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The term ‘paramilitarism’ refers to activities of groups related to the military, but which, at the same time, deviate from the regular military. In addition, paramilitarism can also include the maintenance of local security by armed nonstate actors. On some occasions, ‘paramilitarism’ refers to the way in which a state uses violence against other entities, either through the employment of private contractors or through extra-state security forces. In numerous countries, the paramilitary secured the power of authoritarian military regimes. Most members of these groups belonged to the military. In contrast, in some countries of Central America, for example, Guatemala, paramilitary actors were armed civilians who had the goal of counter-insurgencies and the control of the population. There needs to be a differentiation of paramilitary activities, as sometimes the paramilitary (eg police units) are incorporated into the armed forces of a country in cases of armed conflicts. In such cases, paramilitary activities are legitimised by the state.

Paramilitarism is often presented within academia and public discourse as a new phenomenon, a product of weakened states in the late phase of global capitalism (Hristov, 2010). However, this conceptualisation fails to consider the historical continuity of the phenomenon of paramilitarism, which evolved primarily for the securitisation of space and capital. Paramilitarism has a long tradition not only in Latin America, but globally. In the 1960s and 1970s, paramilitary organisations were employed by the US to support the combating of insurgencies, guerrilla movements and other social movements.

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