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Peace Psychology Book Series

Series Editor
Daniel J. Christie
The Ohio State University Department
of Psychology

For further volumes:

Stella Sacipa-Rodriguez Maritza Montero


Psychosocial Approaches to
Peace-Building in Colombia


Stella Sacipa-Rodriguez
Pontifical Javeriana University

Maritza Montero
Universidad Central de Venezuela

ISSN 2197-5779ISSN 2197-5787 (electronic)

ISBN 978-3-319-04548-1ISBN 978-3-319-04549-8 (eBook)
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-04549-8
Springer Cham Heidelberg New York Dordrecht London
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Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014
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This book is dedicated to all the people

who have suffered and who continue suffering
because of the armed conflict in Colombia,
and also to all those men and women
dedicated to peace-building in this country


On Violent Conflicts and the Fragile Strength of Peace: Doing

Peace Psychology in Colombia
As promoter of this book, edited by Stella Sacipa, professor at Pontifical Javeriana University in Bogot, Colombia, I congratulate her not only for her capacity
to gather the impressive and touching chapters contained in this book, written by
first line researchers, but also for the brave defense of peace they all have. For me,
working along with Stella has been an opportunity to participate in the organization
of this work of science and also of ethics, about a main psycho-political problem
concerning peace.
The task assumed by the group named Social Bonds and Cultures of Peace
(Lazos Sociales y Culturas de Paz, in Spanish) is not a distant experimental research
program; it is close to the refugees and victims of violence, near their feelings, their
fears, narratives, losses, and hopes; lived with them by way through their accompaniment. This research has been carried out in a country that has been at war and conflict for more than 60 years; a country living in a daily internal strife that has taken
too many lives, suffering from a war seeded by political polarization and social
conditions, a war that goes far back to the beginnings of the twentieth century. With
the exception of the paper by Lpez, Sabucedo Cameselle, Serrano and Borja, who
analyzed data provided by a survey, finding a frame made by a main Colombian
newspaper, the 13 authors in this book have being doing, at different moments, but
with the same objective, action-research works on the current effects of the armed
conflict existing in Colombia since the 1950s.

The Colombian Armed Conflict: Its Origins

The historical roots of the political situation that opened the way to the armed conflict in Colombia, go back to 1930, according to Guzman etal. (1962), when the
Liberal Party won the presidential election, and to many peoples surprise, began



a persecution of leaders and members of the Conservative party. Why such retaliation? Urdaneta Arbelez (1960, in Guzman etal. 1962, p.25) said:
The government and Olaya Herrera [Liberal president elected at that time] did all the imaginable efforts to stop the blood shedding and the Liberal directive cooperated with the
Executive [power] with the same objective; but in fact [the aggressions] went on and an
abyss began to open between the two parties, as well as the vengeance will to sprout, thus
bringing in the near future, sad days for the Nation.

Fals Borda (1967) points out a previous antecedent in a first subversion by the
Liberal movement, carried out between 1848 and 1854. Perhaps, after the Independence from Spain, in the frustrated hope for a society envisioned by that group but
opposed by the conservatism of another group, could be the seed for the excesses
of 1930. Perhaps, there also could be found a deep gap between conservatism and
liberalism, creating a polarizing social division, whose bases reside in economic
It is important to know that according to historians, in 1930, president Olaya
Herrera (from the conservative party), tried to stop the violence against the militants of his party, when a liberal president was elected. Jorge Elizer Gaitan, Liberal
leader killed in 1948, in 1946 presented in a meeting, a Prayer for Peace, trying
to stop the persecution against the liberals, this time carried out by the conservative
militants, then in government. The wounds caused by political hate must have been
very deep in both cases, and were still open. About what happened from the late 40s
on, Stella Sacipa presents a concise historical and political guide (Historical Data
About the Colombian Violence Strife), at the beginning of this book, allowing
readers to follow what has happened in Colombia since the fourth decade of the
twentieth century.
Are those wounds still bleeding? Currently it is not the confrontation between
two political parties due to different conceptions about the world, about their country or, about the way to govern it. Other interests have entered in the arena. Now
there are three factions and the Colombian army in dispute. The main victims of
their violence are the civil population both peasants and urban people suffer the actions of the four armed groups operating in the country. Those aspects are reflected
in the victim narratives. The worst part is their confusion, assuming guilt, self blaming for a conflict they have not created, although they have to live with the scars
and losses caused by it.
It is very brave to have assumed the task to develop cultures of peace, where
the force, the arms, asymmetrical power and destruction, brought upon the population are concentrated in the ranks of the violent ones. There have been efforts to
stop the internal strife that is bleeding the country. The first one between 1953 and
1954 shortly lived and followed by a new wave of violence. In 1958, again there
was the intent to stop the violence, but it did not last. In the past decade, during the
government of President Pastrana, once more, another agreement was proposed,
failing once again. The Colombian people want and deserve to have peace. Violence
should already be a finished moment in their development as a democratic nation,
because so far, violence has been the impediment to build that society with equity
and equality, with freedom stopping being a word, and starting to be a way of living.



To construct a new base for peace in Colombia is necessary, and that is what the
chapters of this book, show. Reconstructing bits of peace is not what is needed. Not
when there has been more than half a century of violence. Two generations have
been living among violence and fear, they and those now being born are entitled to
a different kind of life. They need to be liberated of violence and its origins.
Psychology can provide a different perspective of the direct and indirect ways
sorrow and trauma take from the lives of people, and their effects upon them, both
for the victims of direct violence, and for their care-givers. Whoever hears, sees, or
works with the accounts and narratives given by the victims of violence, cannot remain unmoved to the violence revealed in them. The results obtained by working to
re-establish peace should be a path for what institutions, schools, and governmental
policies could begin to do in order to achieve that peace. As I write this, there are,
once again, peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the guerrilla (both FARC and ELN), and we hope they will reach peace accords. The other
two groups (para-military Self-Defenses and Drug traffickers) will need to be dismantled and give back what they have taken from their victims. Justice is necessary;
and the time will be to go on with the practice these researchers have initiated, and
other social sciences that are also producing.

Sorrow, Trauma, and Their Effects on the Victims

The chapters in this book show a process of de-personalization of the Other. Others
become displaced people, kidnapped people submitted to violence in many of its expressions. They are objects that should obey without asking, without the possibility
to have ideas of their own. Women become sexual objects, children too. Prisoners
become things, merchandise that can be traded, since as objects, they have a price.
This book presents certain aspects regarding the ways followed by sorrow, trauma, and their direct and indirect effects on the victims. Those aspects are:
The mixture of political persecution and deaths of innocent victims without any
political participation other than being citizens produces what could be considered
a sort of death by contiguity. Just being at a certain place, nearby that place, or
looking like someone, is, according to the perception of the murderers enough to be
killed. This also is a trivialization of death: It does not matter who is the victim; the
error of the perpetrators does not matter. It is just another person or group being in
the wrong place, at the wrong moment; a nobody without a name. The killers action
is just part of his/her job.
Another aspect is that behind those deaths there are no innocent people. The
killing has happened because the victim was an Other, meaning not one of Us. The
cruelty accounts seem to be a sort of announcement of what will happen to those
who do not belong to the killers group; whose motto seems to be whoever is not
with us, is not like us. In that sense, death, according to that perspective, has no
exceptions, it is for all those not belonging in the violent group. Everyone could be
killed. That is the knowledge present in the victims narratives. Death is in those


narratives, as it is part of living in the places taken by violence, from where the
victims have to flee. Also, it can be felt in the victims narratives, there is a sort of
obsessive persecuting of the Others, wherever they are, resulting in undiscriminating attacks to rural hamlets and villages.
From the perspective of someone that is not living the violent conflict in Colombia, war seems to have become a life situation creating another need for people: to
learn how to live in war, how to avoid the conflict, what not to say, how to take care
of themselves and of those that depend of others. That means developing defense
mechanisms, just in case of, because something could happen. The hardworking
condition of the Colombian people helps them to prepare the actions necessary to
palliate the harm, learning how to overcome fear, while living in fear.

What to Do with Peace Psychology

The chapters in this book contribute to Peace Psychology by describing, analyzing,
and critically discussing, the psychological effects of a cruel armed conflict with a
long history, within a split society. The authors present ways to fight the effects of
a war on its victims, obtained by their close work with them, avoiding themselves
possible dangers. The use of participatory action-research has been the best way
to carry out their task, accompanying, being with the victims, patiently hearing,
answering, doing together, as can be seen in their chapters. Participation as the
base for their task is present in nine of the ten chapters. Thus, the behavioral analysis made by Ballesteros, points out that metacontingency is the relation between
interlocking behavioral contingencies (Chap.2), expressing in behaviorist terms,
the importance of participation, reminding that contingent relations are a technical
term that resumes behavior as an event in function of a set of historical and contextual factor (Chap.2). The readers will also find what these researchersactors
have found in the psychosocial effects of that conflict, on those people whose lives
have been damaged, whose bodies and souls keep scars that will stay with them,
constant reminders of the suffering. The other chapters give account both of the cruelty exerted upon the victims; and, more important, they show the ways to cure their
psychological wounds, and they teach the possibility for the victims of developing
the strength in order to construct new lives.

The Effects of the Armed Conflict

Regarding the armed conflict, its damages for society and for its victims, the nine
chapters address the following aspects:
The institutionalization of indirect sources of violence, trying to erase memories, eradicating knowledge about the past and about the crimes committed by



the four armed groups (guerrilla, self-defenses, drug traffickers and national
armed forces). The use of institutional lies based on the selective manipulation of the information. Official polarizing of the conflict with the social
legitimacy of powerful social groups, and the justification of their crimes and
lies; plus the stigmatization of victims and other groups (Vidales, Alzate etal.,
Wilson et al.).
The forced displacement of groups and individuals that save lives while at the
same time, leaves in them the scars of mistreatment, abuse, and losses. The absence of social support, the destruction of communities and, of the invisible
social networks that build society, due to that displacement and the killing of
people (Novoa-Gmez, Sacipa, Tovar).
Use of strategies to impose impunity and to uproot memories of the physical
and psychological suffering lived by the people along so many years of armed
conflict (Alzate et al.; Vidales).
Responsibility for a new cause of poverty, and for feelings of helplessness, guilt,
and hopelessness (Ballesteros de Valderrama, Lopez et al., Muoz, Novoa-Gomez et al., Sacipa, Tovar).
Need to fight social and government inefficacy; to have a well informed public
opinion; to know the resources investment in the armed forces compared to what
is given to programs such as that of the displaced people (Ballesteros de Valderrama).
The ways in which discourse in the media, as well as in politicians discourse,
construct the other.

Constructing a Culture of Peace and Doing Clinical

Psychosocial Support
Suffering can be so intense that all horizons leading to peace may disappear for the
victims of a war, due to the constant harassment and abuse of the civil population.
What the authors have been doing during the last 10 years has an evident psychosocial dimension, but at the same time it also is clinical, as well as political. The following lines are a tight description of their answers to the effects of war, previously
resumed, and the construction of peace.
Developing and strengthening resources in the victims. Also, empowering them
on the bases of their own capacities, by way of social accompaniment and the use
of clinical and social techniques, and developing coping strategies (Novoa et al.,
Sacipa, Tovar).
Memory, and specially the recovery of collective memory, as a main resource
and democratizing process (Vidales), and, a dignifying way for recovering their
self-esteem (Novoa et al.).
Developing solidarity, trust, hope, and respect for the Other. All ethic aspects
with positive effects in social life and in the individuals (Sacipa, Tovar).



Revealing the truth and denouncing the perpetrators. Obtaining public acknowledgment and legal recognition of damages caused. That is justice (Novoa et al.).
Working on warlike masculinities and femininities developing by people (most
of them children or teenagers) kidnapped, captured or attracted by armed groups.
By rethinking reintegration, and transformation when some of those people leave
the groups and return to society, is necessary for their new life (Muoz).
Work on the negative feelings of the victims (fear, sadness, shame, uncertainty,
and mistrust), using the victims narratives analyzed and discussed both individually and collectively. Re-signifying, that is re-elaborating those feelings by
sharing traumatic experiences with other people that have suffered in the same
way, those developing the sense of being useful, as well as developing hope in
the future. Re-elaboration of the sense of suffering (Sacipa).
Government problems, such as: inadequate management of poverty in the country. Need to fight social inefficacy. Lack of security for the people. Denying the
existence of a conflict and considering dissidents as terrorists. Talking about
violence as the problem, instead of working on violent actions. (Ballesteros de
Understanding the problem from the perspective of cultural practice, therefore,
considering the necessity of developing functional/contingent relations reinforcing social conditions based in the aspects considered in the previous paragraphs,
based in the construction of a Peace culture in Colombia (Ballesteros de Valderrama).
And finally, using that most powerful weapon: discourse as producer of realities
covering realities, displaying the fog of a language pronounced with a forked
tongue (Lopez, Sabucedo, Barreto, Serrano and Borja).

Fals Borda, O. (1967) Subversin y Cambio Social [Subversion and Social Change].
Bogot, Colombia: Tercer Mundo
Guzman, H., Fals Borda, O. & Umaa Luna, E. (1962) La Violencia en Colombia. Estudio de un Proceso Social [Violence in Colombia. Study of a Social Process]. Bogot, Colombia: Tercer Mundo.


The authors want to express special thanks to Maritza Montero for her idea to write
this book, and for her permanent accompaniment in the whole process, including
the translation into English. She was always actively involved in the project and
took care of every detail to help us toward the best.
We also thank Adriana Maldonado, Luis Manuel Silva, and David Smith for their
translation of most of our writings from Spanish into English.
We are also grateful to Mark Burton, Tod Sloan, and Yeny Serrano for their patience and careful review of some of the chapters, as well as to the members of the
research team led by Jos Manuel Sabucedo-Cameselle, who as allies of our group
participated with a chapter and with some of the translations.



Part I Background
Stella Sacipa-Rodriguez
Historical Data About the Colombian ViolenceStrife................................. 17
Stella Sacipa-Rodriguez

Part II Peace-Building in Colombia

Peace Cultures and Cultural Practices in Colombia 23
Blanca Patricia Ballesteros de Valderrama
Reflections on the Psychological Damage ofPeople Exposed to
War Situations inColombia........................................................................... 41
Mnica Mara Novoa-Gomez
To Feel and to Re-signify Forced Displacement in Colombia..................... 59
Stella Sacipa-Rodriguez
Personal Resources and Empowerment in a Psychosocial
Accompaniment Process................................................................................. 75
Claudia Tovar Guerra
Memory, Narrative, and the Social Transformation of Reality.................. 89
Ral Vidales
Discourse as a Strategy for the Construction of Peace Cultures................111
Wilson Lpez-Lpez, Jos Manuel Sabucedo-Cameselle,
Idaly Barreto, Yeny Serrano and Henry Borja



Genderization and Links with Illegal Armed Groups in Colombia...........121

Daro Reynaldo Muoz Onofre
Eight Cultures of Peace Indicators Applied toColombian
Conflict During 20022006............................................................................137
Mnica Alzate, Jos Manuel Sabucedo-Cameselle and Mar Durn


Mnica Alzate Departamento de Psicoloxa Social, Bsica e Metodoloxa.

Facultade de Psicoloxa, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela. Campus Vida,
Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Blanca Patricia Ballesteros de Valderrama Pontifical Javeriana University,
Bogot, Colombia
Idaly Barreto Political Psychology, Catholic University of Colombia, Bogot,
Henry Borja Political Psychology, University of Santo Tomas, Bogot, Colombia
Mar Durn Departamento de Psicoloxa Social, Bsica e Metodoloxa. Facultade
de Psicoloxa, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela. Campus Vida, Santiago de
Compostela, Spain
Wilson Lpez-Lpez Political Psychology, Pontifical Javeriana University, Bogot,
Daro Reynaldo Muoz Onofre Department of Psychology, Pontifical Javeriana
University, Bogot, Colombia
Mnica Mara Novoa-Gomez Clinical and Health Psychology, Pontifical
Javeriana University, Bogot, Colombia
Jos Manuel Sabucedo-Cameselle Social Psychology, University of Santiago de
Compostela, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Stella Sacipa-Rodriguez Department of Psychology, Pontifical Javeriana
University, Bogota, Colombia
Yeny Serrano Department of Information and Communication Sciences,
University of Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France
Claudia Tovar Guerra Pontifical Javieriana University, Bogot, Colombia
Ral Vidales Javeriana Pontifical University, Bogot, Colombia

About the Authors

Monica Alzate PhD and Lecturer of social psychology at the University of

Santiago de Compostela, Spain. She is Managing Editor for Revista de Psicologa
Social. Her research interests and publications are in the fields of peace-building and
reconciliation, psychosocial factors of violence, cognitive, and emotional processes
in collective political action, psychosocial impact caused by environmental
catastrophes, and strategies of written communication. She has worked on several
national and international research projects.
Blanca Patricia Ballesteros de Valderrama Psychologist with a master degree in
education (1983, Universidad Pedaggica Nacional) and a master degree in Clinical
Psychology (1995, Fundacin Universitaria Konrad Lorenz), has participated in
research projects about childrens and youths violent and aggressive behavior risk
and protective factors, cultural practices related to peace, and in health psychology.
Along with many academic activities has been Director of the Psychology
Department, at the Pontifical Javeriana University, in Bogot, since 2001. She was
the academic dean at the Psychology Faculty from 2010 to 2013. She is an active
member of two research groups: Psychology and Health, and Social Bonds and
Peace Cultures.
Idaly Barreto PhD in Psychology, by University of Santiago de Compostela,
Spain (2005); where she had the outstanding thesis award with, Cum Laude
honors. She is the associate editor of Revista Latinoamericana de Psicologa, in the
department of Social Psychology, and is member of the editorial team of the Journal
Diversitas: Perspectivas en Psicologa. Her investigations and publications have
been related to political violence, cultural processes of human consumption, and
also to analysis of textual data. Currently she is working as a teacher for the MSc.
in Psychology, and as a researcher in the investigation team Europsis, at Catholic
University, Colombia.
Henry Borja PhD in Psychology at Santiago de Compostela University, Spain
(2005) awarded with Cum Laude. Psychologist at the Konrad Lorenz University
(1999). His researches and publications are related to the fields of political violence
and political discourse analysis. Currently he is the director of Research at Santo Toms
University and, researcher in the Europsis team, at Catholic University, Colombia.


