Why start to dialogue in an armed conflict?

A look at the political, economic and military components that enabled the onset of peace dialogues between armed groups and governments in Latin America

Master's Thesis, 2016
68 Pages, Grade: A




State of the art


Cases Analysis

Autodefensas unidas de Colombia - AUC 26

Movimiento 19 de abril (M-19) 33

Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN) 40

Analysis of cases





The objective of this article is to compare different historical cases of internal armed conflicts in America, to identify the common conditions that previously recorded the cessation of armed actions and beginning of dialogues as a path for starting building a post-conflict scenario.

For this purpose, I will make a comparative historical analysis of three armed conflicts in Latin America who opted for the "dialogue" as a mechanism to end the confrontation with the state. The objective of this exercise is to identify the common elements, if any, that existed in the different selected cases when they decided to engage in conversations officially.

With the identification of these elements, I intend to demonstrate that there is a common causal explanation of the outcome of the cases, represented as a minimum necessary conditions in the historical development of different armed conflicts to achieve the implementation and development of dialogs between non-governmental armed groups and their governments.

The outcome of this work will be the identification of patterns of dynamics of internal armed conflicts based on the research findings, which will serve as a reference material for the study and possible early resolutions of armed conflicts in their social and political dimension stating the dialogue as an effective means to armed conflict resolution and there are enabling conditions that make it successful.

Keywords: armed conflict , internal conflict, dialogue , government , armed groups


Over the decades, conflicts have been a constant in the history of mankind. At different periods of time at different scales and in different social groups collide whether for reasons of social, economic, religious or other types; each time more dangerous due to the technological development of lethal weapons and radicalization of positions on common issues.

Generally speaking, a conflict occurs when two face positions around a specific theme or common situation where the interests of one part affect the interests of the other. Over the past century, we have witnessed several examples of confrontations at the international level; as the two World Wars or the so-called Cold War. In given cases, sides were easy to identify because conflicts were developing between nations.

Although in recent history, international conflicts have decreased in number and countries involved. However, conflicts have not disappeared but have evolved in new forms and territories. As a legacy of international conflicts, internal conflicts have become important foci and visibility as generators of violence that turn them into a political issue of first order.

A prime example of internal conflict and its consequences on the regional level have been the various armed conflicts developed in Latin America during the last decades of the last century; different in their ideological principles, characteristics and causes of birth, the cases selected for this paper are a mirror of what have meant internal armed confrontations and their implications for their countries.

These types of conflicts, for its part, have brought (or created) new types of violent actors involved in the dynamics of conflicts; called non-state armed groups. These actors do not represent the states but small samples of the population with particular interests, have become private armed groups that challenge or compete on many occasions with the governmental establishment by the use of the violence as a proper element of struggle.

This increasing privatization of violence through the creation of private armed groups not only challenges the supremacy of the model nation-state, but "also raises crucial questions about the distribution of power, sovereignty, deterrence and independence" (Mandel, 2002), as well as putting into question the exclusive monopoly of force by the state in its obligation to defend its citizens.

Based on this context, the selected cases that have been elected to make historical comparisons non-state armed groups than can be divided into two groups of no-governmental armed actors; guerrilla groups and one case of a paramilitary armed group.

Namely, the selected cases that are part of the group "guerrillas" are the Movimiento 19 de Abril (Colombia) and Frente Facundo Martí de Liberación Nacional (El Salvador).

Regarding with the guerrillas, I approach the concept from the definition developed in the Critical Dictionary of Social Sciences that defined from a strict point of view as the designation of "a group that uses tactics irregular military in a war: sabotage operations, harassment and, where appropriate, terrorist actions that weaken the enemy ” (Reyes, 2009a). For purposes of this work, understand the "enemy" as the sovereign state of the country in which the guerrilla groups do resistance through their actions.

Regarding the paramilitary group, the selected case is Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC). Due to the particularity of the concept, I define the term "paramilitary" based on the contributions made by the author Nelly Castro in her research work Una larga noche: los caminos del conflicto en Colombia that defines them as "an armed force acting parallel and in coordination with state forces to destroy subversion".

These conflicts, ended officially, have left us lessons about the mechanisms for resolving conflicts once the military actions have not tithed any of the parties in confrontation; the use of dialogue as a mechanism for ending the conflict.

There are a variety of literature that refers to the study of conflict, a large portion of them in Latin America, which focus on delving into the post-conflict processes as the establishment of agreements, peace-building and treatment of those involved in the post-conflict scenario.

Nonetheless, there is not a literature that refers to previous events for dialogue between no-governmental armed groups and governments and that allowed ending the conflict without persist in violent actions or the prolongation of armed confrontations.

