Death Squads or Self-Defense Forces?

Death Squads or Self-Defense Forces?: How Paramilitary Groups Emerge and Challenge Democracy in Latin America

Julie Mazzei
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9780807898611_mazzei
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Death Squads or Self-Defense Forces?
    Book Description:

    In an era when the global community is confronted with challenges posed by violent nonstate organizations--from FARC in Colombia to the Taliban in Afghanistan--our understanding of the nature and emergence of these groups takes on heightened importance. Julie Mazzei's timely study offers a comprehensive analysis of the dynamics that facilitate the organization and mobilization of one of the most virulent types of these organizations, paramilitary groups (PMGs).Mazzei reconstructs in rich historical context the organization of PMGs in Colombia, El Salvador, and Mexico, identifying the variables that together create a triad of factors enabling paramilitary emergence: ambivalent state officials, powerful military personnel, and privileged members of the economic elite. Nations embroiled in domestic conflicts often find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place when global demands for human rights contradict internal expectations and demands for political stability. Mazzei elucidates the importance of such circumstances in the emergence of PMGs, exploring the roles played by interests and policies at both the domestic and international levels. By offering an explanatory model of paramilitary emergence, Mazzei provides a framework to facilitate more effective policy making aimed at mitigating and undermining the political potency of these dangerous forces.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0552-4
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-24)

    In October 1987, Juan Bautista was driving through Puerto Araujo, Colombia, transporting merchandise from the border with Venezuela. He was traveling with sixteen of his coworkers along a route dotted by military checkpoints. At the checkpoint in Puerto Araujo, a lieutenant made note of the fact that the men were carrying a “considerable quantity of contraband merchandise” but allowed them to pass. Shortly thereafter, Juan and the sixteen others were stopped by a group known as the Asociación Campesina de Ganaderos y Agricultores del Magdelena Media (the Association of Rural Ranchers and Farmers of Magdalena Medio, ACDEGAM), a group of...

  5. 1 CHIAPAS HISTORY SETS THE STAGE FOR PARAMILITARISM
    (pp. 25-44)

    In 1994 the guerrilla organization Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Zapatista Army of National Liberation), better known by their acronym EZLN or simply as the Zapatistas, began a military offensive against the government of Mexico in the southern state of Chiapas. Attacking early on 1 January 1994, they quickly took four small towns with almost no violence. The guerrillas demanded land reform for the indigenous of Chiapas and the protection of their civil liberties and democratic rights. Their criticisms of the Mexican system and the fraud that plagued it drew international attention and rallied sympathy for their cause.¹

    A cease-fire...

  6. 2 PARAMILITARY GROUPS OF CHIAPAS TARGETS, TRIAD, FOOT SOLDIERS
    (pp. 45-66)

    It was during this period of intense political discord within the PRI that paramilitary groups began emerging. As early as 1995, those who feared their interests would be marginalized or ignored by the party began pulling together the resources necessary to launch their own attack against the reform advocates in Chiapas. Over the decade, at least nine paramilitary groups operated in various communities of Chiapas. Desarrollo, Paz y Justicia (Development, Peace and Justice, DPJ) was perhaps the largest and most influential of the groups. Others included Los Chinchulines, which also went by the names “United Front of Ejido Members” or...

  7. 3 PRECURSORS TO COLOMBIA’S AUTODEFENSAS
    (pp. 67-98)

    During the 1980s and 1990s, the people of Medellín, Colombia, lived in an environment so permeated with violence that nearly every facet of life was affected; people suffered not just the loss of loved ones, but also the economic and social repercussions brought on by endless civil conflict. Homes were burned or looted, cattle and land stolen, and whole communities displaced. One woman admitted that she “could not lift her family out of poverty because she was forced to spend a significant portion of her earnings on funerals and burials of family members who were killed” (IACHR 1999aI:10).¹ And while...

  8. 4 COLOMBIA’S PARAMILITARY TRIAD
    (pp. 99-126)

    As Colombia’s paramilitaries became more organized and centralized, their objectives were made increasingly clear to the Colombian people. Initially, the PMGs communicated their interests and demands primarily through their attacks. In 2000, the AUC member organization the Calima Front began a major para offensive through Valle and Cauca departments. In a formal letter announcing their plans, the AUC warned “local mayors and . . . the governor” that “any citizen or civil authority who gives any type of assistance to subversives after our arrival in the department of Cauca will be declared a military target” (HRW 2001c:43). Castaño was pressed...

  9. 5 EL SALVADOR THE RISE OF PARAMILITARIES
    (pp. 127-164)

    Traffic in San Salvador looks like utter pandemonium to an outsider. Red lights appear to have no meaning at all as drivers whip right through them; intersections are a mishmash of speeding, overcrowded cars, loud public buses, pedestrians, bicycles, and mopeds. The taxi driver taking me to the National Assembly building in 2004 did not hesitate or look before darting out into a main intersection of the Boulevard Los Heroes right through a red light, crossing four lanes of traffic. “¿Estoy seguro?” “Am I safe?” I asked, half-jokingly. He assured me that I was. “No one stops for red lights...

  10. 6 EL SALVADOR’S PMGs PEAK AND RECEDE
    (pp. 165-202)

    President Molina’s heavy-handed repression, particularly against the university, and his choice of hard-liner Carlos Humberto Romero as candidate for his successor, drove many younger, more moderate officers within the military to organize outside the parameters of the armed forces. The Movimiento de la Juventud Militar (MJM), the Military Youth Movement, found its members among PCN loyalists who viewed the original corporatist plan as promising more stability than the Molina/Romero hard-line approach. Formed in 1976, the MJM openly criticized what it referred to as Molina’s “police-terrorist clique,” the political alliance of the State leadership and the security forces, at the expense...

  11. CONCLUSION THE PMG TRIAD
    (pp. 203-218)

    Paramilitary groups are the political manifestation of profound uncertainty among a cross-section of a country’s most resourced sectors. They emerge of out a process in which political dynamics create fissures between traditional allies and realignments among factions whose interests are served in their organization. The increasing global demand for States to avoid the appearance of sponsoring violence often plays a critical role in this process, forcing the newly aligned actors to work outside the official capacity of the State. The cases of Chiapas, Colombia, and El Salvador elucidate this process. This chapter summarizes the findings of the comparative case analysis...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 219-230)
  13. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 231-256)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 257-261)