About the Authors

Mar Durn is Lecturer of social psychology at the University of Santiago de

Compostela (Spain). Has won the research award granted by I.A.P.S. (International
Association for People-Environmental Studies). Has published over 40 articles
in different supports, publishing editorials, magazines of prestige, and indexed
journals. Her main research topics are: attitudes and behavior. She has been
coordinating educational aspects in several seminars and specialization courses in
Universities of Spain and Portugal.
Wilson Lpez Lpez PhD in Social Psychology by University of Santiago de
Compostela, Spain. Thesis granted with Cum Laude honors. Founder and Secretary
in Latin America, for the IberoAmerican Federation of Psychology Associations and,
for the American Behaviour Association, Colombia. President of the International
Scientific Committee of REDALYC. Has published over 50 articles in indexed
journals and has been guest professor in Universities in Latin America and Spain.
Has won the International Development Grant, handed by SABA-USA, in two
occasions. His research is related to social issues, focusing in subjects of peace and
conflict. He is associate professor, editor of Universitas Psychologica, and member
of the group Social Bonds and Peace Cultures, at Pontifical Javeriana University.
Daro Reynaldo Muoz-Onofre Psychologist, Master in Cultural Studies,
lecturer and researcher, member of the Social Bonds and Peace Cultures Group,
Faculty of Psychology, Pontifical Javeriana University, Bogot. Member of the Colectivo Hombres y masculinidades (Collective Men and Masculinities), Colombia.
Mnica Mara Novoa-Gmez is a professor of clinical and health psychology at Pontifical Javeriana University, since 1997. She received a Master degree
in Science, in psychology, from National University and is PhD candidate to
the degree in psychology from Universitat of Valencia, Spain. She is author of
chapters and scientific articles and professional presentations in areas of clinical
supervision, health psychology, behavioral and contextual psychology, and philosophical psychology.
Jos Manuel Sabucedo-Cameselle is Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain). He was a member of the Governing
Council of the International Society of Political Psychology. He is President of the
Spanish Scientific Society of Social Psychology and editor of the Revista de Psicologa Social. His main research topics are: political psychology, political violence, and social movements and political protest.
Stella Sacipa-Rodriguez Psychologist (Universidad Nacional de Colombia,
1971) with a Master degree in Communication (Pontifical Javeriana University,
1995). Her master thesis: Meanings constructed by a political organization (M-19)
received the Award of Merit. For 14 years she has researched in the fields of Peace
Psychology and psychosocial accompaniment to people and communities affected
by socio-political violence in Colombia. Co-founder of the research group Social
Bonds and Peace Cultures, and its leader for 10 years, she has trained psychology
students in support to victims of war. She has studied, written, and lectured about

About the Authors


political psychology in Colombia. Currently, she is a professor of peace psychology

at the Pontifical Javeriana University.
Yeny Serrano is a psychologist by University Konrad Lorenz (Colombia), with
a master degree in social and economic development studies and, a PhD in Communication Sciences from the University of Geneva. Has a Scholarship of the Swiss
National Founding for Research, for a later post-doctoral internship at the City University, London. Her areas of investigation are related to media communication,
discourse analysis, journalism, and war communication. Currently works as an
assistant professor and researcher in the department of Information and Communication Sciences, at the University of Strasbourg, France.
Claudia Tovar-Guerra, MA has worked for 10 years in research and psychosocial accompaniment to people and communities affected by socio-political violence, and on topics such as psychosocial support to victims, social reintegration,
political subjectivities, cultural meanings and building of cultures of peace. She has
worked as a university professor at Universidad Javeriana (Bogot, Colombia). Has
been a consultant for national and international organizations, in topics as peace,
victims, and social reintegration. Has received degrees as Psychologist, specialized
in Conflict Resolution, and MA in Political Studies at Universidad Javeriana. Is a
Doctoral candidate in Social and Human Sciences from that same university.
Ral Vidales Psychologist and Master in Social Policy from the Javeriana Pontifical University, Bogot, Colombia. He has worked as a professional in psychosocial
supporting of vulnerable population and victims of sociopolitical violence. He has
also worked as documentary filmmaker and audiovisual pedagogue with the collective Kinorama, and as a university professor and researcher in the field of social
and political psychology. He designed and is the professor of the subject-matters
Cinema and psychosocial analysis, Cinema and historic memory, and Cinema and
human rights.

Part I


Stella Sacipa-Rodriguez

The Beginnings
In this section, my task consists of collecting and interweaving the voices of my
partners. I will begin by saying that the psychologists contributing to this book
constitute a group that decided to get together in order to carry out research and
practice animated by their shared concern, commitment and engagement with the
task of building peace cultures in Colombia, our country, a nation that for decades
has been bleeding in an internal war or, as more often said, an armed conflict. To
do that, we have created a research group whose name is: Cultures of Peace and
Social Bonds.
There is a convergence in the personal stories of Colombians who have lived
through political violence, who have experienced in their psyche the consequences
left by the war since their childhood and while growing up, whose ways of interacting and life cycles have also been affected as a result of years of armed conflict.
As psychologists, we are interested in living a life coherent with our understanding of social commitment, carried out in our daily academic practice by focusing
our action on our professional responsibility towards a world of silenced and suffering people, as well as a world of other people who do not acknowledge the collective pain.
Researchers are usually motivated by curiosity, concern, and inquiry. Our interest is the source of strength compelling us to find ways in which the existing
dis-order, can be questioned (Martn-Bar, 1983). Once the group came together, we were confronted by the challenge of working from different epistemological perspectives while at the same time collaborating on the construction of many
meanings of peace, in order to generate spaces of engagement and responsibility
regarding our social problems.
Drawing on our diversity of knowledge, we agreed that we had a common interest in contributing to the transformation of the violent practices within our culture,
Pontifical Javeriana University, Bogota, Colombia
S. Sacipa-Rodriguez, M. Montero (eds.), Psychosocial Approaches to Peace-Building in
Colombia, Peace Psychology Book Series 25,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-04549-8_1, Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014


that are expressed in inequity, intolerance, exclusion, impunity, and lack of care for
life. Something that made this interest different from other, no less important efforts
was to transfer the interest in the diagnosis of violence to the interest in knowing
what characterizes peace and its construction in a positive sense.
Since its inception, the group had the support of the Department of Psychology
at the Pontifical Javeriana University in Bogot, Colombia. We were all teachers
at the Faculty of Psychology. The group was acknowledged by COLCIENCIAS
(Colombian Scientific organization) in 2002.
The group came to be united by the interest in being part of a collective process
of reflection and knowledge construction. We inquire and problematize the context
of social and political conflict, and we want to produce alternatives for the construction of cultures of peace.
Throughout its 10 years of existence, the group has kept the motivation for assuming the task to open up little-travelled ways and to invest extraordinary efforts
to gain a place in the academic community. This has been possible due to the fact
that we are a research group able to challenge the established ideas about the must
be in the field.
All members of the research group have what could be called a utopian perspective understanding that the current commitment to society, at least the one we
attempt to create for our children, for all children, involves the search for peace, its
understanding, and the construction of peaceful modes of communication. Therefore, the intention of the group is not to dwell on the violence that produces suffering, but to accompany those who suffer because of political violence, knowing that
the purpose is to go further, to offer hope, to co-construct life, and the generation of
cultures of peace as a useful tool.
As scholars, we think that the political dimension of accumulated knowledge can
be fostered to counteract the functionality of violence through its deconstruction as
well as the acknowledgment, construction, and deconstruction of conceptual proposals that build more inclusive realities in order to make possible social change,
including structural transformations.

The Intention: The Construction of Cultures of Peace

By being organized around the questioning of the construction of cultures of peace
we started from the call for the creation of a global Culture of Peace and NonViolence movement, by UNESCO (1999)1, which states:
A culture of peace is a set of values, attitudes, traditions, modes of behavior, and ways
of life on: (a) Respect for life, ending of violence and promotion and practice of nonviolence through education, dialogue and cooperation; (b) Full respect for the principles of
sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of States and non-intervention
in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State, in accor1


dance with the Charter of the United Nations and international law; (c) Full respect for and
promotion of all human rights and fundamental freedoms; (d) Commitment to peaceful
settlement of conflicts; (e) Efforts to meet the developmental and environmental needs of
present and future generations; (f) Respect for and promotion of the right to development;
(g) Respect for and promotion of equal rights and opportunities for women and men; (h)
Respect for and promotion of the right of everyone to freedom of expression, opinion and
information; (i) Adherence to the principles of freedom, justice, democracy, tolerance, solidarity, cooperation, pluralism, cultural diversity, dialogue and understanding at all levels of
society and among nations; and fostered by an enabling national and international environment conducive to peace.

We agree with Galtung (1996) who maintain that the opposite of peace is not war,
but violence. Any definition of peace means the absence of, or decreasing violence,
whether direct (physical or verbal), structural (avoidable deaths caused by social
and economic structures), or cultural. Specifically, we take their approach to peace
to be more a process, a path, than a goal; it is the condition and the context for cooperation to creatively, and in a non-violent way, to transform conflicts.
Equally, we share Fisass considerations (1998) that humanity has constructed a
peace dimension that nowadays is closely linked to the recovering of dignity and,
of the processes of change and transformation in the field of the personal, the social,
and the structural, implicit in the passage from a culture of violence to a culture of
In this way, according to Galtung (1996) this vision exposes three types of peace:
direct peace (non-violent regulation of conflicts), cultural peace (minimum shared
values), and structural peace (organization intended to obtain a minimum level of
violence and a maximum of social justice).
This new definition of peace includes the abolition of organized violence in
macro and micro levels (violations in wars or at homes). Besides, the concept of
structural violence has been spread similarly in order to include macro and micro
personal level structures that damage or discriminate against individuals and groups
(Christie etal. 2008).
This conception of peace includes individual, familial, and global levels, and according to Galtung etal. (2002), it is meant to build welfare in a world at peace with
nature, within nations, among genders and generations, among races and religious
conceptions, among social and economic classes; a world where the excluded are
included through peaceful channels, and where States do not support violence either
directly or structurally. It also includes spiritual aspects which imply personal or
subjective conditions about feeling or being in peace with oneself independently of
adverse situations (Sims etal. 2014).
According to Galtung etal. (2002), when we choose the path of peace, we also
need empirical studies to comprehend the conditions of the past and also, critical
studies in order to value the meanings of violence and peace in the present, and
finally studies showing how to build cultures of peace.
Concepts are useful only to the extent that they reflect the reality we want to
explain. If both peace and conflict are global, highly dynamic, and changeable processes in which many factors intervene, then we must assume that everything we
conclude will be provisional, will be subject to criticism, and will need to be sifted


through the many possible interpretations that could be made from other fields of
knowledge. As Galtung, reminds us doing the opposite, constructing theory that
forgets other truths, is an invitation to cultural violence.
As a group, we also agree with Fisas (2001) who says that peace has to be finally
compatible with talking about todays reality, whether it be to indicate where it is
absent and the reasons why, or to discuss ways for transforming this reality through
awareness. To reflect about peace is not to be crying in anguish, but to expose what
is regarded as inadmissible, to know as well as possible the grounds of what is happening in the present, and to offer alternatives that allow the construction of new
future visions. Notwithstanding, to stay realistic, this purpose must never forget the
extreme difficulty we have in this moment, not only to avoid bloody conflicts, but
also to stop them or reduce them promptly.

The Richness of the Diversity of Psychological Knowledge

The research group is diverse, made of faculty teachers whose work interests, with
their different approaches, lie in areas such as social, clinical, and political psychology. Based on this, we see the importance of articulating contributions from different visions of the discipline, searching for, in a concrete way, research possibilities,
without any pretension of epistemological unification. Instead, we have decided
to appeal to the strengths of different traditions from which some of the groups
research questions came.
The differing perspectives were then constructed and articulated around problems related to the construction of cultures of peace and the strengthening of coexistence ties, binding together cohesive strengths that counteract increasingly visible
manifestations of social polarization and fragmentation. These problems are addressed from psychology, but we acknowledge the limits of psychological theories,
and so offer an opening to contributions from other disciplines in interdisciplinary
constructions specifically related to these issues.
One of the perspectives that has oriented our work is Vigotskys theory (1930,
1973, 1995), especially in the following postulates. First, the historical cultural development of the psyche and its consequent formulation that the development of
superior psychological functions occurs first in social interaction. Second, meaning
as vital part of verbal thought, in other words, there is a unity of thought and social
interchange and this is a requirement of communication. And third, the existence
of a dynamic system of meaning in which the affective and the intellectual are attached (Vigotsky 1995, p.55).
In addition, the work developed by the Salvadorian Jesuit and psychologist Ignacio Martn-Bar (1983, 1984, 1986, 1990) constitutes a fundamental referent in our
task as a research group. We share his reflections and concern about what war does
to people and in the relations among groups, as well as his proposal for liberation
psychology when he stated: we need to reconsider our theoretical and practical


background, but to reconsider it from the existence of our own people, their suffering, their aspirations and struggles (Martn-Bar 1986, p.225).
In his text Towards a liberation psychology, Martn-Bar (1996) considers that
psychology must establish a new horizon because, although psychology has been
clear about the need of personal liberation, it still must recognize the need to break
with social oppression. Moreover, in Latin America psychologists must change the
way they seek knowledge, by getting ourselves involved in a new praxis, a reality
transforming activity. And that implies recognizing the problem of power.
The Martin-Bar identifies three urgent tasks for this psychology. First of all:
The recovery of historical memory.() It has to do with recovering not only the sense of
ones own identity, and the pride of belonging to a people, but also a reliance on a tradition
and a culture, and above all, of rescuing those aspects of identity which served yesterday,
and will served today, for liberation. Thus, the recovery of a historical memory supposes the
reconstruction of models of identification that, instead of chaining and caging the people,
open up the horizon for them, toward their liberation and fulfillment. (p.30)

The second task consists in contributing to deideologize everyday experience.

To de-ideologize means to retrieve the original experience of groups and persons, and return
it to them as objective data. People can use the data to formally articulate a the consciousness of their own reality, and by so doing verify the validity of acquired knowledge. This
process of de-ideologizing common sense must be realized as much as possible through
critical participation in the life of the poorer people, a participation that represents a certain
departure from the predominant forms of research and analysis. (p.31)

Finally, the third task is to work to foster the virtues of our peoples, in a praxis
engaged with the suffering and hopes of Latin American peoples (Martn-Bar
1986, p.230).
This praxis led in 1989 a group of Latin American and North American professionals dedicated to the study of the psychological consequences of State war
and violence, to the foundation of the Red de Salud Mental y Derechos Humanos
(Mental Health and Human Rights Network) during a congress of the Interamerican
Psychology Society. It has been reported2 that among the founders were Ignacio
Martn-Bar from El Salvador, Elizabeth Lira from Chile, Maritza Montero from
Venezuela, Brinton Lykes from the USA, and Juan Jorge Faria from Argentina.
Another perspective shared by some of the members of the research group Social
ties and Cultures of Peace is social constructionism, with Kenneth Gergen (1985,
1994, 1996), as one of its representatives. He radicalized Vigotskyan thought about
the social origin of language and consciousness, a proposal that can be traced in the
German Ideology of Marx, as the psychologist Antonio Crego Daz (2003) reminds
Language is as old as consciousness; language is the practical consciousness, the real consciousness that also exists for the other men and, as such, exists to oneself; and language
is born, as the consciousness is, from the necessity of the urges exchange with other men.


Another perspective that has oriented the work of some members of our group has
been referred in our first document (2003) by Ballesteros etal. who asserted that:
from the current perspective of Behaviour Analysis, the social dimension is constituted by the group of practices of an individual or a group, which have a conventional character; that is, those practices are constituted in the interpersonal interaction (social). Hence, it is understood that practices have a dynamic nature in which
group idiosyncrasies and individual history converge.
As a fundamental basis to the understanding of what is human, the interactive
principle goes beyond the idea that for the behavioural approach the social is limited
to reactions from individuals isolated from their context (Watsons behaviourism).
To Behaviour Analysis, the social and the psychological are coextensive and interactive, and occur thanks to the mediation of a group of contextual factors, such
as ecological, political, economic and ideological conditions. As a result, culture
is understood as the interactive field in which rules and associated practices exist
sustained by contingency relations, this is, functional relations pertinent to the psychological approach.
Diverse authors have contributed important theories and investigations to this
field. For instance, Biglan (1995) proposes a science of cultural change practice,
taking into account that in order to solve issues in any society, it is necessary to
change those actions typical of certain groups and organizations, police, army, political institutions, or social service agencies, among others.
Similarly, both Skinner in Walden Two (1962), and Mattaini (2002) refer to
Ghandi as an example of non-violence aimed to make cultural changes opposing
the passive acceptation of the dominant social order. Mattaini (2002) even proposes
a science of non-violent social change. The community of Los Horcones (2007) in
Mexico, explicitly states:
Our objective was and still is to design and develop, here and now, a society or culture alternative to the current dominant one. This alternative culture is based on principles of cooperation, equality, pacifism (non-violence), sharing and, ecological respect. In few words, the
objective of Los Horcones is to build a humanist communitarian society in which each person may develop his/her own potential as a unique individual, and help others to achieve it.

As a whole, the group has a special interest in political psychology and we, as Montero (1991) does, understand it as a psychology for social transformation. Therefore,
we consider that research in this discipline must be historically, culturally, socially,
economically, and geographically contextualized. We assume along with Montero
that the psychologist role () is mainly to be an agent of social change engaged
with a social project that seeks freedom, justice, equality, democracy, and respect
for human rights (p.38). Likewise, we share the authors approach stating that the
fundamental object of study of political psychology, locates the emphasis on those
phenomena that the historical development of our societies has pointed out as our
psychopolitical problems par excellence (p.39).


Studies and Experiences: Approaches to the Cultures of

Peace in Colombia
The group was created in 2001; by 2002, we had found publications about Culture
of Peace in the field of social sciences covering the period, 19972001, in Colombia, the predominance of conceptualizations referring to peace in positive terms.
They highlighted the importance of creating conditions leading to justice and to the
absence of structural and direct violence. Most of the definitions related peace to
development, democracy, and to the satisfaction of basic needs. Furthermore, the
definitions presented in those texts opened the possibility for citizens to assume an
active role in its construction.
Experiences regarding peace in Colombia, reported before 2002, gave us important clues for psychological research perspectives, thus cooperating and playing
a role in the construction of Cultures of Peace. In relation to that view, Hernndez
(2002) states that in Colombia, men and women from peasant, black, and indigenous communities, frequently accompanied by the Church and international community representatives have, silently and unarmed, contributed to the construction
of local peace. They have triggered processes of citizen participation, resisting
violence from the armed conflict, many times even at the expense of their own lives.
They made the decision of not to bear weapons and not to cooperate with armed
actors. They taught us that the construction of peace is possible without resorting to
the use of violence, even under crossfire.
Hernndez establishes that probably the first experiences of resistance began in
the 1970s with the CRIC (an Indigenous movement from Cauca). This organization
fought against structural violence and subsequently was the origin of the experiences of civil resistance such as the Nasa Project in 1980, the experience of Jambal
in 1988, and that of the community La Mara in 1989. Later, and from another scenario, in Antoquia, 1994, the active neutrality of the indigenous organization was
Rural communities had developed various peace initiatives such as: the
Association of Peasant Workers of Carare (ATCC), in Santander, 1987; the Popular
Consultation of Aguachica, in the Cesar Department in 1995, and the experience of
Riachuelo in the municipality of Charal, Department of Santander in 1997. There
was also the Municipal Constituent Assembly of Mogotes in 1998, the Communities
in Self-determination, Life, and Dignity (CAVIDA) in Cacarica, 1998; the experience
of Samaniego in Nario, 1998, and the experience of Pensilvania, in Caldas, 1998.
Sarmiento (2011), educator of the Program of Development and Peace from
Magdalena Medio, has said that an educative strategy for working in zones in conflict involves thinking education as a process of construction of the meaning of life;
and this implies building that life from social relationships. The program proposes
empowerment, conceptualized as the endowment of power and capacity to decide,
to lead, and to execute autonomously the desired life and social order.
On the other hand, National Secretariat of the Catholic Church Social Pastoral and Peace Program-Cinep, are convinced that work with and for the victims



of conflict in the country is a priority challenge and a moral obligation within a

strategy of Culture of Peace. In this vein, he developed a program directed to the
social pastoral groups, to community leaders of displaced people, and to NGOs,
with the purpose of contributing to the development of relations of coexistence, to
change attitudes about the Colombian situation, and to promote commitments to
peace (Garcia and Meja 2009).
Afrocolombian communities, resisting the pressure and displacement provoked
by the armed actors, were organized as Communities of Peace of Urab in Antioquia and Choc in 19981999. Moreno and Mena (2000), educators of the project
CINEP3 with Communities of peace in Urab, analyzed the accompaniment given
by the program, and concluded that the intervention became educative when peasants began to respect themselves and others. At the same time the peasants increased
their capacity to act and reflect on their concrete reality. That allowed the communities to construct a new way of coexistence in the middle of conflict, in a responsible
way, coherently with their community and natural environment. Space to listen to
the other opened the doors to accept the others legitimacy. That acceptance consisted of relating to others and acknowledging their difference. Subsequently, the
CINEP included psychosocial accompaniment in its mission as a way for displaced
families to recover their capacity to organize and to work.

