Hristov asserts that "it is not a mere coincidence that during the era of accelerated neoliberal restructuring, the deterioration in the living conditions of the working majority has been accompanied by an increase in the capabilities and activities of military, police, and paramilitary groups, as well as the portrayal of social movements as forces that must be monitored, silenced, and eventually dismantled." The scandalous epidemic of poverty in Colombia is key to understanding Colombian politics, and why the upper classes so fear political organizing among the poor, who could mount a formidable opposition to the status quo if allowed to organize unrestrained by state repression.
When neoliberal policies were adopted by the Colombian government in the 1990s, it dramatically increased poverty, and made an already terrible situation worse. Hristov writes that the "essential components of neoliberalism are trade liberalization, privatization, deregulation, and austerity. Trade liberalization entails the removal of any trade barriers, such as tariffs and quotas. Privatization requires the sale of public enterprises and assets to private owners. Through the removal of government restrictions and interventions on capital, deregulation allows market forces to act as a self-regulating mechanism"Austerity requires the drastic reduction or elimination of expenditures for social programs and services."
She argues that the "main cause that led to the official adoption of neoliberal policies by the developing countries in Latin America and elsewhere was the pressure to service their external debts in the late 1970s. In order to receive loans from the World Bank (WB), or the International Monetary Fund (IMF), nations had to agree to a program of structural adjustment that included drastically reducing public spending in health, education, and welfare," and much more.
Because Colombia had less debt than other Latin American countries, "major neoliberal restructuring did not begin until 1990, under President Cesar Gaviria Trujillo (1990-94), when the country began to receive massive amounts of US military aid. "In addition to the significant social damage wrought by these policies, by the mid-1990s Colombia had to almost double its borrowing from the IMF because of the economic crisis brought on by the market liberalization," writes Hristov.