Washington in September to promote Plan Colombia, a $7.5 billion
proposal to end the wars and strengthen the economy.
FARC stages attack 13 municipalities in west-central Colombia,
even as six government delegates meet with FARC representatives in San
Vicente del Caguan. Attacks continue through December 10, when a holiday
U.S. President Clinton proposes a $1.3 billion aid package for Colombia, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visits Colombia to explain it. The FARC resumes its talks with the government but also ends its Christmas cease-fire by attacking areas in Narino. In February, the ELN blockades the Bogota-Medellin highway for several days and peasants do the same on the road between Bogota and the Caribbean coast, the latter possibly encouraged by paramilitaries. The blockades come as the ELN insists on a demilitarized zone to conduct peace talks.
Paramilitary leader Carlos Castano goes on television to offer his support for the peace process. He asks for the inclusion in the talks but does not apologize for past AUC violence. AOL co-founder James Kimsey travels to the FARC demilitarized zone to discuss the new economy and technology. Several prominent Colombian businessmen also visit the area for talks.
The FARC and the government reach a tentative cease-fire agreement, and the ELN declares an Easter week cease-fire. The FARC proposal is contingent on all armed parties -- including paramilitaries -- participating in the agreement. The ELN and the government agree to a nine-month "encounter zone" in northern Colombia, with the government withdrawing security forces. FARC declares a "peace tax" on individuals and businesses with assets of more than $1 million, threatening to kidnap those who do not pay, suggesting that everyone should pay for peace.
The government's top peace negotiator in the FARC talks, Victor Ricardo, quits unexpectedly in late April, possibly because of death threats. In May, Pastrana suspends talks with the FARC after a woman and four others die when a bomb around her neck explodes in an abortive extortion scheme. He demands actions from the FARC that promote peace.
In June, the U.S. Congress approves $1.3 billion in aid for Plan Colombia, Pastrana's program to fight drug trafficking. Later in the month, the FARC welcomes 20 diplomats from Europe, Canada, Japan and the United Nations to its enclave in southern Colombia to promote ideas for replacing farmers' drug crops with alternatives such as rubber, rice and cattle. In early July, officials from the FARC and the government exchange sealed envelopes with their ideas on how to end the war, the first time in 15 years the two sides have broached the issue of a formal truce.
Later in the month, Attorney General Jaime Bernal accuses nine army officers -- including four generals -- and a police official of allowing paramilitaries to massacre 45 civilians in incidents in 1997 and 1999. As July closed, peace talks in Geneva between the ELN and the government end without agreement, despite the invited presence of envoys from Cuba, France, Spain, Norway and Switzerland.