Research Challenges
The study of community work and experiences in social sciences at that moment
presented us with some research challenges; one of them in the field of political
peace attainment, regarding armed conflict negotiations.

Changes in the Meaning of War, Negotiation and Peace

We found several possible fields of inquiry. The first refers to the role of civil society in this process. Some authors expressed the necessity of their active participation in pressing for negotiation. However, this requires the promotion of a change
in public opinion concerning meanings about the negotiation process of political
peace and, beyond that, a deep change in mentalities. The generalized atmosphere
of authoritarianism, at all levels, is an obvious part of Colombian society; there are
many pressures, as well as demands from various social sectors asking for forceful options, increases in coercion and pushing for the eradication of the enemy in a
vigorous and rapid way (Sacipa etal. 2005).
Many Colombians, anguished and made desperate by violence, by the numerous
wounds that the armed confrontation has brought to their families, have become

Center of Investigation and Popular Education, founded in 1972 by the Jesuits.



polarized, profoundly divided and dream of a quick resolution by way of weapons,

with the immediate termination of war through the total annihilation of the other,
the enemy.
Over the years, feelings of sorrow, rage, and tiredness produced by the prolonged
armed conflict, have accumulated. Those feelings combined with the lack of a sensible authority able to settle conflicts by way of negotiation and reconciliation, have
promoted confusion between sensible authority and authoritarianism, and have led
many Colombians to choose the latter.
Given this, one goal is to initiate a process whereby civil society may be willing
to exert pressure on the various armed and unarmed actors who have some connection with the ongoing internal conflict so that actors finally begin a serious negotiation process. To this end, we should ask: What are the meanings of peace and how
are the meanings of peace constructed by Colombians? And if the hypothesis about
authoritarianism is confirmed, what could be the processes to mobilize those meanings towards the construction of cultures of peace in Colombia?
The production and circulation of meanings relative to the polarization of the
conflict moved ordinary citizens to think of themselves as a subject able to build
cultures of peace. One challenge is how to mobilize in peoples thoughts the meanings attached to polarization so that political negotiation becomes a desirable state.
Other challenges are: to investigate how to mobilize the meanings that bind us to
war, in order to construct meanings that bind us to life, and to question the ways
to transform personal and collective behaviors conducive to the destruction of the
other, in order to turn them into socially binding and constructive behaviours. Beristain (1999) proposes to make visible the urgency to recover words that help to
revive a weakened social fabric, marked by strong cultural uprooting, to contribute
to changing personal and collective dispositions. That is, to change the attitudes that
throughout our historical construction as a nation, have lead us to armed conflict,
looking for alternatives according to what UNESCO (1999) has expressed in the
following terms: It should be asked how to make real the great challenge posed
at this end of century: to initiate the transition from a culture of war to a culture of
peace (UNESCO 1999, p.18).

Conflict Resolution
A challenge for social sciences, psychology included, certainly is posed by finding
how to hurry up the transformation of Colombians ways of thinking about how to
deal with conflicts. Bruner (1990) states that the feasibility of a culture stems from
its capacity to solve conflicts, to explain differences, and to renegotiate community
meanings. Also, Zuleta (1980) emphasizes the importance for Colombian society
of learning how to live in a peaceful way, without expecting absence of conflict,
without negating it, but by acknowledging its existence.
As many historians have pointed out, human relations have been marked by war
throughout history. War has imprinted its traces in the psyche, in the ways to relate
with others, in the construction of bonds, and in social dynamics. However, this



is not a peculiarity of the Colombian people; it is known that the whole world is
marked by a history of violence. Even so, it is also very striking how some peoples
have achieved democratic developments through social movements that have distanced themselves from authoritarianism.
It is vital that people in diverse social sectors understand, first, the responsibility
of the diverse actors in the current situation. There is here a question directed to our
discipline, and also to sociology, to anthropology, and to political science about how
to promote transformations, changes in social groups and in people, so that responsibilities that have not been historically assumed are assumed, through a movement
going from negation to recognition. It is about ethic enabling and guiding Columbian leaders in their assumptions regarding armed conflict and responsible actions
that lead the nation toward conflict resolution.
Some questions that arise from the above are: How to generate the ethical transformation of those who have consistently produced economic, social, and political
exclusion in Colombia; and those who have not created favorable conditions for
a just and dignified life for all Colombians? And, how to promote a change in the
position of those who, while pretending to defend the Colombian people, plunge
them into grief, reproducing negative values such as exclusion, disrespect for life
and annihilation of the other?

Creating Inclusion
From our disciplinary and indeed interdisciplinary perspectives, we question: What
transformations must be generated in people and in social groups in order to form
new social ties to build inclusive cultures? How to transform cultural exclusion into
multiple inclusions of cultural diversities? How to include all Colombians in just,
dignified and humane life conditions? Which processes could make decision-makers able to include all social sectors in economic development, so that the poorest
could enjoy economic welfare ensuring sustainable social peace?
Zuluaga and Pizarro (1999) state that social actors and conflict actors perceive
peace in different ways. We wonder how to achieve movements in leadership and
in public opinion in a way that they could transform their understanding of peace
as the end of war, and create a context of peace in relation to profound economic
and social reforms? We also wonder how to achieve an understanding in insurgent
groups and the different armed actors to enable them to see demobilization of war
and suspension of violence as determinant factors for an adequate implementation
of these reforms?

Promote the Respect for Life, the Recovery of the Word and Plurality
The illegal armed forces recruit many youngsters who have been raised in domestic
violence and who have suffered unmentionable maltreatment in their early child-



hood. In this text, we wonder how to promote healthy and kind family environments where children are brought up in such a way as to be capable of valuing and
respecting life.
From the warmongering attitude of those who provoke armed conflict new
aspects for enquiry emerge: What is the foundation from where Colombians selfimage should be renewed? How to promote the development of people who, from a
healthy self-esteem, can creatively come in contact with the different Other? What
kind of individual and collective changes are required to allow us to devalue the use
of force and to recover words as motivators for relationships among people, groups,
and social sectors?
In the domain of formal education and for the sake of encouraging plurality and
openness in the different aspects of social life, we wonder how to promote school
environments and teachers who teach children to develop complex thoughts, and
therefore begin to visualize the diverse edges of our social, political, economic, and
cultural reality; children with the capacity to creatively appreciate and engage with
cultural and personal differences.

Complexity of the Challenges

It is urgent to work for peace in Colombia at a time when the social fabric is more
fractured than ever and when hope is diminishing with each day. The experiences of
the peace communities, of initiatives and experiences of peace and civil resistance
have shown us ways to pursue peace and social responsibility. Indeed, peaceful
processes in the field of popular organization, citizen participation, and community
empowerment demonstrate the amazing human capacity to renew hope and shed
light on the immense possibilities for social reconstruction.
Psychosocial accompaniment has also shown the urgency to investigate channels to generate conditions to facilitate mourning produced by war, to give new
meanings to painful experiences produced by political violence, validation of the
expression of anger, fear-handling in order to stop paralysis and to recover the
capacity for social mobilization and even for forgiveness. While not forgetting
the past, it is urgent to move toward loving oneself, putting aside feelings of vengeance, and gaining the capacity to lovingly construct peace-promoting social relations.
As Fisas (1987) states, research about peace is long-term because it seeks to provoke changes in societies behaviours, in line with the objectives of peace and social
justice. It is a prolonged work that attempts to go deep into the structure of societies
and to produce significant changes in the cultural sphere.
Research in this field is highly complex and implies concerted, determined, and
supportive efforts from professional teams motivated by a profound conviction in
human capacity to transform and construct social life. Considering what UNESCO
(1999) says about peace building: it is founded on intellectual and ethical humanity
and solidarity.



These are the research challenges that as a group we established 8 years ago and
still have today.
Acknowledgments The author is grateful to Mark Burton and Maritza Montero who did an
excellent revision of the English version of this paper.

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Historical Data About the Colombian

Stella Sacipa-Rodriguez

19471957: Political violence between the Liberal and Conservative parties.

1950: Beginnings of the guerrilla group founded by Manuel Marulanda in the
western part of the country.
1953: Peasant movement led by Juan de la Cruz Varela.
19541957: Military operations against the resistance movement.
19581965: Pacification operations promoted by the National Front governments.
19641965: Foundation of the Colombian Armed Revolutionary Forces (FARC,
Spanish acronym), the National Liberation Army (ELN, Spanish acronym), and
the Popular Liberation Army (EPL, Spanish acronym).
1968: Signing of Law 48, in order to counteract communist insurgent movements.
Self-Defense groups authorized, and supported by the official army.
1970: Foundation of Movement 19 april (M-19 Spanish acronym).
1981: Drug traffickers create the Death to Kidnappers group (MAS, Spanish
1994: Peasants Self-Defense groups appear in Crdoba and Uraba (ACCU, Spanish acronym) regions. They become the base for the future United Self-Defense
of Colombia (AUC, Spanish acronym).
19861990: ACCU and AUC groups are responsible for multiple massacres and
multiple selective murders of social and political leaders, including the genocide of the Patriotic Union political opposition party.
19891990: Three presidential candidates are killed by drug traffickers and the
1990: Signing of the peace agreement between the national government and the
1985March 2013: 5,405,629 victims of armed conflict.
1986March 2013: 4,700,000 5,700,000 forcibly displaced persons.

Pontifical Javeriana University, Str 59 #5817 101,
Bogota 111321, Colombia
S. Sacipa-Rodriguez, M. Montero (eds.), Psychosocial Approaches to Peace-Building in
Colombia, Peace Psychology Book Series 25,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-04549-8_2, Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014




1992: The Pepes (Persecuted by Pablo Escobar) group was created by the Calis
19952005: FARC becomes a more powerful armed movement through a war of
1997: Carlos Castao consolidates the United Self-Defense of Colombia (AUC) as
a paramilitary organization against guerrillas.
2003: Demobilization processes are initiated.
2005: The Law of Justice and Peace of AUC is signed to facilitate paramilitarys
demobilization and reincorporation to society.
2007: Criminal groups organized by paramilitary members have been affecting
250 municipalities since that year.
20062011: 150 members of the Colombian Congress, 25 governors and 60 majors are investigated for parapolitics.
1983March 2013: 2,087 massacres, the majority committed by paramilitary
19852012: 2,628 indigenous people killed.
1997May 2013: 115,000 forcibly displaced indigenous people.
19962011: 12,529 kidnappings (the majority committed by FARC and ELN guerrillas).
19902012: 9,000 civilian and military people have been affected or killed by
explosive objects.
19902012: 2,994 syndicalists have been murdered.
19902012: 3,000 mayors, councilors and local officials have been murdered.
19902012: 137 journalists have been murdered.
19902012: 150,000 extrajudicial executions have happened.
19902012: 50,891 people have been disappeared.
19902012: More than 22,655 have been buried as NN, and thousands of people
have been incinerated and thrown out into rivers.
2002May 2013: 1,432 cases of aggression and threats, and 299 murders against
human rights defenders.
5,405,629 victims of armed conflict recorded in the Care Unit and Reparation for
Victims of the National Government to March 31, 2013.

Avila, A. F. (2008). FARC: Dinmica reciente de la guerra. Arcanos, 11(14), 423. http://www. Accessed 10
Dec 2012.
Banco de Datos de Derechos Humanos y Violencia Poltica del Centro de Investigacin y Educacin Popular. (2012). Accessed 12
Dec 2012.
Centro Nacional de Memoria Histrica. (2012). BASTA YA! Colombia: memorias de guerra y
Accessed 10 Dec 2012.

Historical Data About the Colombian ViolenceStrife


CODHES. (2012, March). Desplazamiento creciente y crisis humanitaria invisibilizada. CODHES

INFORMA: Boletn de la Consultora para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento. Bogot,
Quito. 79.
creciente_y_crisis_humanitaria_invisibilizada_Marzo_2012.pdf?view=1. Accessed 10 Dec 2012.
Fondelibertad. (2012). Fondelibertad. Accessed 10 Dec 2012
Fundacin Pas Libre. (2012). Fundacin pas libre. Accessed 10
Dec 2012.
Fundacin para la Libertad de Prensa. (2012). Fundacin para la libertad de prensa (FLIP). http:// Accessed 10 Dec 2012.
Gonzalez, J. J., & Marulanda, E. (1990). Historias de frontera: Colonizacin y guerras en el
Sumapaz. Bogot: CINEP.
Instituto Nacional de Medicina Legal y Ciencias Forenses. (2012). Registro nacional de personas
desparecidas. Accessed 10 Dec 2012.
Presidencia de la Repblica. (2012). Observatorio de derechos humanos y derecho internacional
humanitario. Accessed 10 Dec 2012.
Presidencia de la Repblica. (2012). Programa Presidencial para la accin integral contraminas. Accessed 10 Dec 2012.
Revista Semana. (2013). Proyecto victimas.
index.html. Accessed 5 June 2013.
Romero, M. (2006). Paramilitares, narcotrfico y contrainsurgencia: Una experiencia para no
repetir. In F. L. Buitrago (Ed.) En la encrucijada: Colombia en el siglo XXI. Bogot: Grupo
Editorial Norma.
Romero, M., & Arias, A. A. (2008). Bandas criminales, seguridad democrtica y corrupcin.
Arcanos 11(14), 4051.
ARCANOS_14.pdf. Accessed 10 Dec 2012.
Somos Defensores. (2012) Sistema de informacin sobre agresiones a defensores y defensoras de
derechos humanos en Colombia. Accessed 10 Dec 2012.
Vargas, A. (2006). Guerra o solucin negociada. Bogot: Intermedio.

Part II

Peace-Building in Colombia

Peace Cultures and Cultural Practices in

Blanca Patricia Ballesteros de Valderrama

This chapter presents a behavioural analysis perspective on cultural practices related
to peace processes in Colombia. Cultural practices are understood as shared behaviours selected and maintained by their functional/contingent relations that reinforce
social conditions inside groups and their aggregate products. Conceptual debates
about the terms metacontingency and macrocontingency are discussed, as well
as their usefulness in understanding cultural practices. These terms are then applied
to the current Colombian socio-political situation. Various social actors working in
favour of peace cultures in Colombia are also described, with an emphasis on the
need for more conjoined and contingent relationships.
I have previously written several articles pointing out the value of behaviour
analysis in the field of cultural practices. This value is based on the theoretical
and methodological features of behaviour analysis, its emphasis on individual cases
(person, group, institution, community), and its coherent and integral conceptualization of the human being (Ballesteros de Valderrama 2002; Ballesteros de Valderrama etal. 2003). There have also been many discussions about current individual
and cultural levels of analysis (Biglan 1995; Glenn 1988; Guerin 1994; Houmanfar
and Rodrigues 2006; Lamal 1997; Sandaker 2006) as theoretical advances have
led to a better understanding of social phenomena. Here I consider the relevance of
such analysis of the peace processes in Colombia.
Once the functional relations and the surrounding conditions involved in our
behaviour have been identified, the interdependence of people and their natural and
social world becomes clear. In this way, when we analyse the prevailing processes
in Colombian culture, we begin to understand why it has been identified as a violent
According to behaviour analysis, generalized aversive or coercive control in different contexts contributes to a synonymous understanding of control and coercion.
Once such equivalence is established, it is not difficult to accept control as a necessary coercive social factor. Similarly, conflict has been culturally established as a

B.P.Ballesteros de Valderrama()
Pontifical Javeriana University, Bogot, Colombia
S. Sacipa-Rodriguez, M. Montero (eds.), Psychosocial Approaches to Peace-Building in
Colombia, Peace Psychology Book Series 25,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-04549-8_3, Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014



B. P. Ballesteros de Valderrama

negative event instead of as a natural component of human relations. Consequently,

conflict is seen as something to avoid (see Galtung 1990, 1998).
Behaviour as a functional class instead of an isolated event involves the concept
of functional/contingent relations. As a technical term, it places behaviour as a functional event in a set of historical and contextual factors. Contingency is a relational
term. It refers to an interdependent and conditional relationship that allows for particular behavioural patterns in individuals, interpersonal relations, groups, institutions, and nations. For example, terms used to describe these behavioural patterns
in psychology and other social sciences include personality, cultural practice, and
national character (Marr 2006).

Macrocontingency and Metacontingency: Conceptual

Variability and Socio-Political Conflict
Metacontingency is a concept I find useful for the analysis of the Colombian sociopolitical situation. The term was formulated by Glenn (1988) in order to refer to the
third level of selection contingencies described by B. F. Skinnercultural practices
selection (the first level being phylogenetic species features selection, and the
second level being ontogeneticindividual behaviour repertoires selection). According to Glenn (1988, 2004), a metacontingency describes the relationship between interlocking behavioural contingencies, its aggregate product and the receptor system (e.g. an organization or social group). Interlocking behavioural contingencies are characterized by the relationship between behaviour and consequence,
where the behaviour of one person functions as the antecedent for the behaviour of
another person. From this perspective, the interlocking behavioural contingencies
are selected. In contrast, according to Houmanfar and Rodrigues (2006), the aggregate product would be selected. In such a case, the first contingency term includes
policies, social rules, and competencies, among other factors.
For these authors, the aggregate product cannot be completely reduced to behavioural analytic terms. However, interlocking behavioural contingencies can be
broken down in this way. In a cultural analysis, an explicit analysis of interlocking
behavioural contingencies is not pertinent, because individual behaviours are not
contingent upon them. This leads us to question the concepts theoretical status, as
well as the conceptual analysis advocated by Skinner. By definition, products or results of human behaviour are not independent from the behaviour itself. This means
that they are part of a functional unit, regardless of the specific topographies of the
individual or group actions. However, although the third level of selection includes
the second level of selection, this does not imply that the explanation at the third
level is reducible to the second level. Instead, behavioural principles are maintained
at each individual level.
Malott and Glenn (2006) present two reasons to explain the concept of metacontingency: (1) it involves contingent relations analogous to operant contingencies,
and (2) it includes many operant contingencies. As Todorov (2006) has said, the

