Criminality and armed groups: A comparative study of farc and paramilitary groups in Colombia

  • Saab B
  • Taylor A
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Terrorist groups and armed insurgents regularly exploit illicit markets to launder money, traffic illegal goods, and purchase arms. In such an environment, the line between armed political organizations and criminal groups appears to break down. However, through a comparative study of paramilitary groups and Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) in Colombia, this article finds that group goals, the political environment, and membership strongly influence the types of criminal activities a given armed groups undertakes. Thus, the membership and political agenda of sub-state armed groups not only distinguishes them from criminal groups—organized for and motivated by economic gain—but also shapes their criminal behavior. Few organizations in Colombia are untainted by the exploitation of illegal rents. Colombia is the single largest exporter of cocaine in the world—supplying approximately 80 percent of the world's cocaine—and money from this illegal traffic has seeped into the wallets of government officials and the war chests of armed insurgents. The main sub-state armed groups in modern Colombia—the loose coalition of paramilitaries previously organized un-der the recently demobilized Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) and what was once one of the largest guerrilla organizations in the world, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC)—derive the majority of their revenues from criminal activities, including kidnapping, extortion, and the protection, production, and trafficking of Andean-grown narcotics. However, paramilitary groups and FARC differ in the level and form of their participation in the international drug trade. After the fall of the Medellín and Cali drug cartels in the early 1990s and the subsequent

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  • Bilal Y. Saab

  • Alexandra W. Taylor

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