At this specific point I want to focus the analysis of this work: Under what political, economic, and military conditions do no-governmental armed groups decided to pursue dialogues.

Given that each of the cases contains a lot of information extending to different thematic areas, for historical comparison proposed in this paper I will focus on these categories of analysis that are present transversally along the selected conflicts.

In the first instance, it will be analyzed the general information of each conflict with the following data: duration of the conflict, ideology, philosophy or political reason and reason why the group is based, or why they begin their activities as an armed group

Then I will continue with the analysis of a political dimension, that refers to all types of activity and event of the armed groups related to its internal organization and governance in specific areas of their countries. In this regard, the sub-categories in this dimension are: areas under military control and its influence, internal regulations and symbols that distinguish them from other groups.

Later, I will develop the analysis of the economic dimension, referring to all types of activity through which armed groups “extract rents from both legal and illegal activities” by using weapons. In this regard, the sub-categories in this dimension are: kidnapping, theft or robbery, appropriating property, extortion and trafficking of illegal items such as drugs and weapons.

Finally, the last analysis will focuses on the military dimension, referring to all types of activity directly related to the facts, events and actions occurring during the confrontations that historically made up the armed conflict[1]. In this regard, the sub-categories in this dimension are: total number of combatants, total number of attacks, death toll and forced displacement at the moment of the beginning of dialogues.

The outcome of this research, through the identification of similarities and differences of the cases along the different dimensions, is the better understanding of the internal armed conflicts between the non-governmental armed groups and governments, focusing on the pre-historical moment at the beginning of the dialogue instead of the approach to the subject from the moment of dialogue into the future; the post-conflict.

Referring to research methodology,

The development of this paper will be based on the method of Comparative Historical Research of the selected cases, and the objective of this exercise is to identify the common elements, if any, that existed in the different selected cases when they decided to engage in dialogue officially.

The historical comparative research is a method used in the social sciences that seeks the study of historical events with the purpose of generating explanations may be valid regardless of temporal and geographical context, either by direct comparison with other happenings, generation theories or as reference points for current days.

This type of methodology, as explained Mahoney & Rueschemeyer have three specific emphases that are applicable (and effective) at the time of the analysis of the findings of the historical review: a concern with causal analysis, the exploration of temporal processes and the use of systematic and contextualized comparison typically limited to a small number of cases (2003a, p. 14).

The selection of the small-N cases is based on that, despite their different independent variables there is no difference in the end result. Thus, causality can explain this common situation can be found in the similarities within the study of cases, supported in the fact that history is not rule governed, and it knows no sufficient causes. It can learn “how things turned out … not why they had to turn in that way” (Thompson, p. 49).

Due to the type of issue addressed, the number of selected cases and the proposal to seek common elements (shared causalities) that prompted the different actors in the conflict to begin peace talks, make the development of a comparative historical research feasible.

Of the main qualities that I consider important is the fact that, like the nature of the cases, the method is not governed by a unified theory (a single cause) or developed under the basis of a single methodology (only a possibility address the issue).

This feature allows the methodology to be so concrete to be in the capability to compare specific elements between different cases and as flexible as to approach them taking into account their complexity both space and time.

To quote Mahoney, all work in this tradition does share a concern with causal analysis, and emphasis on processes over time, and the use of systematic and contextualized comparison (Mahoney & Rueschemeyer, 2003b, p.10).

In this line thinking, the methodology of historical comparative research focuses more intensively on the identification and explanation of "causal configurations" that are the reason for the results which are, in my role as a researcher, the main motivation to carry the investigation.

As the authors states;

In comparative historical studies, the causal argument is central to the analysis; thus, causal propositions are carefully selected and tested rather that introduced ad hoc as incidental parts of an overall narrative (…) Within this orientation, comparative historical analysis need not embrace any single approach to causal analysis (Mahoney & Rueschemeyer, 2003c, p.11).

Broadly speaking, comparative research is distinguished because it proposes conducting “systematic” and “contextualized” comparisons (an important element that is neglected in other types of methods such as quantitative) between similar or dissimilar cases; in this case the latter.

It is for this reason that most comparative researches seek to explain relevant results (causalities) within defined historical contexts; and due to the complexity circumstances that make up each context, usually it focuses on a small number of cases.

In this way, I will be in the possibility of isolating the elements found in historical revisions which, added to the contextual analysis, going beyond the description of data, in order to achieve an analysis that enrich the individual elements and thus achieve a comparative analysis more enriching.