Peace Cultures and Cultural Practices in Colombia


concept of metacontingency is a new tool that may broaden our understanding of

cultural practices. Ulman (2004, 2006) considers the term macrocontingency to be
more appropriate than metacontingency.The latter suggests a discontinuity between
contingent relations involving individual actions and those involving the actions of
others. The prefix macro-, however, alludes to a continuum between micro- and
According to Ulman, it is important to analyse competitive or conflictive contingencies in organizations and other institutional arrangements. This author defines
macrocontingency as the conjoint actions of many people under a common consequential control. Selection occurs as a result of consequences, which is compatible
with behaviourist and evolutionist perspectives (see also Ulman 1978). Correlated
actions of various individuals can be of different levels of complexity and organization. This is the result of contextual conditions, but is not dependent on the number
of people. According to Ulman (2006), the concept of metacontingency defined by
Glenn can be seen as one possible arrangement of a macrocontingent relation .
Glenn and Malott define macrocontingency as the relationship between a cultural practice and the cumulative consequences of this practice within the culture,
without interlocking behavioural contingencies (Glenn 2004; Glenn and Malott
2004; Malott and Glenn 2006). It seems useful to differentiate between the social
product of many people doing similar things independently (e.g. obesity as a social
problem), and the product of interlocking behavioural contingencies, or the conjoined actions of more than one person (Glenns original definition).
Another meaning of macrocontingency includes the evaluation and valuing of
social systems. Macrocontingency involves social regulation practices, and the behavioural effects of these practices, relative to individuals and the group. Macrocontingency analysis includes the correspondence, or lack thereof, between explicit
and implicit valuing practices in any social interaction (Ribes 1993). In a previous
article, an analogy of this definition of macrocontingency and of Glenns definition
of metacontingency was given (Ballesteros etal. 2003). However, I now believe
that a more precise use of the terms is necessary for a conceptual analysis.
Mattaini (2007) supports the proposal by Houmanfar and Rodrigues (2006) that
the selection process must be clearly articulated in the definition of the metacontingency and the macrocontingency. This definition should be analogous to the behavioural contingency within the model of selection by consequences. Mattaini points
out two important issues: (1) contingencies cannot be both the causes and the outcomes of selection, and (2) any definition of metacontingency must involve a class
of potentially manipulable variables. Whatever the prefix (micro-, meta-, macro-),
it must clearly involve contingent relations, it must state what is selected, and it
must state what the demonstrated or hypothesized selecting consequences might be.
Contingencies involved in violent social contexts (family, neighbourhood, institution, or community) are related to coercive control (practices of danger, menace,
threat, punishment, etc.). These contingencies are responsible for behavioural patterns such as escape, avoidance, or counter-control of many types. Both basic and
applied research has demonstrated the undesirable consequences of these kinds of


B. P. Ballesteros de Valderrama

contingencies. For example, the effects of limiting learning potentials and of facilitating behavioural rigidity are known.
It seems clear that Colombian poverty and misery indices are related to the extreme conditions that force people to the brink of survival. However, aggressive
and violent behaviours are not the only products of coercive contingencies. Other
related responses include submission, depression, psychological inflexibility, hate,
and sickness (Sidman 1989; Martn-Bar 1990, 2003), as well as positive countercontrol (e.g. pro-peace actions) and resilience.
As many authors and social agencies have shown, the slow decline of the Colombian poverty index perpetuates the difficult socio-economic situation. Extreme
poverty has reached 17.8% and the Gini coefficient has grown two points in 5 years
(from 0.57 in 2003 to 0.59 in 2008). According to periodic reports of the Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ) regarding violations of human rights, the sociopolitical situation continues to be a concern (Garay 2002a, b; Medina Gallego 2009;
Romero 2003; Romero 2007; Rubio 1999).
Different analysts have emphasized the governments inadequate management.
Rather than focusing on human rights, current federal practices to fight social inequity look to serve political beneficiaries (Daz Gmez etal. 2009; Uprimny Yepes
2009; Uprimny Yepes etal. 2006). The high level of acceptance and support for the
past president are indicative of these practices (Alvaro Uribe Vlez, who governed
from 20022010). Similarly, the official discourse seeks the establishment of security as a social priority,regardless of what must be done to achieve that end.
In contrast to the official discourse, the impact of the socio-political violence
(defined as a set of actions committed by guerrillas, counter-guerrillas, narco-traffickers, and state agents, against life and personal and social integrity/freedom) has
been made evident in different studies and has been exhibited in places like the
World Social Forum. Many efforts have been made to generate a well-informed
public opinion about the real situation in Colombia. However, in its presentation of
the Democratic Security Statute, the government states that engaging in the legitimate right of political protest is equivalent to threatening the stability of the State
and its institutions. As such, political opposition can be defined as terrorism. According to the official discourse, the Democratic Security Policy must be adopted.
Therefore, any person or group that criticizes this policy can be marked as an enemy
of the Nation. Paradoxically, to make matters worse, the government persistently
denies that this situation is problematic. This is an example of a metacontingency,
where the aggregate product is the convenience of avoiding the responsibility for
creating and maintaining the violent conditions of the socio-political conflict.
Other contradictions must also be included. For example, there is a disproportionate financial investment in armed forces resources as compared to social welfare. Also, there are many discrepancies within the diverse pronouncements about
the Law of Justice and Peace with respect to the treatment of and assistance to people experiencing forced displacement as compared to unarmed self-defence agents
(paramilitary groups).
Many political analysts agree that the situation in Colombia can be identified
as an armed conflict as defined by the Humanitarian International Right (HIR).

Peace Cultures and Cultural Practices in Colombia


It features confrontations between the State and dissident armed actors, with distinct territorial control, sustained military actions, and an ongoing intensity. This,
of course, is a juridical classification with its correspondent Right. The International Jurists Commission and the Human Rights Observatory (among others), have
pointed out that by denying the conflict and declaring the dissidents as terrorists, the
government effectively minimized its need to adhere to the HIR; and it also denied
other fundamental rights.
As such, the civil population immunity principle has been omitted. It is well
documented that, instead of having been specially protected, citizens have been
the target of many actions against their fundamental rights. At the same time, they
have been involved in the conflict by the Pro-peace cooperating network in Colombia, commanded by the National Army. As a contingency motivational system,
this has contributed to even more social polarization. It also serves to legitimize the
antiterrorist discourse, to justify war actions without considering the hows, and to
validate qualifying language with the sole result of maintaining the vicious cycle of
violence. The extreme and intense actions of the conflicting parties have impacted
on civil society, the human rights organizations, the academy and the international
The micro- and macrocontingencies of the Democratic Security Policy have to
be carefully analysed in order to understand how the inconsistent justification of
government policy affects the larger culture. On one hand, both the citizens and
the Public Forces believe in the constitutional principle of solidarity. On the other
hand, they also recognize that criticism and protest are warranted when the State
applies rigorous punishment and fights against impunity. However, the juridical
system and the Public Forces institutions cannot be maintained in accordance with
explicit ethical parameters and a commitment to transparency. As a result, confidence in the official discourse warranting protection to opponents has been lost
due to the equivalence between democracy and security, and at the same time, the
language of war, including enemy extermination, in a context that combines Public
Forces ethics, professionalization, and improved efficiency. According to that government, this is dependent upon the ability of illegal armed organizations to admit
that violence is not the way. This is, of course, a counterevident argument which
is functioning to challenge the escalation of violence that has been seen in recent
armed groups attacks.
It is clear then that the discrepancy between the discourse of peace and the actions of war has contributed to maintain the socio-political conflict, and that there is
a kind of resistance to recognizing the obvious detrimental effects of war.

An Issue of Human Action

It is important to consider how the socio-political violence in Colombia has been reified due to the linguistic practice of abandoning the language of action and instead
adopting a substantive language. Reifications consequences have been emphasized


B. P. Ballesteros de Valderrama

by behaviour theorists for many years (Kantor 1922/1971; Skinner 1974), and their
pertinence to this chapter is related to the issue of the responsibility for the facts. To
talk about violence instead of about violent actions is to separate behavioural events
from their results or products, as if those actions directly responsible for violence
were independent of human behaviour. Kantor (1937/1971) made it clear that such
dualistic thinking is an obstacle to understanding human problems which cannot be
separated from human behaviour.
In the same vein, peace as the alternative to violence must also be understood as
a class of human behaviour, that is, peace cultural practices. The reification of this
idea connotes utopian thought. As a result of inaction this notion appears impossible, which stems from the sense that behaviour and outcome can be separated.
One alternative counter to reification is to consider violence as an adjective of
concrete actions or as the product of practices based on menace and coercion. In
this case, it can be analysed as a macrocontingency, as understood by Glenn (2004):
violence is a social problem because it is the product of the cultural practices of a
significant number of people. In fact, violence has been defined as a public health
problem in Colombian Mental Health Policy. However, Mattaini (2007) offers a
cautionary reminder that the aggregate productviolence as a social problem
must be contingently related to behaviours conforming a cultural practice. That is to
say, a reciprocal impact or feedback loop should exhibit a selection by consequences. I believe the social problem is not only a product or result but also a contingent/
functional relation with complex effects on particular cultures and on society. If this
were not the case, social reactions to such a product or result could not be analysed
in functional analytic terms.
Related to the consequences of reification is the long history of socio-political
violence in Colombia (Fals Borda 1996; Garay Salamanca etal. 2007), translated
as the prevalence of coercive social control methods. In his book about coercion,
Sidman (1989) describes the principal concepts of behavioural processes related to
these types of control, which are unfortunately maintained by human societies. He
recognizes that if, as humans, we continue to privilege this kind of interaction, the
future of humanity will be less and less viable.
It is difficult to imagine a different social functioning in a time when social coercion prevails. Unfortunately social organizations seem to have ignored or to be
unaware of the findings of behaviour analysts which warn against social coercion
and instead promote alternative ways of social control (Ballesteros de Valderrama
2000; Mattaini 2003, 2006; Mattaini and Addams 2001; Mattaini and McGuire
2006). In this respect, it is worth mentioning other theoretical perspectives that are
compatible with this line of thinking: Arendt (1987), Freire (2004), Galtung (1998),
Habermas (2003), Lederach (1998), and Martn-Bar (2003).
In Colombia, the school context has been considered the proper venue to educate
new generations in the principles related to peace cultures. One strategy has been
the promotion of human rights education. According to Gmez-Esteban (2009),
however, such education has been mixed with moral education, education for democracy, and peace education, without any conceptual coherence. This has had a
detrimental effect on the political and juridical dimensions of human rights as they

Peace Cultures and Cultural Practices in Colombia


are seen as the only dimensions that make a critical view of these rights possible
(see also Gmez 2005). It is not clear how an ethical perspective can be an obstacle
to political and juridical dimensions of critical analysis. On the contrary, in accordance with a functional analytic perspective, cultural practices as social processes
have to be studied in an integrated way, all dimensions includedethical, political,
juridical, and economical. Contextual, relational, and field approaches are compatible with recognizing this issue when talking about social phenomena as inseparable
from human behaviour.

Cultural Practices and Social Movements

The difficulty of cultural change is evident but it is important to maintain an optimistic vision and a commitment to positive relational patterns based on reciprocity, as previously described by others (Ballesteros 2002). To accept difficulty is to
understand that resistance to change stems from maintaining original contingencies (Embry 2004; Mattaini 2006). There are complex psychological processes of
sensibilization/socialization related to the value of human life and the practices of
fundamental rights like truth, justice, and equity. Until now, isolated efforts by psychologists and other social and political scientists have not had the necessary impact
on social, government, and power institutions. Public policies must be effectively
applied in order to surpass the current conditions which qualify as a humanitarian
crisis. Many social movements in Colombia attempt to modify these violence conditions but, unfortunately, there is still much hard work to do.
The first peace community was created in 1997 in San Jos de Apartad, where
in 2004 the Peasant University began a project in which they shared experiences of
the communities that have resisted war and which have been permanently threatened by armed groupsthat is why it has the name of Resistance University (Ruiz
There have been a variety of proposals in education under the name of peace
education.There is a notable contrast between those proposals consistent with
the traditional Western school system and those maintaining the culture of ethnic
groups. The latter are more compatible with reciprocal principles and integral social processes. According to these proposals, school is not seen as an institution
that is independent of the community, but rather, the community itself is a context
for learning through all of the daily activities. Descriptions of these educational
systems evoke that which is described in Walden Two (Skinner 1974) based on the
active, creative, and transformative paths to knowledge (see also Skinner 1988).
Unfortunately, in Colombia Skinners proposals have been interpreted as materialistic theories, emphasizing the responses of passive human beings. Ignoring that,
I believe the operant subject actively participates inand is responsible forthe
educational context, as in every other social context. Contrary to what some educators have attributed to Skinner, the modification of circumstances surrounding human activity is not only dependent on a rational being. This is because the organism


B. P. Ballesteros de Valderrama

is a whole being instead of a fractioned rational or emotional individual. In this way,

the proposal for a collective cultural design should not be interpreted as an attack
against liberty, nor as homogenization, nor as the disappearance of debate and argumentation. However, it is important to note that action, rather than solely verbal
debate or argumentation, is preferred by behaviour analysts and those who assume
pragmatism as philosophy.
A peace culture relates to processes of coexistence/living together, as has been
studied in Colombia by Mockus (2001). This author refers to a gap or divorce between law, morality, and culture; the three human behaviour regulatory systems (as
the determinant of violence, corruption, and delinquency); as well as what many
people have called moral crisis. Mockus explains this in terms of the acceptance of
systematic practices of violence and corruption in almost every social context. That
means there is a social reinforcement of illegal and morally censurable behaviours.
If we apply Ribes macrocontingency definition, the valuing of a social system includes the omission of relations between ethical and political dimensions of certain
actions, as exemplified by this case.

Some Alternatives Towards Peace

To overcome this gap or divorce, the proposal by Antanas Mockus and his colleagues has been to intensify interaction as a face-to face communicative alternative
to violence. A citizen culture is established to advocate for a set of programmes
and projects directed to a conscious behavioural change. When Mockus was Major
of Bogot, the capital of Colombia, strategies were applied whose objectives included values analogous to those of peace cultures and a decision making process
analogous political activity (Mockus 2001). These strategies are similar to those
described by Garca Durn, as will be described later.
In rural areas, oppositional peasant organizations have taken action against military and paramilitary attacks related to the intentional appropriation of territories
which contain important natural resources. According to many analysts, economical interests linked to capitalist logic and to multinational enterprises have lead to
the disregard for and violation of the rights of multiple groups and communities. It
is not the objective of this chapter to detail such cases. Documents and electronic
resources are at hand in organizations like Recorre, Communities in Resistance and
Rupture Network, and Antioquian Northeast Humanitarian Action Corporation for
peace and living together, Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca (CRIC).
Research about peaceful social movements as social phenomena in Colombia
between 1978 and 2006 shows that, especially after the late 1990s, five tendencies
characterize these social mobilizations: their significant level, their massive character, their non-confrontational action style, an increasing repertoire of actions, and
national coverage. Five general peace strategies are emphasized by Garca Durn:
(1) education aimed to build consciousness in favour of a peace agenda, (2) organization directed towards pro-peace networks and the articulation and coordination

Peace Cultures and Cultural Practices in Colombia


of existing, ongoing actions, (3) political action aimed at social and political consensus regarding peace and conflict resolution in local communities and other organizations, (4) an objection to violence and the promotion of pro-peace conditions,
through actions like concentrations, marches, blockades, and strikes, (5) proactive
resistance positions in the face of armed actors and seeking protection for people
in the middle of the conflict; examples of correspondent actions are civil resistance
and peace zone declarations (Garca Durn 2006). The ongoing war conditions in
Colombia have resulted in a significant number of deaths, forced displacements,
and disappeared people. However, one can assume that these conditions would be
even worse without all these social mobilizations.

Social Dilemmas
If we agree that macrocontingencies include values whose main function is to guide
actions and to establish ethical parameters for those actions, we can interpret the
Colombian situation as one involving ethical dilemmas or value conflicts. One of
these conflicts arises from the differing interests of various groups and institutions.
According to our Political Constitution, the common good should be privileged
over individual agendas, but there is no consensus regarding the definition of the
common good. This is especially problematic when the interests of communities
and institutions are discrepant or contrary to each other. For example, a community
that has been forcefully displaced may have an interest in its own food security
and maintenance of its social boundaries. Alternatively, a commercial company
dedicated to mining is focused on its own economic interests, regardless of the humanitarian and ecological consequences to the area of exploitation. As such, these
interests are bound to collide. The analysis of contingencies can be made in the light
of Ulman (2004), who emphasized an evolutionary cultural understanding including power relations, social values, and collective action. His concept of macrocontingency as involving many individual action classes under the same consequential
control, verbal regulation, and popular perspectives included, is pertinent to this
issue because macrocontingency is an institutional component. As institutions in
Colombia play important roles they deserve to be analysed as social contingency
systems. Ribes (2006) describes three interlocked and concurrent functional dimensions of an institution: (1) power, related to the achievement of domination, (2)
interchange, related to the achievement of complementarities, and (3) sanction, related to the achievement of limits.
A normative rule, law must be obeyed, for example, refers to a control contingency (social agencies announce punishment for law disobedience), but choosing
to follow or not follow that rule must be analysed in terms of the effectiveness of
those control contingencies. This means that contingencies must be explicit not only
as ought statements, but as part of peoples lives. This is the primary concern of
a cultural analyst of social reality. Considering Colombia, it is necessary to make


B. P. Ballesteros de Valderrama

explicit all of the value judgements on which many reinforcement contingencies

preferences are based .
Many diverse theoretical perspectives are interested in the human activity of war
as a function of reinforcement contingencies. Skinner (1953, 1990) referred to the
natural reinforcement function of defeating the opponent, and Zuleta (2005), one
of the most important intellectuals in Colombia, referred to the happiness or joy
of war as a hidden but evident side of war. He thought conflict eradication was an
impossible and even undesirable goal. At the same time, he was in favour of a social
and legal space where conflicts could manifest and develop without the practices
of the opponents destroying each other. The factors that differentiate the expressed
reinforcement contingencies must be made explicit.
Power as domination is, of course, involved, making the practice of power sharing a priority. Contingency analysis and relational frame theory allow for the understanding of the solemn words mentioned by Zuleta: honour, patriotism, principles. The function of these words is to make war seem reasonable, even desirable,
through the establishment of operations that relate to events already inherent to
existing value systems and relational frames. As previously mentioned, solidarity as
a value is the opposite of defeat. To be a patriot is equivalent to unconditionally defending the Democratic Security Policy. Therefore, investment in pro-peace social
mobilizations and in favour of a humanitarian agreement is considered the opposite
of being patriotic.
The economic and political interests of conflicting parties should be clarified.
They should also be valued as opportunities to identify processes that lead to alienation and ways to facilitate educational practices. As many scholars in the field
of peace processes have suggested, Mattaini (2003, 2004) among them, cultural
incompatibility with violence requires that systemic changes be made.
As Mattaini (2003) reminds us, the science of non-violent protest comes from
Mahatma Gandhi, among others. However, adherence to non-violence requires conceptual and empirical work that very few have done. In Colombia, it is necessary to
encourage the diverse social agents that are working toward constructive programs
that, as Gandhi proposed, are focused on a healthy, critical, and powerful society
that is able to organize its own resources.

The Meaning of Power

According to Mattaini, it is not a matter of demonizing the exertion of power but,
rather, changing its function in society. It has been proposed that the function of
power should be to facilitate a conjoint effort towards a more just and inclusive
society. The literature has described multiple alternatives to non-violent action.
However, Mattaini claims that the rigorous and careful study of those factors and
the circumstances of their effectiveness is itself a function of power. In contrast to
the descriptive classification made by Sharp in the early 1970s, Mattaini proposes a
classification in functional terms.

