Armed groups in Colombia have a dramatic impact on the local economy of displaced communities, and collaboration with armed groups can significantly undermine efforts to foster economic opportunities for IDPs. The author undertook research in three major cities (Medellín, Bogotá and Cartagena), two municipalities (Tierralta and Puerto Libertador in Córdoba) and two small rural communities (in the regions of Córdoba and Cauca) to understand how and why many IDPs collaborate with armed groups and criminal organizations. The research revealed that:
- IDPs collaborate with criminal groups both directly (e.g. drug trafficking and the extortion of protection money) and indirectly (e.g. providing supplies or transporting gasoline to those cultivating illicit crops). Armed groups in certain communities control the supply of water, sale of foodstuffs, and transportation in and out of the community.
- IDPs collaborate for several reasons including: (a) perceived lack of economic opportunities and inducement of easy money; (b) fear rooted not only in the danger that the armed groups represent but also in a feeling that IDPs have been abandoned by the government and the police; (c) cooperation may be seen by IDPs as more legitimate than an outsider might appreciate because in the absence of police and government representatives, criminal groups effectively function as local government; and (d) IDPs may choose to collaborate with or even join an opposing criminal group as a reaction against the violence they suffered at the hands of a different armed group.
The author argues that addressing non-economic motivations for collaboration with armed groups and criminal organizations requires cooperation with government agencies, NGOs and faith-based organizations. Moreover development interventions should be accompanied by a robust governmental and police presence in communities, along with initiatives to help raise the communities’ civic and political self-awareness.