From the standpoint of Rueschemeyer, although this approach is not focused directly to the acquisition of knowledge of universal application, it represents a bargain in which significance advantages are gained. Above all, the approach makes possible the dialogue between theory and evidence of an intensity that is rare in quantitative social research (2003d, p. 12) and giving way to generate causal relationships to be compared in the development of research.

These relations are made in order to achieve that generalization beyond a certain specific time and place for determining causalities shared among cases (Mahoney & Rueschemeyer, 2003e, p. 11) with the aim of generating the first steps to develop a theory of the aspects necessary for the establishment of dialogues in the context of an armed conflict between NSAGs (Non State Arm Group) and state.

To argue that the hypothesis is generated at the end of the investigation as a secondary outcome, I rely on the thought of Stinchcombe (1978, p4) when states that we do not form a historical interpretation before finding what is going on in the given case, it is common causalities.

For generating the hypothesis as a complementary result in this research, I find relevant the "step by step" proposed by Schutt (2011) in his work Investigating the Social World: The Process and Practice of Research which is described as follows:

- Develop the premise of the investigation, identifying events, concepts, etc., that may explain the phenomena
- Choose the case(s) (location-nation, region) to examine
- Examine the similarities and the differences

As a result, based on the information gathered, propose a causal explanation for the phenomena; in other words, a hypothesis generated from the review of cases.

In this sense, I will use the Most Different System Design for the development of the proposed theme. This research design will allow me to determine similarities and differences of explanatory (independent) variables of each of our units of analysis (case studies) in order to identify common causalities that result in a single dependent variable in all cases.

Using this method, also identified as Mill's (indirect) Method of Difference, I intend to compare dissimilar very cases that are having the same outcome, and which states that any variable (independent) That is present in all cases can be the explicative factor.

The main feature of this research design is that, it is more precise and strict when differing point along with similarities with the exception that this strategy is not developing too many independent variables and only focuses on finding similarities and differences between wide selection of systems (Landman, 2008).

Given that each of the cases contains a lot of information extending to different thematic areas, for historical comparison proposed in this paper I will focus on four categories of analysis that are present transversally along the selected conflicts; general information on each case to help identify the actors involved and differentiates them from other conflicts, and political, economic and military contexts in which armed groups arrive at the beginning of the dialogue.

Data will be obtained by the analysis and review of secondary sources, such as documents and official figures on the conflicts in each country, research papers and relevant literature related to the topic.

Although the small-N can restrict the potential generalizations about this research, identifying common causalities in different cases may be relevant in the sense that the outcome can be applied to other similar cases of armed conflict in the same conditions (e.g., Latin American guerrillas and paramilitary groups apparently, following the same patterns as the selected cases).

The choice for the development of historical comparison cases have been selected based on their length differences, social and political contexts. Likewise, it should also be noted that although all are non-governmental armed groups, each case has ideologies that differ from each other while they are located in different time periods and different objectives were pursued.

Despite all these differences, in all cases it has been completed in establishing dialogue with governments, which has become the end of the armed conflict, an aspect which enrich historical comparison between them.

As mentioned above, the establishment of dialogue is not the only posible mechanism in other to end conflicts between non-governmental armed groups and governments. Nevertheless, the use of dialogue as a mechanism for ending the conflict arises because other actions, such as military action or economic accuracies to name a few, have not been effective in selected cases.

Here is a brief description of each of the cases and special features that make them even more enlightening for historical comparison finding common elements about starting the dialogue with governments.

Regarding Movimiento 19 de Abril the case study has two particular characteristics; it was an atypical guerrilla composed mostly of Colombian intellectuals of the time (children of elite citizens), and is one of the successful cases where a non-state armed group has made its transition to political participation.

Regarding the Frente Facundo Martí de Liberación Nacional has the distinctive characteristic of being classified as civil war unlike other internal armed conflicts, and that is terminated by negotiation and signing a treaty in a different country than the involved in the conflict.

Finally, referring to Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), it is worth noting that this case is not a guerrilla as the other cases, but an organized group that establishes armed confrontation against Colombian guerrillas operating as a private army.

State of the art

Much of this literature is distributed at various stages of conflict and most of it is focused in the post-conflict period or towards to the future of related issues and actors involved in the conflict after peace talks began and cessing armed actions have occurred.

In that regard, there are research focused on the study of conflict from the beginning of the dialogue towards the future; analyzing the key issues of conflict and the feasibility of generating favorable scenarios for the post-conflict process This is the case of analysis written by Juan Ugarriza (2013) "The Political Dimension of Post-Conflict: Conceptual and Empirical Advances Debates".

According to Ugarriza, the main challenges focus on social and legal scenarios as part of the post-conflict process is carried out in reintegration of former combatants. Additionally, within the purposes of his research, the author sought that both scenarios would become elements of analysis to propose deliberative politics as a democratic tool for overcoming conflicts.