Peace Cultures and Cultural Practices in Colombia


Non-violent actions with a defence and protection function have been carried
out by the movements of Peace Zones in Colombia. According to Mattaini, actions
with this security function must also be powerful and require much courage. This
is especially true when conflict involves the escalation of violence, as in Colombia,
where community members who have led or participated in these actions pay the
high cost with their lives (De Roux 2005a).
Mattaini (2003) defines culture as the interlocking network of practices maintained by a group. He distinguishes two sets of practices that are interesting in this
case: those directed to other groups classified as oppressors or exploiters, and those
directed to ones own group. The function of the latter group of practices is to maintain collective cohesion inside the group. Mattainis research focuses on collective
alternatives to the construction of violence. His program includes five issues that
deserve attention in light of the situation in Colombia:
An analysis of the conditions that originally motivated and continue to maintain
the collective violence experienced within particular contexts. Multiple studies
from various perspectives have identified land as a powerful reinforcer in Colombian history, but a systematization of this is necessary to define the potentially generalizable classes of conditions with equivalent functions in our multiple
local situations, but a systematic review of the studies about the disputes for land
is necessary to define the potentially generalizable classes of conditions with
equivalent functions within various local situations.
Analysis of motivating conditions in the beginning and the maintenance collective violence in particular contexts. Multiple studies from varied perspectives
have identified land as a powerful reinforcer in our history.
A detailed study that includes examples of violent and non-violent actions,
geared towards the understanding of intra- and inter-group behavioural dynamics related to contextual conditions. That is, a rigorous functional analysis of
cultural practices at a micro- and macrocontext level.
Development and evaluation of analytical tools for the planning of non-violent
Small group experiments to test propositions developed through the above mentioned planning for non-violent cultures.
Progressive dissemination of the cumulative knowledge regarding the situation
in Colombia and the significance of the dangerous and detrimental effects of
collective violence. It is this point that Mattaini sees as an ethical imperative.
Strong efforts are needed in Colombia for the distribution of information. This
is especially important with regard to mass media, where the news and most entertainment programs highlight violence and narco-trafficking over non-violent
interactions (such is exemplified through the names and content of some of the
best ranked programs, e.g. Without Tits There is no Paradise, The Capo).
In Mattainis terms (2003, 2006), our long history of social conditioning can only be
altered by groups trusting in non-violence. In order to accomplish this, minimization of the discrepancies mentioned by De Roux (2005b), between those who think
of peace as a governmental monopoly and those who think of peace as the social
responsibility of all people, must be prioritized.


B. P. Ballesteros de Valderrama

As previously mentioned, many institutions and organizations have contributed

important information regarding peace processes in Colombia. Some of them will
be briefly mentioned here:
The Peace Group of the Peace Planet Project, in conjunction with the Communication for Peace System (SIPAZ), is working to strengthen a national network
of base organizations directed towards the peaceful resolution of conflict. Their
intention is to design a national information system about peace utilizing an array of communicative venues in local communities including radio, television,
and Internet programmes (Giraldo Vlez 2008).
CINEPs data bank also maintains current and accurate information on social
movements, data on human rights, and political violence. Its database on collective peace actions is Datapaz.
One region in Colombia relies on the Bank of Successful Peace Experiences as
a tool for the organization and social visibility of long-term, participatory peace
projects (Macizo Colombiano-Alto Pata). It contributes to collective and historical memories, encouraging communities and organizations to recognize and
learn from each others experiences.
The Observatory of School Coexistence has created a strategy for developing
citizenship competencies. A study they performed in one of the more affected
areas near Bogot confirms the difficulty of coexistence practices in the school
context. As a consequence, the Observatory of School Coexistence emphasizes
that systematic and continuous work are always required.
One international organization in Colombia is the International Peace Instrument
School. In 2003 this organization arranged the Youth peace education program
as a cultural project of human rights in five schools in Bogot. The web page
presents activities and publications especially related to Afro-Colombian people
and their empowerment.
The Institute of studies for development and peace (INDEPAZ) also disseminates relevant information.
The Permanent Civil Society Assembly for Peace is a pedagogical process directed towards the strengthening of social peace movements and the manifestation of power toward the construction of a new country. Since 1998 this organization has communicated with different social sectors and regions, searching for
consensus among them and formulating peace building proposals. More information can be found online (
As Giraldo Vlez (2008), among others, has pointed out, the socio-political and
economic conflicts in Colombia have not been solved, but temporary armistices
have been negotiated. This is relevant in understanding how the problem has been
prolonged, with the role of the people decreasing further as they are systematically
politically disempowered. This author, as well as many others, recognizes the importance of the popular sectors as the primary constituent in social construction.
Even in the midst of conflict, they must establish themselves as political subjects
capable of reclaiming political negotiation as an alternative to war. No other social
agent should usurp the right of active participation in political power. Society should

Peace Cultures and Cultural Practices in Colombia


be structured as a social force that can influence power relations geared towards a
political way out of conflict. The proposal warrants organization, from microcontexts (neighbourhoods, local communities) to macrocontexts (departments, regions,
country). The final goal is the Peoples Constituent Assembly, free of bureaucratic
and transitory features. According to the author, it is a matter of breaking the recurrent cycle of war with its elitist solutions and to achieve what the people have not
had until now. Political parties and social organizations play an important role as
educators towards a real participatory democracy.
Similar conclusions have been made by Garca Durn (2009) who says that the
great challenge for civil social organizations is coming to a clear public agreement
that it is necessary to end the armed conflict through a pact. This pact should be
based on the disposition of the legitimate primary constituents, the citizens.

Similarities in the Proposals Towards Peace

Regarding cultural, economic, political, and social components of the Colombian
situation, there are common conclusions between diverse research groups, including Social Bounds and Peace Cultures. One of these commonalities refers to how
the rationale for war impedes the implementation of dialogue and the negotiation of
alternatives that include the participation of the whole society. Another conclusion
is that the armed conflict is only one manifestation of the complex national situation.
Peace Planet has proposed a Minimal Peace Agenda whose five axes are consistent with proposals of diverse peace cultures, both in Colombia and at an international level. They indicate key areas where social commitment is required.
The first is establishing a balance between national and international armed conflict
and political negotiation. Second, a basic adherence to political, economic, social,
cultural, and environmental human rights (similar to what Mattaini calls ecological approach) is necessary. Third, an inclusive, plural, and participatory political
system should be developed. Fourth, attention must be given to ethical and social
reconstruction. Fifth, an action plan must be constructed and legitimated.
The Peace and Development Project is important because it articulates policies
and strategies related to forced displacement and the Peace Laboratories (supported
by the European Commission). This project is carried over in affected regions with
the aim of generating social and economic conditions in order to reduce vulnerability, poverty, and exposure to the risk of violence and subsequent effects. It also
purports to increase democratic governance and to strengthen institutions through
by creating alliances between the public and private sectors.
The diverse projects and programs, with or without international support, generally have similar objectives which either explicitly or implicitly assume the following premises established by the Peace and Development Project: (1) The construction of social, economic, and environmental actions minimizes the risk of displacement or acts to mitigate its effects, (2) A basic social network to protect and generate


B. P. Ballesteros de Valderrama

income for displaced communities and families should be prioritized,(3) Democratic governance focused on active participation prevents violence and reduces the
vulnerability of communities and institutions (Garca and Sarmiento 2002; Saavedra and Ojeda 2006; Sarmiento Santander 2006).
The activities of the Peace Laboratories Program are articulated in light of these
premises and its socio-political and economical components are consistent with the
principles of a sustainable peace culture. According to De Roux (2005a), especially
in the Magdalena Medio region, the program has effectively stopped paramilitary
actions aimed at eradicating pro-peace popular movements and weakening local
institutions and organizations.
In the field of peace education, several institutes where created in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the International Institute on Peace Education (IIPE).
This institute began adopting Freires reciprocal learning principles to promote
critical thinking, active participation, peace education, multiculturalism, and the
difference recognition and acceptance of difference in 1982 . Since 1997 its base in
Colombia has been the Schools for Peace Foundation. It is defined as a collective
project led by an interdisciplinary group which last met in Bogot in 2007. It is part
of a network of national and international institutions working for peace cultures,
establishing peace as a right and a duty. The Peace School has three projects: Peace
Schools Network, with more than 20 private and public schools in Bogot and Cundinamarca; Peace Schools Youth Network made up of a group of young professionals, university students in their last semester, and community leaders; and the
Colombian Peace Educators Chapter. The Foundation obtained the Santillana Peace
Education Award in 1999.
The Young Peace Constructors Project has been awarded various distinctions: an
honourable mention for the fourth place out of 83 entries by the World Bank and the
research centres of several Colombian universities; selection by the National Education Ministry and several Education Secretaries as one of the best peace education
projects; acknowledgement by UNESCO as one out of four best projects presented
in 2004 at the Education Ministers Conference in Switzerland.
In 2002, the Educational Alliance for the Construction of Peace Cultures was
initiated through a cooperation and technical assistance covenant subscribed to by
several international agencies and six national entities. From rights, territorial, and
populations perspectives, this covenant has given priority to actions in reconciliation and cultural creation processes, working with families, schools, organizations,
and communities in order to transform inequities and the conflicts they are affected

Following revisions, several organizations concluded that strategies and tools must
be defined. These definitions should include public policies and education competencies related to citizenship, democracy, and human rights. Electronic tools such

Peace Cultures and Cultural Practices in Colombia


as web pages have been used to present their work (didactic materials), as well as
to document and organize pertinent information. There is a significant number of
carry-over research projects with international financial support that describe the
conflict in Colombia and diverse ways to confront the current situation. Other projects and organizations are briefly described in the appendix.
Each of the projects, programmes, and organizations described in this chapter
can be analysed as a metacontingency in the sense that the interlocking behavioural
contingencies of one class of actors (people responsible for the planned actions like
marches, meetings, etc.) are related in a contingent way to the behaviour of another
class of actors (e.g. community members). The aggregate product, which according to Houmanfar and Rodrigues (2006) is selected, corresponds to the products
that each of the social organizations has maintained as a result of its effects in the
microcontexts (e.g. a school class or a local community) or macrocontexts (e.g. a
region, as the case of the Magdalena Medio). Some of these products are manifested
as local radio and television programmes, meetings, peace agendas, public policies,
public opinion, etc.
In the case of Colombia, the dimensions of multiple behaviours, the many conditions with dispositional or motivational functions, the people involved, and the
contingent effects constitute contingencies at micro and macro level that deserve
attention. The consequential relationship between reciprocal interactions and their
immediate and remote effects must be considered.
Acknowledgment The author is grateful to Ms. Megan Petrucelli, student at Lewis & Clark
College (Portland, Oregon, USA), who performed an excellent revision of the English version of
this paper.

Education for Peace and Conflict Resolution Foundation, created in Cali, as a
Christian organization.
Proclade Foundation, founded by a Claretian organization, gives financial support to projects related to peace education; in one of these young people of 43 rural
communities resistant to be part of the armed conflict participated.
Exploring Communities for Peace in Colombia II: Communication for Peace
System (SIPAZ) was a project supported by the Canadian International Center of
Development Research. Mauricio Beltrn, from Multicolor Colombia Foundation
was the director.
The Colombian Platform of Human Rights, Democracy and Development includes 110 social organizations.
Peace Media (MPPMedios para la Paz).
CORDEPAZ (Development for Peace Corporation) was created in 1999, by the
Commerce Chamber and the Diocese of Villavicencio, Meta, with the purpose of
replicating the peace program at the Magdalena Medio region.


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Reflections on the Psychological Damage

ofPeople Exposed to War Situations
Mnica Mara Novoa-Gomez

The best way to deceive someone is first to deceive yourself,

because you are more convincing when you are sincere.
Ian McEwan

Perhaps it has always been so, but it seems we have been inundated by violence that
finds its origins in human conflicts. Colombia is an example. Our TV screens and
the media are full of images of victims, survivors and perpetrators of armed conflict
and war that has affected the country for over 40 years. Nevertheless, from 2003 to
now, Colombia has been ranked one of the ten happiest countries in the world. How
is it possible? How are we to understand psychological damage and repair?
According to the Law of Justice and Peace, repairing the psychological damage
is unavoidable if we want to reach reconciliation and peace among Colombians.
In order to contribute something to the discussion, this chapter will explore the
concepts of psychological harm, victims and perpetrators and propose experiential
avoidance as a useful concept to understand coping style. I further maintain that the
psychological damage among people who live outside war zones, although virtually
invisible if compared to the direct victims, could be more harmful if it is thought
that violence is an element of peoples everyday lives.

Even before the days of our grandparents, Colombians have never lived a single day
of peace. Colombia is a country with one of the longest-running internal conflicts in
the world, comparable to Myanmar (former Burma), Sri Lanka, Sudan and Angola.
War is a part of our daily lives, we have all experienced it to some degree and it is
part of Colombias reality.
Without any doubt, such a prolonged conflict affects peoples perceptions, concepts and interactions. But even with the ever-present violence, Colombians say
Clinical and Health Psychology,
Pontifical Javeriana University, Bogot, Colombia
S. Sacipa-Rodriguez, M. Montero (eds.), Psychosocial Approaches to Peace-Building in
Colombia, Peace Psychology Book Series 25,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-04549-8_4, Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014




they are happy. The Happy Planet Index (HPI) published in June 2009 and revised
in 2013, placed Colombia in the fifth place among 143 countries, meaning that
Colombians are very efficient at achieving happiness, despite living (or surviving)
amidst an armed conflict for more than 40 years (Abdallah etal. 2009). Regardless
of the highest HPI, Colombias armed conflict is the main obstacle for Colombians
to improve their lives (PNUD 2003, p.9).
Due to the complex dynamics of Colombias social process, it is very difficult to
properly analyse the coping styles of its citizens. Violent actions from Colombias
armed groups, repeated almost daily, have negative effects on individuals and produce social inhibition. Public executions, selected kidnappings and nocturnal killings
at peoples homes, all violate the intimacy of families and create fear and distrust,
making violence (seen or experienced but always feared) an element of daily life.
War testimonies are a collective phenomenon used (to our embarrassment) as a
commercial strategy in TV shows, books, films and other types of mass communication, leading to another discussion: the fundamental role played by television in the
regulation of Colombians social practices. In 2009 the TV productions that obtained
the highest ratings were El Capo, Las Muecas de la Mafia (Mafia dolls), Pandillas,
Guerra y Paz (Gangs, War and Peace), and productions with antihero stars that can
be considered behavioural models by young people, adolescents and children. Briefly, terror is supported by individual fears and prejudices. Through social interactions,
terror becomes a society phenomenon characteristic of war spaces (Lair 2001).
Over the last 3 decades, pressure and violent actions against civilians have intensified, invading their space and affecting their relationships and their ways of functioning. People fluctuate between living in constant fear and completely ignoring
war acts, behaving as if Colombia were at peace. Which contextual conditions and
characteristics should we consider for a better understanding of this fluctuation? Does
this fluctuation reflect Colombians well-being and resilience? Or does it reflect a
negative effect: psychological damage, habituation to war and depersonalization?
To diminish the effects of war and to start building cultures of peace, it is necessary to find a key to individual transformation and, most importantly, to collective
transformation. To develop the thesis, I will begin exploring the concept of psychological damage, then the victims and perpetrators, and finally close with the statement that the most obvious sign of damage is in the general population, especially
evident in their indifference to the victims and justice and fragmentation in the
analysis of psychological problems.

Definition of Terms
The Concept of Psychological Damage
The great misfortune of having a paramilitary and guerrilla phenomena in Colombia
has marked the history of tragedies in our country over the last 45 years: political
tragedies, tragedies linked to terrorism, tragedies produced by the State and the

Reflections on the Psychological Damage of People Exposed


political power, natural tragedies (avalanches, droughts, floods), victims of police violence, street violence, car accidents, etc. No one takes responsibility for
most of the tragedies in Colombia; public control is insufficient and impunity rules
make the tragedies even more traumatic for sufferers and survivors.
Most of the effects of war in Colombia could be summarized in three or four
paragraphs, highlighting the use of terror as the principal strategy of control used
by the actors responsible for the conflict in order to expand socially and geographically. Terror has the intimidating effect of paralyzing and fragmenting the social
context, modifying cultural practices in a way that restricts solidarity, making citizens distrustful and, spreading the feeling that resistance is futile. Graphic acts
of violence (i.e. exhibition of mutilated corpses, public executions) and other less
visible threats are effective in dissuading civilians from taking action (Lair 1999,
pp.6476); as can be seen in the following testimony by Fernando Soler Buitrago,
displaced by the violence in Colombia.
I tell you, life is hard, hard because we have to fight to survive, fight to recover psychologically. Psychological damage is caused to Displaced People we lose everything and
we have to start begging for things, begging for fundamental rights, we fear that we get a
disease and we do not have health coverage, it is awful, it is awful (TV program Verdad
Abierta, April 28, 2009).

Acts of terror, oppression, political retaliation or any other act to intentionally kill
or damage someone physically or psychologically, cause inhumane conditions in
social groups, destroying them partially or completely (Power 2002).
The concept of psychosocial trauma used by Martin-Bar in 1989 is pertinent
when referring to the essentially dialectic character of the wound that can be caused
by the prolonged experience of war: a wound that has been socially produced. The
roots of this wound are not in the individual but in the collective.
The Colombian Law of Justice and Peace (Ley 975 of 2005) promoted by the
government of president Alvaro Uribe and approved by the Congress in 2005, developed the concept of Psychological Damage and subjected it to public debate,
approaching it as a conceptual and a political category. In essence, Psychological
Damage refers to the suffering caused to the victims produced by violence used as a
strategy to dominate and overpower them. This suffering goes beyond the individual perspective, as suggested by Daz (2009). It challenges psychologists to further
understand psychological damage, considering the cultural perspective.

The Legal Perspective of Psychological Damage

Jurists consider the concept of damage to tangible or objective patrimony and
damage to intangible or subjective patrimony. In that regard, Fernndez Sessarego
(2008, in Daz 2009) states that all damage caused to human beings implies damage to the person, regardless of their origin, their personal characteristics or how
affected or compromised they are by the consequences. Damage to the person is a
generic concept; it is wide and comprehensive. There is no doubt about the extension and reach of the damage to the person (p.26).



The State Council of Colombia (Order of 19 July 2000) established certain clarifications about what constitutes damage
damage does not consist of the injury itself, but of the consequences produced in the life
of those who suffer it consequences that may be originated not only from a physical or
body injury, but also from a defamatory or slanderous accusation, from identity usurpation,
from an intense suffering, or even from a reduction in the patrimony or an economical loss
(Daz 2009, p.12).

In the practice of law, it is also considered that the dimension of moral or subjective damage to the person should be contemplated as inherent to the criminal act,
which in other words, implies that the damage to the person cannot be understood
outside of the context, the facts and the people involved. This is not a simple process
because there is still confusion and unawareness of the current legislation; people
are ignorant of the truth, preventing progress in justice and reparation to victims of
Human Rights violations. The truth is primarily defined as the right to know the
identity of the victims, the right to know the direct and indirect actors involved in
the crime, and the right to know which were the circumstances and context of the
events (Grupo Interdisciplinario de Derechos HumanosGIDH 2007).
Justice implies knowing the truth, which requires a thorough investigation to
find those responsible for the crimes, and imposing a punishment that is proportional to the crime committed. Justice is not limited to punishing those responsible;
it also involves reparation to the victims (Grupo Interdisciplinario de Derechos HumanosGIDH 2007).
Clearly, there is a need of research on alternative types of intervention directed
at improving the conditions of the victims of such damage (Lpez etal. 2008). The
lack of interest in this task was pointed out by psychiatrist Luis Carlos Restrepo,
former High Commissioner for Peace, when he highlighted the need of a greater
presence of mental health professionals in the diagnostics and research of alternatives to the problems of coexistence that affect the country. It is not easy to find a
way to do it, but we must try (Gmez-Restrepo 2005, p.407).

Characterization of the Damage

About the Victims, Direct Victims (Massacres,
Displacements, Threats)
To understand the dimensions of damage, it is pertinent to consider those involved:
victims of massacres, perpetrators and civil population. Massacres typically involve
violence that goes beyond what might be experienced by the military: There are
victims of rape, torture, mutilation and the murder of innocent citizens, including
children and the elderly.
In those acts, the dispassionate individual murderer seems to be a part of the machine, playing the strict role of complying with orders to kill. Intellectuals usually

Reflections on the Psychological Damage of People Exposed


do not have to deal with the imposition of pain, mutilation and death, or face the
horrible sights like piles of corpses. Massacres, cruel and violent actions, regardless
of the level of training, are limited only by human imagination.
The numerous testimonies of victims of armed violence in Colombia, perpetrated by lawful and unlawful groups, show the lurid and indelible mark of horror.
Massacres, torture, dismemberment, rape and other unspeakable horrors are part
of the lives of hundreds of communitiesthousands of men, women and children
throughout the country.
Testimonies like the following account for this:
he killed people, I mean, he stabbed them here (pointing at the jugular), the blood poured,
he filled the glasses with blood and then he gave them to us he made us all drink from it,
threatening us with a gunhe said that blood was for us to get thirsty and keep on killing
people. He cut off a slice from here or from the buttock and threw it into a pan it was
supposed to make us feel braver, more confident (Testimony of alias Robinson, a member
of a paramilitary group, demobilized by the Justice and Peace Law process, in an interview
with the journalist Hollman Morris in the TV program Contrava, 7 March 2008).

