It was always about the struggle for a better life, a cause lost in the corruption of how both factions financed their efforts—the illegal drug trade. The conflict began in the mid-sixties after President Guillermo Valencia declared a “state of siege,” legalizing the arrest of just about anyone who threatened order. In response, several guerilla political groups organized, aimed at ridding the country of the rigid class system that made upward mobility impossible. To finance their efforts, they took control of coca-growing operations in the countryside, established processing laboratories and developed an export network. Their successful business model had three components: strong arm tactics to expand coca production; charitable endeavors to improve the quality of life in the enlisted communities; and terrorist activities to keep foes at bay, relying on an abundant demand for their product in the U.S. and Europe markets. Eventually, armed paramilitary groups originally encouraged by the government as a means to maintain order, gained a foothold in the illegal drug trade.
Starting in the nineties, a variety of tactics have been employed by the government to destroy the cocaine trade and end the undeclared civil war. In an attempt to eliminate the raison d’être of the guerilla groups, a new constitution was adopted in 1991, incorporating their political views that addressed concerns of the poor. Leaders of the factions were hunted down including Pablo Escobar, head of the major drug cartel in Medellin. The U.S. increased its aid to Colombia to support the government’s efforts to eradicate the coca fields and train police. The Justice and Peace Law of 2005 offered amnesty to fighters and reparations to victims.
Like all countries today, Colombia has safe areas and those that are not. Most visitors who travel to Colombia steer clear of border areas with Ecuador and Venezuela where confrontations occur from time to time. Most of the sporadic strife is confined to the most southerly regions of the country. For an extra measure of safety, most adventure travelers rely on the knowledge of expert guides familiar with their regions on Colombia tours.
The itineraries of Southern Explorations’ Colombia tours travel north and west of the capital, spending time in colonial hamlets, nature preserves and national parks. As in big cities throughout the world, some neighborhoods of Colombia’s major population centers are best avoided, especially at night. Dressing appropriately, leaving flashy jewelry at home and carrying only small amounts of cash are prudent international travel precautions on Colombia tours and elsewhere.