ELN militia, Colombia. Photo by Silvia Andrea Moreno via 
Flickr (Creative Commons).

The role of narco-trafficking and illicit economies in the growth of paramilitary political power and influence in Colombia is ambiguous and complex.

This paper argues that there are four mechanisms through which criminal involvement politicized paramilitaries: escalation, extension, regulation and intermediation. These mechanisms gave them the opportunity to decisively broaden their constituencies, legitimize their activity, network with clientelistic actors from a position of force, and significantly broaden their inroads.