A good part of psychological research and interventions has been directed to the
victims of violence, especially people who have been displaced, fleeing from death
and terror. In their work with victims of displacement, Sacipa etal. (2007, p.598),
highlighted how situations of war, massacres and threats to life: destroy the possibility of relating to others, break the social tissue, generate conditions of mistrust,
polarization, and dehumanization due to the permanent presence of a silencing and
confusing fear that dissolves all attempts to change.
The consequences of that are many and varied. The Guide to Legal Advice and
Psychosocial Care for Victims of Armed Groups on the Fringes of the Law written
by the Unit of the Office of the Ombudsman for Justice and Peace, described victims who usually attended their offices in conditions of vulnerability and psychological crisis. Besides the physical and economic damage, displacement affects and
leaves serious negative consequences in diverse psychological individual processes
(Rodrguez etal. 2005), its principal characteristic seems to be:
The fear of the victims and the little knowledge that victims have about their rights and
the normative frame of Justice and Peace (especially integrity and reparation), and the way
they all consult and inquire for security conditions and measures of individual and collective protection for the exercise of their rights.

Eduardo Porras Mendoza, coordinator of the Sincelejo Regional Headquarters of

the National Commission for Reparation and Reconciliation (CNRRSpanish acronym), documented these reactions in the first management report. The entire report can be found in the document En qu va la Ley 2007.
On 7 May 2001, the CNRR publicly presented its recommended criteria in relation to damage to the victims and subsequent reparation and restoration. Criteria
1. A reliable and diligent access and development of the process of judicial



2. The identification of the different kinds of damage suffered by the victims, with the
purpose of promoting the adoption of adjusted reparative actions that respond to
the integral reparation
3. The evidence of those damages and of the victims expectations of reparation
in order to provide a framework that fairly responds to the victims condition
of vulnerability, and that promotes the regulatory provisions that protect their
rights to the truth, justice and reparation, and their actual possibilities to prove
the damage they suffered
4. The link between the suffered damage and the reparation measures to promote a
fair and adequate balance among the different measures ordered by the judicial
Another important recommendation by the CNRR is to point out the relevance of
subjective criteria in the investigation, in order to properly assess the situation, to
guarantee an appropriate measure of reparation and also to prevent re-victimization.

About the Victims, an Example

There are all kinds of victims: Women, men, the elderly and children. The following testimony comes from Sandra (name changed to protect the girls identity), a
13-year-old girl who is under protective surveillance at the Colombian Institute of
Family Welfare (ICBF) due to the living conditions in Barrancabermeja, a city under paramilitary control since the 1990s:
then they said to one of them to take me out of the house, that I had to mature because I
was very prudent and didnt like to go out that much the man said that I had to sell myself
but I asked him why should I, if I didnt like it and it was there when they started to
threaten me, they forced me and said that I had to go there, otherwise they would kill my
(mom), and so I always went there because I was scared

This fear even leads to extreme conditions of escape and avoidance of violent situations:
I tried to kill myself many times I dont want to continue going to school because it was
there where they picked me up. Anyway, I didnt know what I wanted to do and I hung out
alone, one day I jumped in front of a car but it didnt hit me. I did it because I was afraid,
Tuesday was coming and they were about to call us Im afraid of going out of the ICBF
because they are looking to kill me because when Im out, I dont know what Im going
to do, because I dont know what I want It hits me hard, because when I felt bad, when I
remembered the abuse. I did crack, glue, anything I felt very sad, I felt so much anger,
but it wasnt against them, it was against me, I dont blame them but me I dont know
whats wrong with me I used to think that I was worthless, that I was a person who had
been abused, so I was worthless.

It is also evident how victims of violence and displacement, like this child, transform their pain into aggression, an aggression that echoes the social cycle of contracontrol described by Ballesteros (2001), according to Patterson (1992):

Reflections on the Psychological Damage of People Exposed


In Lbano (Tolima, a Colombia Department) we were very close with my mom, my stepfather and my three siblings. After we arrived hereTercer Milenio Park in Bogot by forced
displacementeverything changed we were hungry, my mom mistreated us very much,
my stepfather hit my mom, my mom hit him, so there was much mistreatment my family
is not together anymore, so I was tired of it, so I was getting more and more tired and I
went consuming I didnt like to steal from my mom or from anyone, and I didnt like asking for money, I arrived here and then I started to steal more frequently, I wasnt scared of
stealing from my mom, my grandma, my aunt, my cousin with my friends we stabbed and
threatened, we kicked people, we would do anything for their cell phones, whatever one
day, one man didnt want to give us his wallet and we killed him, we shot him six times, I
had a 38mm and I shot him twice I didnt care about anything, although that day huh! It
hurt me but at last I didnt care about anything, I started getting more knacks, I wasnt
stealing money anymore but I ordered people, to kill I sent people twice to loot my moms
hut, I made them plan a problem for my dad and my stepfather to fistfight, to fight, for some
friends to stab my stepfather, and they did it.

About the Perpetrators and the Offenders

It is not only the victims whose worlds one has to enter,
if one wishes to understand modern war;
but the world of the gunmen,
torturers, and apologists of terror. (Michael Ignatieff, The Warriors Honor)

There has been debate about the psychic damage of the perpetrators, arguments
referred to the dynamics between victims and perpetrators. It is a complex task to
understand the interactions between perpetrators and their victims, considering that
the background of these interactions varies according to the type of conflict, culture
and time. These interactions can always be interpreted and understood in different
ways, they are analysed in a more molar or more molecular level, both within the
family or community structure i.e. physical abuse or incestand in conflicts between large groups and nations.
In any case, the negative effect on the dynamics of the victims and perpetrators
cannot and must not be simplified or analysed from a position that could lead to the
detriment of one of the actors. It is necessary to consider and analyse the particular
characteristics of the individuals who played different historical roles, either by
choice (the perpetrators) or by imposition (the victims) during periods of conflict,
persecution or war. Both victims and perpetrators require recognition and they need
to be assigned a socio-historical place in terms of social responsibility, where they
are subjects of analysis. No one can be excluded.
The previous argument implies that the differences between victims and perpetrators should not be denied; they have to be recognized. When we face the dynamic
of victims and perpetrators in our psychological work, we should understand that
what is appropriate for one group of people is not necessarily appropriate for another. A key element is the connection between trauma, psychological damage and
those implicated in the armed conflict. Most victims have suffered a trauma (a true
fact) and most of the demobilized combatants make an effort to adjust (usually



true). The connection between the two constitutes a narrative package, in which all
problems are attributed to traumas and psychological damage. While there are connections between current and past traumas, which are undoubtedly real for many
victims, we believe that attributing all problems to these traumas has overshadowed
other elements and contexts that should be investigated. We are neither implying
that victims have not had multiple traumatic experiences, nor denying the psychological damage. We are questioning the consideration of the trauma as the only
cause of all problems, excluding the experience of the combatants.
Surprisingly, there are only a few studies about the psychological logic of the
actions of the war actors. The scarcity of studies about the perpetrators reflects two
tendencies: the limited interest paid to the clinical aspects of the actors in conflicts
and their strategies, and the lack of theoretical instruments to understand different
types of violence not in the infra-state level.
In relation to this, the then-High Commissioner for Peace, psychiatrist Luis Carlos Restrepo, said the following, about the people entering the demobilization program, at that time (year 2005). He was referring to 5,000 demobilized self-defence
In general, we find that they have a great desire to re-orientate their lives as civilians. But
they do not know the proper mediations of the democratic institution. They have poor ability to wait. Since they come from an authoritarian model of armed paternalism that combines immediate gratification with terror, they are not prepared for coexistence conflicts.
Although we also detect features of their personality that hinder their social adaptation
(Gomez-Restrepo 2005, p.407).

An example of damage in perpetrators can be seen in the following testimony of

Robinson member of a paramilitary group demobilized with the Peace and Justice
Law process, interviewed by the journalist Hollman Morris for the TV program
Contrava, 7 March 2008:
I dont get close to the victims family, I dont like them to see my face it freaks me out,
Im afraid that they want to kill me. Going to the doctor? To the psychologist? I
barely pay attention to that, what I want is to study, to continue with anthropology
Sometimes I have nightmares I get suffocated and sometimes I wake up enraged angry
at people. I wake up wanting to continue doing it we were taught that each time a person
got killed we should drink glasses of their blood like this, so we would be willing to carry

About Consequences
The Use of Substances
The consumption of psychoactive substances and the problem of controlling impulses can typically be considered as causes of affective and social behaviour problems. However, from the perspective of the current work, the conditions of the

Reflections on the Psychological Damage of People Exposed


previous psychosocial or learning process establish them as cultural practices supported by powerful political and economic contingencies and by the legislation in
the field of justice and social equity, including recreation. Thus, the individual is
exposed to a variety of conditions making it highly probable that violent behaviour
will occur, particularly when exposed to scenarios that encourage violence, including direct or indirect exposure to war and social discrimination and/or exclusion
combined with occasional reinforcement.
Based on other types of problematic behaviour among children and youngsters
(Ballesteros etal. 2005), it has been found that it is important to deal with the
more lasting or permanent conditions of children and youngsters lives. This will
most likely have an impact on the development of behavioural patterns, including
norms, rules and values. Attention must be paid to all the conditions in the socialization process, which is a complex process and extended over time (see Roche
etal. 2001).
In this sense, it can be concluded that the risk of associated psychological problems diminishes, if in cases like these, violence does not take up an important role in
children and youngsters lives, and if the rest of their activities are part of a context
of clear, positive, social and exemplary behaviour. In a country like Colombia, with
high indexes of family, school and socio-political violence, matters related to war
cannot be considered as external to the victims, but within a larger social context
within which the psychology of the victims and perpetrators take place (Mattaini
and Thyer 1996).
Psychologists have examined a host of reactions and factors related to violence.
The following considers some of the factors and reactions.

Testimonies from survivors and witnesses describe murders as being accompanied
by a generalized anger, rage and vengeance towards the victims. It is known how
rage is presented as a way to explain and rationalize killings.
Groups of combatants habitually arrive at villages with weapons, shooting indiscriminately at houses, churches, schools and huts, not caring if women, children
and the elderly are inside. On 2 May 2002, a pipette or cylinder bomb exploded
in the church of Bojay, Choco, where people were taking refuge from the fight
between guerrillas and paramilitaries; 110 people died, including 42 children under 12 years of age. The massacre of Bojay, seems to be a disastrous example of
this: I saw what happened look, all those children, all of them beheaded, with no
fault or anything! With no fault, and why does violence kill those who have nothing?! Oh my God, my God! (Anonymous citizen interviewed after the massacre
of Bojay).



Traumatic Events and Complex Trauma

Empirical evidence has shown an association between the presence of a wide spectrum of experiences that may or may not include real imminent risk to life, and
different types of behaviour (Courtois and Ford 2009). As a consequence of the
possibilities of such interaction, there have been different proposals for classifying
what would constitute traumatic events (Terr 2003; Kira 2001).
Type I of traumatic events (Terr 2003) includes those experiences that are impossible to anticipate and of unique occurrence (single events) that leave the person in
a state of helplessness and that exceed their regular coping repertoires. For instance,
being involved or being a witness of a car accident, being attacked by a wild animal,
being witness of a murder, among others. Reactions to this type of events involve
feelings of horror, intense fear and abandonment (DSM-IV-TR).
Traumatic events type II (Terr 2003) include prolonged exposure (longstanding) to extreme events, which are initially unexpected, but due to their repetition,
a sense of anticipation can be developed. Examples of this type are: sexual harassment, emotional abuse, family violence, torture, forced displacement, community
violence, war or genocide (Courtois and Ford 2009). Beyond the threat to life, some
of the essential characteristics of this type of events are abuse, exploitation and
subordination by an individual or group of people who use threats against integrity,
violence, humiliation and exploitation as a control strategy to establish dominion
over other people (Herman 2009). These situations constitute an interruption of the
free development of the identity and a coherent personality; they constitute an interruption in the construction of healthy and reciprocal interpersonal relationships.
Beyond the horror and feelings of abandonment, reactions to this type of events
alter the ability of emotional self-regulation, creating health problems and a feeling
of damage to ones own integrity, initiative and autonomy. For these reasons, these
events and the reactions to them are called complex trauma (Courtois and Ford
2009; Ford etal. 2005; Courtois 2004; van der Kolk 2001).
Although these were initially proposed as types of traumatic experiences in childhood, different authors reconsidered Terrs proposal, both to extend their taxonomy
(Kira 2001) and to work with other types of populations (Courtois and Ford 2009).

Social Consequences and Emotional Behaviours

For the community in contemporary Colombia, terms such as paramilitary and
guerrilla normally evoke aversive emotional reactions, such as uneasiness, fear,
evasion and escape behaviours (Borja etal. 2009). It is not necessary to repeat the
countless and incessant examples of the aversive psychological function of these
Nevertheless, in the frame of the depolarization of the conflict and, of the transformation of social practices from contra-control to positive reciprocity (Ballesteros
etal. 2003), responding automatically in an aggressive way or with fear to those

Reflections on the Psychological Damage of People Exposed


people or things that evoke private events of sorrow and loss, implies a type of behaviour learned from experience and maintained by relational or symbolic derivation. If this behaviour is part of the dynamics of the dyad of actors, it can constitute
a barrier to transform the interactive and continuous process between victims and
perpetrators. In other words, even though the psychological reaction of rejection
is logical and natural in the process of survival, it can be exceedingly problematic.
One way to illustrate this is to say that the avoidance of the adversary is problematic because people can be extremely insensitive to the nature and the changes
of real contingencies in the environment (Hayes 1989; Hayes etal. 2001; Masuda
etal. 2009). As a result, a person or an entire community, academic or any other,
can respond to events, people or symbols based on objects or labels that are part of
a category of negative valence, opposing or denying the inclusion of characteristics
of the person, situation or object (Hayes etal. 2002).
I hypothesize that perhaps the automatic emotionalintellectual rejection in
some sectors of the society, including sectors of our own discipline (the historical
causes must not be overlooked); and the negative emotional reaction to stigmatized
individuals maintained by derivation, makes them potentially insensitive to the process of constructing cultures of peace.
In short, the topic of perpetrators will be approached from a psychological perspective broader than usual. Certain adjectives such as mentally ill or psychologically disturbed as well as psychopath, immoral, sadistic or savage, interfere with
the constructive comprehension and the assumption of their inherent civil and legal
responsibilities (Hickey 2002).

The Biggest Damage Is Indifference

As it happens, most of those who have suffered violations of their human rights are
peasants, the poor, indigenous people, illiterate people or a combination of these.
In Colombia, the Attorney Generals Office has attributed to the armed actors, at
least 27,000 disappearances, among those people previously mentioned, in the past
two decades (El Tiempo, Sunday 17 Jan 2010). More than 70,000 Colombians have
disappeared, more than 50,000 have been massacred and hundreds have been kidnapped (Rodrguez 2002; Meluk 1998) or have been victims of landmines (Wilches
2008). Information show 60,000 crimes against humanity, and more than 3million
people displaced by violence (Guerrero and Fierro 2009; Bello etal. 2002).
This does not seem to affect the rest of Colombians. Indifference and denial
are part of the psychic damage of people who have experienced war. It is not only
that they are emotionally distant; they are also geographically distant. Hence, many
Colombians feel closer to other countries and continents than to the reality of their
Such indifference may actually be the result of an adaptive response in order to
minimize the fear and anxiety among large segments of the Colombian population.
In other words, can we blame the population at large for their apparent indifference?



Are people just trying to cope with a harsh reality by pretending it does not involve
them? Accordingly, it seems appropriate to consider avoidance as a coping process.

Experiential Avoidance as a Coping Process

No one can imagine what one human being can do to another, we have seen it here in our
job. (Comment from a psychosocial professional who receives and provides counselling to
victims of guerrillas and paramilitaries, as well as demobilized combatants.)

From a functional contextual perspective, the psychological effects suffered after

having faced traumatic experiences, either directly or indirectly, are understood in
terms of the process of experiential avoidance, which refers to the difficulty (unwillingness) to remain in contact with particular private experiences such as memories, emotions, thoughts, body sensations, etc. (Hayes etal. 1996). Avoiding ones
own experiences and the multiple events functionally related to them plays a key
role in the maintenance of multiple clinical problems due to the suffering that accompanies the process (Follette etal. 2009), and it has been associated with poorer
psychological functioning of civilian survivors of war (Morina 2007).
This kind of behaviour seems to be common in individuals exposed to extreme
events but it is more clearly present in those who have not lived violent situations in
a direct way (i.e. have not been primary victims). Behaviour and interaction styles
that are very different in appearance, like dissociation, self-mutilation, the inability
to become involved in intimate interpersonal relationships or suicide attempts may
all have a common function: they can be understood as coping strategies based on
the avoidance of emotional unease (Hayes etal. 1996). These reactions are common
to a broad section of Colombian citizens, who persistently and paradoxically maintain practices of valuation and social interaction that minimize or avoid the seriousness of the Colombian situation and transform inconceivable events into minor or
justifiable episodes for social life.
According to several authors (Dymond and Roche, in press; Dymond etal. 2008;
Follette etal. 2009), Mowrers two-factor theory is particularly relevant in the understanding these patterns of avoidance, since exposure to traumatic events may
involve feelings of fear and anxiety. In a second moment, the person would, actively
avoid these feelings of uneasiness, as well as the events associated with them, and
the avoidance would be maintained by the relief from the experienced or predicted
unease (negative reinforcement).
The consolidation of this behavioural pattern has a series of negative consequences for individuals (Dymond & Roche in press; Follette etal. 2009) and for
society: An increased complexity of the pattern of avoidance due to processes like
generalization, derivation of behavioural rules and the inflexibility of behaviour
can distance people from the possibility of coming into contact with new sources
of learning, less problematic strategies of functioning and increases in personal realization.

Reflections on the Psychological Damage of People Exposed


It is very important to emphasize that although the avoidance pattern can offer
relief from uneasiness in the short term, it can also lead to a greater sensation of
uneasiness in the long term (Hayes etal. 1996), whenever the psychological experience cannot be completely avoided (Forsyth 2000). Thus, it is established that there
is psychic damage not only in the victims and perpetrators, but also in the ordinary
citizens who feel alienated from others.

