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Kaylin Morton’s Political Science presentation on internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Colombia sought to explore the reasons behind displacement, the factors contributing to failures between the government monitoring of IDP populations, and the connections between groups in Colombia that exacerbate the growing number of IDP communities within Colombian cities.  Specifically, Morton’s presentation discussed the relationship between the state, leftist guerillas, drug cartels, right wing paramilitary groups, and Plan Colombia and how all contribute to the augmentation of IDPs following the Colombian Civil War.

Looking at IDP growth in Colombia as a result of La Violencia, the Colombian Civil War between liberals and conservatives from 1948 to 1958, Morton begins with an overview of Colombian history.  The creation of the leftist FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and leftist ELN (National Liberation Army) was a response to a need for communist and liberal parties to defend themselves against wealthy land owners and business moguls, as well as the Colombian military.  These groups were also active in protecting coca growers as the production of coca provided a profitable income for otherwise impoverished Colombians.  To suppress the rise of Colombian drug traffic, paramilitary groups like the UAC were formed, funded by the support of private companies and land owners and, indirectly and directly, United States governmental aid.  Drug cartels hired paramilitary groups for protection, but had to pay taxes in order to do business in specific regions of Colombia.  Even leftist guerillas would traffic cocaine for a fee.  This complicated web of drug production, leftist guerilla violence, and paramilitary suppression of threats to business and other drug cartels, has created an atmosphere of urgent displacement of Colombians, especially impoverished rural farmers.

Morton’s presentation highlighted maps of area conflict and displacement in order to show geographically where these IDP communities originated and where they headed for refuge.  The majority of displacement is concentrated in the rural regions and the displaced are rural groups – African and indigenous populations are specifically targeted and displaced.  The diameter of the circles on Morton’s map represented the number of people affected by displacement in the areas and shading represented which ethnic populations were displaced.  Alternatively, she also showed maps of internal displacement from the perspective of which groups were responsible for forcing displacement on IDPs.  These internally displaced people attempt to avoid violence, natural disasters, and violations against human rights, and generally go to nearest urban city.  Cities with largest IDP populations in Colombia are Bogota, Santa Marta, and Medellin.  Since 1986, 5.2 million Colombians have been internally displaced, half of these are women, half of all IDPs are under age eighteen, and 34% are unregistered with the Colombian government.  The reasons for not registering as an IDP center on having limited access to registration and an increased risk of violence for being linked with leftist guerillas.  Without registered IDPs, the government does not know which IDPs they should be assisting because the government has difficulty differentiating between homelessness and unregistered IDPs.

The IDP population of Colombia is forced to live outside city centers and in shanty towns with limited access to healthcare, education, housing, and an increased difficulty in escaping poverty. The 2011 Victims Law seeks to help these victims and their situations by using the United Nations’ framework for defining IDP status and measuring IDP success over time.  Even so, the Colombian government allows for the IDP population to grow within its borders as it silently allows violence between rightist and leftist groups to displace Colombian citizens.

After answering questions from students and faculty addressing whether or not neighboring nations allow for Colombia’s IDP situation to spread and whether or not the cocaine trade was directly tied to the augmentation of IDP populations, Kaylin Morton was greeted with wide applause from her audience.

Way to go Kaylin!