From a similar position, there are other approaches to the topic looking from the present serve as a benchmark for the methodological analysis for the resolution of similar conflicts in the future. In this regard, the analysis of the methodologies used in armed conflicts that have found their way to evolve into new scenarios are a recurring element in the study of post-conflict.

Within this perspective, the "Post-conflict and transitional justice in Colombia" written by Carolina Rodriguez (2011) proposes the analysis of a methodology for the transition from conflict to post-conflict armed to serve as a framework for analysis of situations with similar characteristics.

In her research, Rodriguez sought to establish a conceptual integration of experts in the field as evidence of the societies that lived the transition from one setting to another. Specifically, the author reviews the methodology developed and the execution of strategies for the implementation of "justice" in the paramilitary demobilization process in Colombia (Law 975 of 2005 or “Ley de Justicia y Paz”).

Accordingly, the "successful" transition process of conflict that culminated in the signing of agreements that allowed the transition to post-conflict analyses watching from the present into the past to evaluate their effectiveness after a period of time.

This approach to the subject can be used for both the general public and other researchers, as an academic exercise in historical context or comparative tool new transition processes that share similar characteristics.

This is the case of García & Climent (2006) in their paperwork entitled "The reconstruction of post-conflict societies: Guatemala after the peace accords." Within the paper, the authors analyzed three common scenarios experienced by societies that were part of the way to the post-conflict in light of the agreements signed with armed actors.

Namely, the scenarios are building a new phase in national political life, recognition of bodies and casualties from the war and the reason´s logic that led to the outbreak of armed conflict explanation.

In another approach, several authors propose the study of cases of post-conflict not only as an endogenous process, but dependent or influenced (to varying degrees) of external actors. A current example was found in the report developed by Rubio, Morales, Melendez and Germain of El Salvador guerrilla.

In their investigation they collected the main political events that occurred after the end of armed actions and how, in such processes and which served as support to reach the post-conflict, had a remarkable influence on the sequence of political events they occurred in the country.

Finally, in reviewing the literature I find the latter approach through which scholars approach the concept of post-conflict; academic discussion the conceptual basis of the transition process.

From this perspective, researchers used the developments during the transition to post-conflict for the validation of concepts and theories surrounding by the process from the present into the future. In this field, it is relevant the research of Rettberg (2003) in his article "Designing the future: a review of the dilemmas of building peace for the post-conflict".

In the development of the topic, the author aims to identify and describe the main academic debates around the understanding of post-conflict since the theory. It also highlights the lack of consensus between the scholars regarding what is and what is not post-conflict and its characterization; both from the conceptual theory and in practice at the level of historical process.

Analyzing the different approaches through which it has addressed the issue of post-conflict along various investigations, the special attention given to the issue by approaching it from the present into the future or back to identify evidenced elements and evolution (evaluation) over time. There is also literature on the actors who are involved in both, within the conflict and with an active role in its resolution.

A clear example of the different topics covered so far to talk of armed conflict was given by Greig (2005) in his article Stepping Into the Fray: When Do Mediate Mediators? Unlike previous literature, this author focused only on the actors involved in the dialogue once these are in development.

In his article analyzes the conditions surrounding the application, supply and development of mediation between two rivals in a conflict. Unlike other literary references where further studied the form taken by mediation, this article focuses on the conditions that allow mediation; something similar to what is sought to make the study not conflict or methodologies dialogue itself, but the conditions that allow arise between the dynamics of the conflict.

There are approaches that describe the profiles of the actors of the conflict from its historical evolution; both in theory and in the field. Under this theme, I find interesting concepts offered by Iglesias (2011) in his paperwork "Armed Non-State Actors and Model State”. Explains the role of the state exposed in globalizing, changes affecting the Weberian model of the nation-state and the erosion of their basic principles of sovereignty, legitimacy and identity.

This description is important because they are the main elements of one of the actors in the conflict. In its turn, the author defines as accurately as possible the so-called "non-state armed groups" and the use of violence as a means to achieve their goals by going to a new term the index of research conflicts as it is "privatization of violence".

However, these contributions will not delve into the development of the conflict or the dimensions involved to achieve that both actors sit down at the same table in order to end the conflict There are also proposals for analytical characterization and use of historical demystification of dialogue to overcome the armed conflicts. An example of that is Wennmann volume of paperwork (2014) Negotiated Exits from Organized Crime? Peace Building in Conflict and Crime-affected Contexts.