Final Reflection
What Can Be Done to Help? Reparation?
For victims, the right to reparation is an important part of the process of recovery. The search for reparation can empower and help survivors transform feelings
of pain, isolation and stigmatization through a public process that can help amass
public recognition of a suffered injustice, and ensure the punishment of those responsible.
Reparation has been described as having the purpose of relieving suffering and
providing justice to victims by eliminating or, as much as possible, reducing the
negative consequences of the illegal act. Reparation is seen as a complement of
medical and psychosocial support, and many experts believe it provides significant
therapeutic benefits. The vindication of reparation is an important part of the rehabilitation process, both for the victim and society.
In order for there to be reparation, at least in the framework of Justice and Peace
in Colombia, there is a need to recognize the damage caused to the victim and a
public acknowledgement. Without these, there is no legal recognition. How do we
transform the damage into a reparation process for the victims of life-threatening
situations and promote opportunities for psychological recovery while encouraging
the development of civil and political power?
Collective Actions for Memory and Dignity (2009), programmes where hundreds
of survivors, families of missing people, community companions and many representatives of civil society promote awareness of the multiple effects of war, including the fear of public space, experiences of anger, pain and impotence, constitutes
a fundamental coping strategy. It has been recognized by diverse researchers and
analysts (Ctedra Internacional Ignacio Martin Bar 2009; Robledo 2009) that
telling the public about violent experiences and reactions is a political resource, but
it is also a way of dealing with losses and creating a base for new social practices.
Making visible to others those events that are usually considered private defies the
version of oneself as an autonomous being with the ability to control everything
(Robledo 2009), and promotes a persons interdependence, both as an unique individual and as a participant of a community, allowing members of a society to
identify the factors on which those private events depended (Masuda etal. 2009).



While individuals may take actions aimed at having absolute control over psychological damage, make pain a private matter and retaliate in order to deal with
grief, these kinds of reactions all have the paradoxical effect of fomenting inflexibility, retaliation and intolerance. This paradoxical effect is transformed not only
by the cessation of war events but also by exposing damage as psychosocial and
political. Robledo (2009) states that exposure can be an incentive for collective actions and for social and individual memory, processes that are part of the collective
search for effective truth and reconciliation.
Regarding the implementation of treatment plans or psychological interventions,
even among disparate traditions in psychology there is consensus on the therapeutic
relationship that must be established at the beginning of an intervention process
(Courtois and Ford 2009; Van der Kolk etal. 2005; Ford etal. 2005; Courtois 2004;
Shapiro 2004; Luxenberg etal. 2001). This relationship should promote an environment of collaboration and mutual recognition where it is fundamental to recognize the current history and conditions. Furthermore, emphasis has been placed
on the importance of psycho-education or allowing people to become familiarized
and have access to the largest possible number of tools, because it enables them to
comprehend the nature and function of the traumatic events, the common reactions
to them, and the strategies that they can implement to take care of themselves.
In short, the metamodel of Trauma Intervention proposed by Herman (1992,
in Herman 2009) is currently valid and contemplates that all interventions to treat
traumatic experiences must begin with a stabilization stage, creation of a safe environment and construction of a therapeutic alliance, that increases the capacity of
the consultants to stay alert and take care of themselves when faced with emotionally disturbing situations. Only after having developed these initiatives, will it be
possible to move on to the second stage, where intervention strategies that aim at
working directly on traumatic experiences can be implemented (Courtois and Ford
2009; Ford etal. 2005; Luxenberg etal. 2001).
Naturally, intervention with victims of the Colombian armed conflict has highlighted the importance of establishing safe environments for the population. Research has demonstrated that factors such as the continuity of the armed conflict
and precarious conditions of life can severely limit the results obtained with the
therapeutic process (Sacipa etal. 2007).
In the Colombian context, where the population is constantly exposed to an imminent danger of revictimization due to the uninterrupted conflict, it is not always
possible to create environments of security and to protect peoples integrity. Moreover, due to the large number of people who require attention and also to the sociopolitical nature of the conflict, other relevant aspects that victims must face should
be taken into consideration, such as cultural change, urban violence and the loss of
social support networks (Rodrguez 2006).
Based on these circumstances, it is necessary to take into consideration other
levels of analysis that transcend individual attention and to approach these problems
with a more molar focus, therefore, increasing the offer of alternatives of intervention that have a positive impact on larger population groups in contexts of sustained
conflict and violence.

Reflections on the Psychological Damage of People Exposed


Acknowledgment I want to thank Stella Sacipa for inviting me to write this chapter. Maritza
Montero for reading and editorial assistance. I also thank Adriana Maldonado and Angela Muoz
for their contributions in different moments of preparing the document.

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by violence in Colombia was consulted on internet. Programa Verdad Abierta, April 28, 2009
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by the Justice and Peace Law process, in an interview with the journalist Hollman Morris in
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el sufrimiento asociado con la experiencia de desplazamiento forzado. Universitas Psychologica, 6(3), 589600.
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Traumatic stress (pp.329). Arlington: American Psychiatric Press.
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Pontificia Universidad Javeriana.

To Feel and to Re-signify Forced Displacement

in Colombia
Stella Sacipa-Rodriguez

In Colombia, the internal armed conflict resulted in forced displacement, transforming it into a phenomenon of great magnitude and enormous complexity. The actors
in the conflict have transformed the civilian population into a military target, and by
subjecting them to different forms of sociopolitical violence, they have displaced
large numbers of peasants, forcing them to seek refuge in cities, in conditions of
poverty, to protect their lives.
This chapter presents, first, an analysis of the feelings expressed by people living
in situations of forced displacement in Colombia. This analysis is based on different
research projects into displacement and the psychosocial accompaniment of people
suffering it. This participatory action research was conducted within the Social
Bonds and Cultures of Peace group, among different communities of uprooted
people. Feelings are explored in the narratives of those who underwent displacement, and were included in the aforesaid studies; each of the feelings mentioned by
the displaced people is illustrated with statements.
We then present the conceptualization of the process of psychosocial accompaniment of displaced people, and finally, when presenting the re-signification of these
feelings, we analyze how, in the face of adversity, the displaced reconstruct their
lives in an unfamiliar cultural setting.

Forced Displacement and Feelings

One way of understanding feelings is in terms of their role as a resource for the
emotional/affective relationship with people, animals, things, and the self; it means
that feelings are useful to the bond with external and internal objects through an
Department of Psychology, Pontifical Javeriana University, Str 59 #58-17 101,
111321, Bogota, Colombia
S. Sacipa-Rodriguez, M. Montero (eds.), Psychosocial Approaches to Peace-Building in
Colombia, Peace Psychology Book Series 25,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-04549-8_5, Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014



S. Sacipa-Rodrguez

affective tie feelings are also individual states, as they modify and qualify him/
her; an instrument to be used, and an instrument that modifies the subject as long as
it is used (Castilla del Pino 2000, p.20).
Castilla del Pino also points out that there is a plural cognitive and affective
relationship of the subject with the object, as well as a retroactive effect or loop
toward the self. What is denominated as being affected by a feeling is precisely
the recognition of that modification of the whole subject, and not only of his/her
emotional system.

The presence of bodily uneasiness in people affected by the phenomenon of war,
and particularly forced displacement, affects them, transforming their way of relating to others. We have encountered emotional changes in our research in the
city of Bogot, as well as in a Peace Community in Urab Choc, where people
interviewed told us that, as a result of their forced displacement experience, they
experienced somatizations, that is emotional states expressed in bodily form. These
manifestations include severe headaches, and eating/sleeping disorders.
One man asserted: When I was there I felt too affected. I couldnt sleep, I
couldnt eat, I couldnt work. Another said: I didnt eat, I didnt want to eat
thinking of one thing and another, you dont feel like doing anything. And one
female peasant said: Oh, yes, it was very difficult because I was going to die. I got
skinnier and skinnier, and I didnt sleep or eat. It was finishing me off; I was as thin
as a rake (Sacipa 2001, 2003).
In this respect, Heller (1999) considers that to feel means to be involved in
something, and that something can be another human being or oneself, and involvement can refer to action or thought. When feeling is mediated by cruelty and
inhumanity, it is capable of producing psychological annihilation; as one peasant
related: when I was so tortured I spent a year totally out of it, I was practically a
vegetable I didnt want to talk to anyone, I was dead. I was finished.
Fernndez (2004) considers that feelings are as material as physical objects
(p.121), literally the object happens to oneself: is oneself (), is oneself who
suffers them, who gets happy and who puts life within them (p.120). So we saw
this in a peasant womans narration: they burned our house, they left us nothing I
cried, I spent three days crying. It was just too much for me. In this case, the strength
of the feeling is evident; like an unbearable thing, as her life in the country had disappeared, along with her home, burned by the aggressors.
Forced displacement also produces pain through bodily damage. Those who suffer displacement are lacerated, and they feel it and express it with the strength of
pain that is still present with the passing of time. For one 16-year-old girl, the ravages of displacement remained in her body for several years later:
I have a scar here on my foot. Ive got scars from two of the displacements. In the first one I
got burned with petrol and I couldnt even walk. In the second one I grazed my foot on zinc
when I was embarking and I couldnt even walk.

To Feel and to Re-signify Forced Displacement in Colombia


Another young woman experienced multiple types of pain, saying:

When we were leaving during the displacement, I got gastritis because of hunger. I used
to cough up blood. In Pavarand I got malaria, and the pain I had was a hernia. (Sacipa

In the narrations we studied, a feeling of sadness emerged, related to the breakingup of the social tissue characteristic of the peasant culture, which differs from urban
social relationships (Sacipa 2003).
As one peasant relates: we had to leave the two oldest children behind. It was
it was just too hard. We came to this city in a really bad way. On their arrival, this
feeling was made explicit through the lack of ways to cover their basic needs. In the
words of two people interviewed:
It was too hard for me, with three daughters and nothing to feed them We lived in sadness... I arrived here with lots of sadness, I asked myself what I should do? My husband
with no ID and here everybody was demanding to see identification. But think, when youre
running away, you dont think about shoes, or ID, or anything. You just take your children
and flee.

Another feeling we found in the narratives is shame, which according to Agnes
Heller (1999), is the social affect par excellence; we feel observed we can feel
every bodys eyes on us, condemning us, making fun of us, or simply watching us
and that is why we feel ashamed (p.105). As one displaced peasant felt: I was actually ashamed. I did say where I was from but I never said I was displaced. Never
(Sacipa etal. 2007).

Elizabeth Lira (1991, p.115) has written about how, during the military dictatorship
in Chile, anguish and uncertainty was present in every home, asserting that the Public Opinion surveys conducted confirmed that political threat generated uncertainty
among the population on a massive level.
In line with this discovery, in our investigations (Sacipa 2003, 2007) we have
found that people displaced by armed actors suffer this feeling on a daily basis.
As one peasant stated: the uncertainty and the lifestyle we have is terrible; it is a
constant, horrible uneasiness. After being driven out of their territory, people who
suffer the experience of forced displacement reach an unknown place where they
have no idea how to act. In another peasants words: the moment I arrived here


S. Sacipa-Rodrguez

was one of uncertainty. In another study one woman affirmed: To be one moment
in the territory youre used to, and then to arrive at a place where you dont know
anything or anyone, you lose lots of things. When youve just arrived you dont
have any friends, you dont have anyone (Torres etal. 2010).

Suffering and Psychosocial Trauma

When we talk about the suffering of the displaced, it is important to remember the
notion of psychosocial trauma introduced by Martn Bar (1990) and characterized
as: (a) the wound affecting people has been socially produced, that is, its roots are
not in the individual but in their society; and (b) its nature is fed and maintained in
the relation between the individual and society through diverse institutional, group,
and even individual mediations (p.78).
One young man told that while displaced: I was traumatized there. When I
heard a helicopter I felt like my heart was going to stop Oh God! If only I had
known who it was or what were they going to do (Sacipa 2001).
One woman narrated her trauma at the time of displacement, as follows:
I felt like I was going to die. It was too hard When I left my home town my husband
wasnt with me; he was lost. I didnt know what had happened to him. He had been missing
for 20 days. I left with the three girls and it was very hard because they had put a bomb on
a bus and nobody could get out of town. (Torres etal. 2010)

In the course of forced displacement, people are exposed to the intense experience
of pain due to bodily violence to themselves or to their families, and at the same
time they must face up to other material, psychosocial and cultural losses (Sacipa
2001, 2003).
One man referred to suffering due to urban indifference:
Arriving here in the city was a very hard thing It was a moment of uncertainty, sadness,
pain, because of all the things we left behind. It is very sad to know that you had a job, a
location, a future, a decent quality of life for your children, and then you come here, having
to lie your children down on the floor, watching them starving, suffering, when they were
not used to that. It was too much for me.

Another woman expressed how frustration and personal devaluation experienced in

displacement and accompanied by the loss of identity referents generated a subjective experience in which a very profound insecurity is felt: It is a feeling of powerlessness, of feeling like you were finished, of not having enough strength to stand
upIt was like losing your identity, losing 16 years of your life, in a place where
everybody knew you, where you were like the centre.
Camilo (2002) states that displacement must be considered a traumatic event
that challenges personal stability and the strength of the social or familial nucleus;
it implies renouncing a series of conditions under which ones personal, familial,
and in some cases, community-life projects had been constructed. In addition to
the traumatic effect that these dynamics of political violence involve during forced
displacement, subsequent suffering arises through a loss of identity, through a way
of life violently wrested from them.

To Feel and to Re-signify Forced Displacement in Colombia


Personal frustration and depreciation implied by political threat, along with the
loss of certain identity referents, generate a subjective experience in which the person is submitted to a very deep sense of insecurity. In one womans words: It is
a matter of impotence, of feeling finished, of not having enough strength to even
stand up.
Another woman said: To be displaced is to suffer: clothes get ruined, you starve.
Youre with your kids crying of starvation. So bitter I cried when my children
cried of hunger. One of the peasants expressed it: when you arrive here, you have
to lie your kids on the floor, watching them putting up with it, and suffering.

Mourning and Sense to Live

The implacable loneliness referred to by the Peruvian poet, Chirinos, and quoted
by Paolo de Lima (2005), when talking about the violence in Peru in the 1980s and
1990s, was experienced by two of our narrators, as follows: one cries here, another
one there. Whom should I ask for help? And another added: you suffer for being
around there, all alone.
In bereavement as complex as that experienced by displaced people who suffered multiple losses, there is often a degree of hopelessness, and the person feels
like that there is no point in living. Some of them even try to commit suicide, seeking to escape suffering, as expressed by three different people: Ive tried to poison
myself, said one; another said: My son took the car and crashed into a post to kill
himself. The third told us: I wanted to kill myself; I didnt want to live any more.
Political threat, rootless, hopelessness, and the impotence of not being able to ease
the suffering of their own can make people lose the sense of living enough to consider suicide. One woman expressed it by saying:
Ive tried to drink poison, and make my son and husband drink it too, because there is nothing left for us. Sometimes I think terrible things. Comparing this situation with the way we
have lived all our lives is very hard for us. My children said they wanted to kill themselves.
My son, the one who drives the taxi, had a few beers and crashed his car into a post My
other son, the one whos in the army, loaded his rifle and tried to shoot himself, but the man
in charge saw him and punished him We would rather kill ourselves than beg, they say.

When Castro Soto (1998) analyzed what happened to more than 15,000 displaced
people in Chiapas, Mexico, he found these same feelings in the population, highlighting that they cast the population in a dynamic of inactivity-passivity, a dynamic
that is one of the objectives of war.

One of the feelings that contributes most to generating and/or to maintaining passivity is fear. We share with Heller (1999) the understanding that in general, the expression of fear is characteristic of our species, but what actually provokes the feeling
(the stimulus) is always given socially. The formation of fear has two sources: (a)


S. Sacipa-Rodrguez

personal experience; and (b) social experience acquired through communication

(Heller 1999, pp.102, 103).
This is how the arrival of the armed actors elicits this feeling, as one young
woman related it: I heard bombing, clattering. We heard them very near, and we
couldnt stop feeling scared. In the words of one young man: It was just too
painful, we still feel afraid; remembering makes us feel frightened. The incursion
of the armed groups arriving at the community. They were here like one or two
months, and people were very scared. The community was very scared. I was
Lira, quoted in Martn Bar (1990, p.79), asserts that, although fear is a subjective, and to a certain extent, private experience, when it occurs simultaneously in
thousands of people in a society it acquires an unexpected relevance in social and
political behavior. This is consistent with what one woman recounted:
The presence of the paramilitary in the community frightened me a lot. It was all getting
worse until the moment when we had to leave. It was a disaster the presence of both
(paramilitary and guerrilla) jeopardizes you so, what do we have to do? Find a way to get
out. We had to move away because we were afraid. If now one lot are here and then the
others come, then what is going to happen to us? We all lived in fear with psychosis, I lived
scared The doctor told me that nerves were killing me.

According to Lira, quoted by Martn Bar (1990), the experience of fear produced
in this way is characterized by the sensation of vulnerability, an exacerbated state of
alert, by the feeling of impotence or loss of control over ones own life, and finally
an alteration of the sense of reality when it becomes impossible to objectively validate ones own experiences and knowledge.
Heller (1999, p.104) postulated that anxiety is a particular type of fear and,
unlike some theorists, she considers that anxiety does have an object. An anxious
person is one who does not see the meaning of most stimuli clearly, and because of
that, experiences those stimuli as dangerous. That is why the correlation of anxiety
with determined social conditions is comprehensible. The more obfuscated social
relationships in a determined era are, the more difficult it is to ascertain what is
dangerous and what is not, and the individual feels more threatened by social forces
that work independently of his/her choice and decision. In this sense, anxiety is
related to the number of objectsi.e., stimuli that may turn out to be dangerous,
or are interpreted as such. This was found in some narratives in our studies. In this
respect, De la Corte & Moreno (2004) talk about how this behavior feeds apathy
and social isolation. They have also described how this way of acting reinforces and
naturalizes violence.
This is how political violence also achieves the progressive subjugation of the
population through the internalization of vital threats, until it results in self-regulation learned from desirable social behavior (Lira 1990, p.185). As one peasant man
said: I come from Urab, from the municipality of Apartad, I worked in the union
but I quit because I was scared, they ordered me killed.
In our research we found numerous narrations referring to fear associated with
situations of limit, danger, or threat through sociopolitical violence, or to uncertainty and ignorance of the context of the place of arrival. Independently of the presence

To Feel and to Re-signify Forced Displacement in Colombia


or absence of the armed actors, there is fear of being observed and persecuted that
still remains, hounding them in the city, as one woman told us:
At the beginning, on public transport, if a young man stared at me, I preferred to miss the
bus, thinking Id rather get away from there, because they were the paramilitaries that got
me into this mess.

Another said:
When in the park, I would look all around to see if any of those bastards were there! Going
to the park really made you scared in case anybody saw you and started bothering you!

Loss of Trust
Another problem associated with displacement is the loss of trust. When targeting
the civil population as a military objective, in the dynamics of sociopolitical violence developed by groups in conflict, they direct their acts, among other things to
the disarticulation of social networks, and to weakening the bonds of confidence. At
the same time, traumatic experiences ensure that the affected population is always
wary of further aggression, preventing them from enjoying new friendships. About
this, one woman said: I dont have any friends. Displacement makes us question
ourselves. We become distrustful.
Another said:
I dont trust anyone. If someone got too close to me I used to think: is he or she paramilitary? As there are paramilitaries in the Mayors office of my town, and in the provincial
government of the Department, why wouldnt they be in another entity? Then you think,
should I speak or not, should I expose my problem or not. You dont trust people because
of what youre going through.

Castilla del Pino (2000), defines trust as the basic attitude that presides over all
interactions, and whereby, we become disposed to interaction itself; it is the intention that initiates and maintains interaction. In all interaction it comes at a moment
in which sooner or later trust is bet. If it does not happen that way, interaction gets
interrupted just at the beginning because the subject does not tolerate the excess of
uncertainty provoked by interaction (p.328).
Although opting for trust is risky and reservation can be a proof of wisdom,
when someone opts for trust the interaction is cooperative; if trust is not forthcoming, it can lead to the deprivation of relationships that can be fundamental for the individual. For one young man displacement implied the loss of friends, and of trust:
You know that when youre a kid you have your friends and you only have to say hello.
Sometimes we slept at one anothers places together and clowned around there, but here
you cant do that because you dont have the same confidence, you miss your town. Hanging around at any time, and now you cant do it any more (Sacipa 2001).

