Adiós A Las Armas: What Colombia’s Presidential Election Means Re America’s Gang Violence

Gustavo Petro
Colombian President-elect Gustavo Petro

M-19 commander Carlos Pizarro never lived to see it, but Gustavo Petro, an economist and former M-19 guerrilla is now president of Colombia.  Just what former M-19 commandant Antonio Navarro Wolff predicted 30 years ago would happen.  M-19 has taken the Colombian presidency.  Navarro, himself went on to a distinguished career in Colombian politics following M-19.

We wish President-elect Gustavo Petro much success in bringing about positive reform in Colombia.

The question is:  With America’s cities and suburbs now facing unprecedented levels of crime aka domestic terrorism—is the ramping up of violence due to gangs being emboldened by a permissive US justice system or are we actually witnessing the emergence of urban and suburban guerrilla warfare fueled by the kind of political discontent that gave rise to  Colombia’s M-19?

Some historical perspective:  I made three trips into Colombia in the late 1980s. On one trip in ’89, I “bunked down in a barracks” at M-19 headquarters in the Cauca Valley, sleeping on a board together with colleagues from TV Asahi and, of course, the M-19.  It was months before M-19 formally disarmed.

Suenobu, Pizarro, Mazur - crop
(left to right) TV Asahi’s Yoshi Suenobu, Carlos Pizarro, Suzan Mazur, M-19 headquarters, Cauca Valley, Colombia, 1989.  Photo: Ken Harada
Suzan Mazur with M-19, Cauca Valley, Colombia - crop
Suzan Mazur with M-19, Cauca Valley, Colombia, 1989.  Photo: Ken Harada

Carlos Pizarro also ran for the presidency of Colombia, shortly after M-19’s March 11, 1990 peace accord with the Colombian government but was assassinated en route to Barranquilla during the campaign. United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño was charged with the murder.

Antonio Navarro Wolff - crop
Antonio Navarro Wolff (wearing white hat), M-19 headquarters, Cauca Valley, Colombia, 1989.  Photo: Ken Harada

Pizarro and Navarro both had pedigrees, which both dismissed for M-19’s approach to achieving social justice. Pizarro dropped out of law school to join the guerrilla group; his father had been commander of Colombia’s navy and served in Washington as military attaché at the Colombian Embassy. Navarro was an engineer and university professor before his M-19 years.

I know nothing about the academic credentials of New York’s gangs: Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings, Nietas, Five Prisoners, Silenciosos, Matatones, Rat Hunters, and Zulu Nation or those in Chicago, Los Angeles and the cities and suburbs in between. But clearly there is some brilliant orchestration going on, enabling the tsunami of ATM robberies, drive-by shootings, store smashings & looting, narcotics trafficking, dragster terrorism, etc., in New York and elsewhere in America.

According to the Department of Justice, there are one million gang members and 20,000 gangs in the US. The changing demographics of New York alone points to the potential emergence of social justice Colombian-style, and perhaps even more treacherous.

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