In his research, the focal point of his argument is that there is nothing unusual about participation in dialogue and negotiation with organized crime groups and that these strategies have been used for decades in pursuance of reducing crime and violence in urban environments of war and civilians.

In their quest to resolve conflicts in violent and fragile contexts, mediators and negotiators can adapt the existing building practice to help peace processes structure dialogue with organized crime groups.

As can be seen in the literature review, academic efforts have focused on the study of armed conflict of non-governmental armed groups on the various possible scenarios towards of post-conflict, divided into characterizations of the armed actors or dialogue as a tool / strategy to end the conflict.

However, they make no mention of the reasons or circumstances that occurred during the conflict, and lie in key elements for the actors of the conflict decide to establish dialogue to start the end of the armed confrontation between non-governmental armed actors and the Governments.

It is for this reason that the main feature of this academic work, unlike those mentioned in the literature review, focuses on the study and analysis of the historical moment prior to initiating dialogues, seeking to establish similarities and differences between different cases to determine whether there are common patterns among the different conflicts to identify the necessary preconditions for the establishment of peace talks as a key to overcoming armed conflicts not achieved historically solved by military action.


In order to understand the different concepts regarding the selected cases and the dimensions that compose them, in this section relevant theoretical approaches and conceptual basis of this work will be described.

The first concept to address will be “Conflict”. The broader definition indicates that a conflict is "fight, disagreement, apparent incompatibility, conflict of interests, perceptions or hostile attitudes between two or more parties” (Vinyamata, 2001a p, 129).

This definition outlines the fundamental requirement for the creation of a conflict and yet, the definition is not related to the use of violence as a mechanism but that shows it as the interactions of opposing views; in relation to politics, how to organize and develop political practices.

However, it is worth noting that the conflict is not always tied to the use of violence as presented in the cases studied in this research. As explained by Fisas, a conflict is based "on a social construct, a human creation, separate from violence (there may be conflicts without violence, but violence is not without conflict), which can be positive or negative depending on how it is addressed and over” (2001, p. 20).

In the strict sense of this research, however, I shall refer to the negative development because it is used as a tool of "political struggle”.

For the sake of this intention, I route the conceptualization of the term "conflict" regarding policies, ideologies and use of violence as suggested by Mial in interpreting these disputes as “the pursuit of incompatible goals by different groups” (1999, p. 20). In this respect, conflict is a moment “where one of the parties involved in the fight is imposed on the other through actions which may include hostile action or violence” (Vinyamatab, 2001, p. 129).

This “pursuit” has two possible outcomes in its development over time. The first is a scenario where is reached an end point, either victory or surrender of one of the parties. The second is when through the use of negotiations, dialogues, etc., the use of violence is abandoned as a mechanism of political participation and proceeds to participate in other ways (e.g., as a political party) and the stage is set for the post-conflict.

Both one and the other, I understand it reaches at the end of the armed conflict (using violence as a tool) at the time the surrender of weapons is made or given by finished all kinds of group actions using weapons of war.

Understanding that speaking of conflict can be found different branches and vocabulary can vary from terms like "discussion" to concepts such as "military actions". That is why the subject of this research will differentiate the two more general concepts that are "War" and "Inner Conflict" focusing on the latter as the category corresponding to this research.

Approaching the concept war, I am referring to it is meaning from the definition of Sorel which describes it as "a political act by which a number of states cannot reconcile what believe are their duties, rights or interests, they resort to armed force in order to decide which of them being strong, can by reason of force to impose their will on others” (1916, p. 39) .

Only at this point for the first time, we began to relate conceptually to the notion of "conflict" with the use of weapons as "tools" for the imposition of ideas.

Then Kende (2015) focuses more the concept characterizing it in terms of "mass violent conflict" and meets the following requirements:

First, t he fights involve two or more armed factions, of which at least one must be a regular force. Second o n both sides there must be a minimum of centrally controlled organization of the fights and the war waging factions. Finally, t he armed operations must take place with a certain frequency and not just as occasional, spontaneous clashes.


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Why start to dialogue in an armed conflict?
A look at the political, economic and military components that enabled the onset of peace dialogues between armed groups and governments in Latin America
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona  (Facultat de Ciències Polítiques i de Sociologia)
Political Science - Master Research
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Dedicated to the historic moment in Colombia in 2016 with negotiations to end the armed conflict. To my family, friends and most especially, my country.
armed conflict, colombia, armed groups, el salvador, guatemala, guerrilla, conflict, conflict resolution, dialogue, peace dialogue, peace process, latinamerica, southamerica, america
Quote paper
Msc Political Science Julian Torres Roa (Author), 2016, Why start to dialogue in an armed conflict?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/344519


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