In our research we have found that people who have suffered displacement have
necessarily experienced the rupture of their social bonds, and along with that, their
trust in others has been destroyed. Mistrust generated by the experience of political


S. Sacipa-Rodrguez

violence hinders communication as unsuspecting interaction is longer possible. As

one woman said: There are things that you cant say around there because you dont
know who goes in there, what side they are on, or if they come in there to get on the
right side of you.
The fear that generates mistrust simultaneously provokes isolation, as Castilla
del Pino (2000) says, when there is a lack of trust, you deprive yourself of any
interaction that is not punctual and superficial (p.332). Thus, in the narrations of
the displaced we find that mistrust results in the inability to count on others, to
find another individual with whom to share the painful experience. In this sense,
one displaced woman said: not knowing who to talk to, who to unburden
yourself with.
Lira (1991, p.38) asserts that political violence produces psychosocial consequences, such as the weakening of personal autonomy and self-confidence. People
are always looking for keys, indications, and instructions about how to be publicly
classified so as to avoid problems. In our studies we found several testimonies to
this; one of the narrators said: That first day (of workshops) was like looking at
new faces, avoiding talking, not to say anything because you didnt know who was
In the same text (1991, p.142), Lira states that the impact of political threat can
be observed in internalized fear, in mistrust in relationships among people, and in
the impotence of vast social sectors as a consequence of governmental policies in
their own lives. As one of the participants in the study affirmed: You dont trust
anyone, you think, are there paramilitaries here?
This is not a recent fact in Colombias history. In a study about the oral history
of conflicts and political violence over several decades in the past century, in one
Colombian municipality we found how the exercise of violence served to unconditionally subject the population to the political control of a party; it was based on
violent strategies that produced political fear. Threats and hostilities that pervaded
social relationships created an environment of insecurity and lack of protection,
forcing the population to act distrustfully and with preemption in defense of their
own integrity (Muoz and Sacipa 2001, p.84).
Related to the political culture constructed in the context of war and its effect on
people, Bettelheim, quoted by Elizabeth Lira (1991, p.9):
For the integration of a person it may be completely devastating to see that the system of
beliefs on which that integration is based, and that protects him/her against the anguish
of death, not only stops fulfilling their assignment, but also, and what is worse, is able to
destroy it physically and psychologically. So, one feels like there is nothing able to offer
protection. Besides, we cannot be sure that we will certainly know what we can rely on and
what we have to defend ourselves from.

This approach was corroborated in the narratives contained in our studies and that
speak about the mistrust generated by the presence of armed actors in the institutions and life of the city. Some testimonies take the form: It is like a daily anxiety;
we were searched, the message is run away because paramilitaries are here.
People who have been forcibly displaced and burdened with internalized political threat (i.e. with the possibility of loss, of death) feel as if they were under the

To Feel and to Re-signify Forced Displacement in Colombia


sword of Damocles, and say: sometimes you dont know what to do, or where to
go, or what to tell, or what to say. In Liras words (1991, p.6970): It is the sinister invading interpersonal relationships through denunciation, mistrust, the imposition of authoritarianism, of dependence, of subjugation, of apathy, of individualism,
of instability, of the unpredictable.

Psychosocial Accompaniment
The large number of people displaced as a consequence of the armed conflict in
Colombia, along with the severity of the psychosocial consequences, has opened up
a setting for a large number of the countrys psychologists to work in this field. The
OPS and the OMS (2001) speak of a process of personal, family and community
care, seeking to re-establish the emotional integrity of people, as well as of their
social networks.
Over the last 15 years, Department of Psychology in the Pontificia Universidad
Javeriana, Bogot, Colombia, has been reflecting on the problem of forced displacement; considering, on one hand, the psychosocial impact on the displaced and, on
the other, their recovery. This reflective work has occurred while doing research,
serving displaced communities, and training psychologists.
As regards our teams perspective, we conceive psychosocial accompaniment as
a way of offering displaced people support and providing spaces for expressing and
recognizing the emotional impact these violent events have on them. Psychosocial
spaces are designed to listen compassionately to the victims of forced displacement,
spaces aimed at ensuring that these people feel accompanied, in order to provide
conditions conducive to their recovery and the re-establishment of social, cultural
and psychological damage.
Psychosocial accompaniment is a process marked by respect, acknowledgement
of the human dignity of the person who has suffered displacement, a process which
seeks to establish bonds and bridges for the renewal of confidence in a work of successive, respectful rapprochement, aimed at opening up the psychosocial relationship, to reach the heart of others from within oneself, through mutual recognition in
everyday dialogue, in active listening and in shared work and play.
It is a psychosocial rapprochement which recognizes the active nature of subjects capable of reflecting and acting on themselves, on the world surrounding them
and, in particular, in social interactionstransforming them and themselves. Accompaniment aimed at assisting the displaced as subjects in their own history, and
at the reconstruction of the community social fabric. To this end, accompaniment
draws on personal experience and the dynamics of the social fabric. A device which,
for rural culture, needs to be conceived in a different way from the rapprochement
provided by classical psychology for the elaboration of grieving and bereavement; a
device which requires an understanding of what it means to be an uprooted peasant,
driven out of your homeland, for which we psychology professionals are trained
from an ethical-political perspective.


S. Sacipa-Rodrguez

To Re-signify
One of the objectives of psychosocial accompaniment is favoring the conditions for
people to have a space to re-signify their experience of having suffered forced displacement. It should be specified that to re-signify does not mean to forget; it does not mean
emptying the word of its semantic content or the feeling of its affective contentedness.
To re-signify consists in renewing meaning; it means signifying in another way.
It implies a process in which people contextualize their experience in the events
generated by the armed conflict as a political fact of social responsibility. It means
understanding that the psychic wound was produced socially by the armed people
in the conflict. It implies recognizing that personal suffering must be socially and
politically assisted and repaired.

To Re-signify Fear?
In our studies we found that a few people explicitly professed to no longer be afraid.
One of those interviewed narrated how from the process of psychosocial accompaniment he could lose the fear to express himself, to become confident and to wish
for success:
At last I filled myself with confidence and said: I have to move on and so with the help
they gave us we could overcome all our troubles, talking about it in front of people. Nowadays I tell everything and Im not scared, I got used to be what I am now because if you live
in the past youll never get out of that situation

This expression is in line with Navarro and Sarti (2001) related to the power of narration to comprehend and handle fear, in the sense of undertaking protective actions
and constructing new understandings with regard to the most contextualized threat
and adversity.
Another man narrated the way how, during the dynamics that evolved in the psychosocial accompaniment process, he stopped being afraid of relating to the other
people he was sharing the process with, admitting at the same time the possibility of
trusting the other: (during an activity in which one person is blindfolded and the other
guides her/him as seeing-eye) that activity made me lose my fear, allowing me to
feel confident. I told myself: I can do what I want through this person guiding me.
Nevertheless, many did not experience a transformation of their fear and this is
understandable in our country. After all, we have been living through a prolonged
armed conflict with people with whom we work and living in forced situations of
displacement in areas of the city where this conflict is present in daily life, a fact
which makes fear a life-saver.
One displaced individual expressed how difficult it was for him to share his experiences and feelings in accompaniment activities, explicitly expressing his fear to
recount what he had experienced: I felt awful, it was too hard for me The other
guys told their stories and they started to cry, so it made me feel unsure and I even
thought about not going to the foundation anymore, because I was afraid of talking
about these things.

To Feel and to Re-signify Forced Displacement in Colombia


In the same way, one peasant woman narrated that during one of the accompaniment process activities, she associated the activity with the traumatic experience,
so she had to ask for it to stop due to the fear of reawakening experienced feelings:
During the activity they tied our hands together, but I told them to untie them because Ive been through that before, and it wasnt good, and it wasnt a game; your
mind turns into a living a hell.
Another woman admitted that fear immobilized her, preventing her from participating in the training spaces offered by the Foundation: We didnt do anything else
because I was uncommunicative. We didnt look beyond it. I could have done other
courses and I would be further along, but because of that fear I couldnt do anything. This testimony illustrates the inhibition described by Lira (1990) creating
a lack of movement and slowness of thinking, where the individual is incapable of
acting in a wider sense. It is an internal incapacity which relates directly to the fear
of annihilation, as another woman explained: After displacement I experienced the
fear of losing my family, my children, my husband.
We found that after living through this limit experience, fear altered the sense of
reality in such a way that people experienced chronic fear, which was described by
Lira (2004) as the one that stops being a specific reaction to concrete situations to
practically become a permanent state of daily life(p.241).
In many displaced peoples narrations we found that they experienced anxiety
as a particular type of fear presented by Heller (1999); anxiety attached to public
spaces, to people in the street looking at them or asking them things, in the store, or
on public transport, because they related them to the armed actors that had evicted
them from their land. This harks back to the fact that we cannot overlook another
subjective effect (Lira 1991, p.41) of repression: the effect named by Martn
Beristain (1999) as a great scar (p.257), the product of having been silenced due
to the everyday experience of fear that maintains communities paralyzed and helpless to react against the most extreme circumstances: it is difficult to talk, said
a number of peasants.
We concur with Samayoa (1990), Martn Bar (1990), and Lira (1990) in affirming that the psychosocial impact of sociopolitical violence in contexts of repression
and war destroys the possibility of meeting others, tears the social fabric; generates
conditions of mistrust, polarization and dehumanization due to the permanent presence of a fear that silences, confuses, and annuls all attempts to change.
In this challenge we admit the intimate nature of the felt experience of fear established by Castilla del Pino (2000) as an important input to future studies that
will render the invisible visible, the incommunicable communicable, and mitigate
the burden of fears accumulated in past years and the consequences of daily life
(Lira 2004, p.242).

From Mistrust to Trust

When psychosocial accompaniment is initiated, feelings of mistrust of the space
and the different people whom it is shared is evident, as one woman recognized:


S. Sacipa-Rodrguez

that first day was like looking at new faces, avoiding talking, not saying anything
because I didnt know who was there.
In the process trust is gradually strengthened among the participants, and between
them and their companions, as described by two victims of forced displacement:
The first days it was very chaotic and there was mistrust and the sensation of being unprotected, because mistrusting is terrible, you cant trust anyone. You see the enemy everywhere, you dont see anyone as good. With what weve done in the workshops, in the
dialogues and other moments, you start seeing that there are still good people that can
generate good things in you, that can help you to overcome that problem, that listen to you,
and maybe give you proper advice.
It was nice to find a place where you could receive as well as share with the others. Every
day it was getting better, I integrated more with my fellow partners and then you lose

In recognizing with others, with close stories, with intimate sufferings, you find
trust along with the possibility of strengthening bonds of solidarity. As two displaced people affirmed:
There is trust in here, everybody knows that were displaced, we say where we come from,
and that we were expelled by the guerrillas. It means, there is a little trust, each person that
comes here comes for the same thing: to get help.
You are comforted when you are with fellow sufferers, with each other, because we all have
the same pain, wherever it is, wherever it comes from it is useful for us, you feel like
theyre taking a load off you, because today Im telling him and I know he cant help me
but he listened to me, and that listening helps you.

One woman referred to an accompaniment activity specifically oriented at strengthening the trust bonds among the participants:
When we were blindfolded I worked with a lady, I guided her and I felt a lot of responsibility I told her lets do this exercise, if I have to guide you dont worry because Im not
going to let you fall down, I trust. So that enabled her to trust in me and we had fun all the
way, we laughed at everything.

Despite it being possible to ascertain a trust renewal process in the narrations, this
is limited to the Foundation context and to whom they know there, as told by one of
those interviewed: Strangers dont seem to get it, theyre going to ask you why you
were displaced. Here, instead, theres more trust, you feel more relaxed.
The renewal of trust in the process of psychosocial accompaniment develops in
several dimensions: First, through group conversations thematically oriented in a
space that provides containment and recovering of basic trust. Second, in the workshops on generating reflection, in which acknowledgement of common sorrow and
solidarity in suffering are encouraged, as expressed by two interviewees: You are
comforted when you find that we all are in the same displacement situation, that we
all feel the same sorrow.
These testimonies give practical meaning to Erich Fromms theoretical formulation (1964, p.63): There is only one possible creative solution that can support relationships among individualized men and women and the world: their active solidarity with all men and women and their activity, work, and spontaneous love, capable
of uniting them with the world, not through primary bonds, but through saving their
free and independent individual character.

To Feel and to Re-signify Forced Displacement in Colombia


A third dimension, important for the construction of trust bonds, lies in the open,
engaged and humanizing attitude of accompanying psychologists, as we found in
several testimonies: What was admirable was the naturalness, nobility and warmth,
the treatment, making us feel important. And another said: you never set barriers on
us (Sacipa etal. 2007).
You are a support for us, because one thinks: you are professionals, you have your homes
and families and youve never missed anything, but then you come with that humane trust
and you make us feel like a family. (Torres etal. 2010)

According to the interviews with displaced people, the way in which the accompaniment proposal was developed favoured contexts of interacting with people in a
closer way, providing the opportunity to create an environment in which the companion was a valid guarantor of trust and a confidentiality interlocutor.
This is how we found that active listening, an attitude with which we related to
displaced people, was especially valued by narrators as a tool that made them feel
validated and valued.
In this way, a profound interaction gave way to a life carrier communication:
when I talked to them, I felt a sort of inner peace, when I unburdened myself telling what happens. With an open communication, the individual found it possible
to share the suffering provoked by political violence and the losses caused by war
with another understanding person (Sacipa etal. 2007).
In several places in the city, the construction of trust bonds is hindered by structural and political violence:
In the commune there are lots of paramilitaries We dont know anything about 3 families
of our Association, theyve had to leave; two youngsters of the same Association in Cazuc
have been killed There are like 3 fronts of paramilitaries, guerrillas, and militiamen that
are operating everywhere We had 4 victims at the Organization, and 6 families have had
to leave. (Vidales and Martinez 2004)

Re-signifying Suffering
In the narrations of displaced people we have worked with, accompaniment spaces
enabled them to find the possibility of re-signifying pain, as expressed by one of
The psychosocial work was the space to cry, to mourn that situation, to remember the hard
times, but that opportunity to remember that difficult moment allowed us to gather the
strength to keep going and say: I cant get stuck in this. The first workshop we had was
hard, painful, but I got home at night and I felt so relieved. That day I an awful lot, but after
that, although sometimes sad memories came back and I cried, that sadness was a lot more
bearable, and I said: Im not alone.

Another woman told how activities were configured as a space that allowed the
unburdening and expressing of suffering while in the company of the others who
shared and understood their own pain was felt:


S. Sacipa-Rodrguez
I cried during the whole workshop. That time was terrible because it was about capturing on
that piece of paper all that had happened to me, and then I had to write about my sons and
husbands deaths its all too painful. We wrote, everybody was crying, it was intense, it
was a hard day. However, we all have the incentive that we have similar experiences; some
didnt lose their families but had to leave their homes, their farms, their livestock. You are
comforted being with your fellow sufferers because we all have the same pain no matter
where it comes from.

Others recognized the transcendence of the accompaniment process as a way of

relieving their suffering:
When youre in those workshops you forget about what happened. It felt like a relief, like
when you have an ache and you get an injection and the pain calms down; you get rid of it, I
slowly felt relieved; you were unburdened of sorrows and bitterness, then you felt relieved,
you got your strength back.
Psychologists shared all our problems with us, they gave us advice and that advice made a
deep impression on us, counteracted a little that pain in us relieved all our sorrows a little.

Despite the cruelty of war and perversity of the strategies employed to break the population, people are not passive victims of the barbarity of the armed actors; their tears
do not disperse in the rain, their anguish and their pain acquire sense in their existence.
Frankl (1994) conceived pain as a sentiment the human being can have, and in
fact he does, but he himself is not pain, he has pain and is a sufferer. Suffering, in
turn, implies taking a stand in front of ones own pain, and this is equivalent to being
above it, and this superiority can have an existential relevance. Thus, the spiritual
connotation of suffering differentiates it from original pain, anguish, and rage. In
one narrators words:
It was always painful but now I thank God, He took me out of there because he needed
me somewhere else so in this moment I thank Him for giving me the opportunity to leave
that place. Now I see things differently, more objectively since it was a very hard painful
change, but positive in many ways.

According to Frankl (1979, p.70), man can be robbed of everything but one thing:
the last of human freedomsthe choice of a personal attitude out of a group of circumstances- to decide his/her own way. That spiritual freedom that cannot be taken
away is what gives life its sense and purpose.
This is the way people face the trials of life, accept their destiny and all the pain it
entails; it gives them many opportunities, even under the most difficult circumstances,
to confer on their lives a deeper sense, opening the opportunity to take advantage, or
not, to achieve the merits that a difficult situation may provide (Frankl 1979).
In a study by the psychologists Vidales and Martinez (2004), from our team, two
men narrated:
If Ive suffered and Im bad, I know there are others that are even worse and something
must be done, so I got involved in this, to go to the Mayors Office, We met a group of
people and were trying to organize. We have always thought of a definitive solution to the
displacement problem. We have returning with dignity and guarantees as our banner.

Frankl (1979) found that humanitys principal interest is not to find pleasure or to
avoid pain, but to find a sense of living, a reason why people are prepared even to
suffer, provided that that suffering has a sense.

To Feel and to Re-signify Forced Displacement in Colombia


When constructing the processes of psychosocial accompaniment in a team offering victims of displacement the possibility of re-elaborating, meaning-making was
always present on our horizon. In this respect, interviewed they forcibly expressed
that in fact the spaces of psychosocial accompaniment provided them with the possibility of sharing life experiences, reconstructing the meaning of traumatic experiences, and re-signifying pain.
Victims of displacement appreciated the accompaniment process and the opportunity to express pain and suffering, and for making sense of their suffering by
using their own narrations. They also emphasized knowing that they were not alone
in their pain, recognizing their own pain in others and recognized themselves as part
of a population affected by the absurdity of war, in order to view themselves as part
of a social network that dialectically reconstructs the sense of their lives to cope
with the senselessness of war.
When reconstructing the significance of suffering from the traumatic experiences that have configured their current reality, giving sense to life as they know it, it
is possible for displaced people to start creating, dreaming and believing that there
can indeed be a tomorrow within the continuum of life.
As Lopez affirms (1998):
The only thing that relieves the pain is the enjoyment which derives from overcoming the
event that projects human hope. Hope is the relief of pain, a flame of projective power that
encourages the fight for life and opens a path toward the realization of the future. (p.53)

Nevertheless, it is important to note that the re-signification of suffering through

psychosocial accompaniment has a clear limit, which we reach when we acknowledge that suffering is still empowered by the contexts in which logics of war are
continuously recreated and articulated, in which new dynamics of urban violence
linked to the same principles of exclusion and structural violence are configured.
Acknowledgments The author would like to thank Maritza Montero and Jennyfer Escobar for
reading and reviewing this chapter.

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tristes tigres. Universidad Catlica. Accessed 19 Jan 2006.
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Heller, A. (1999). Teora de los sentimientos (1a ed.). Mxico: Coyoacn.
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Psicologa social de la guerra (pp.176195). San Salvador: UCA Editores.
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and Fear). Accessed 24 de May 2005.
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of Political Psychology, Cuernavaca, Mxico.
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desplazamiento (Colombia), Les Cahiers de Psychologie politique [En ligne], numro 11, Juillet.
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situacin de desplazamiento forzado. Unpublished undergraduate paper. Pontificia Universidad Javeriana Bogot, Colombia.
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interlocucin gestin y desarrollo de Soacha y Cundinamarca MIGD. Unpublished undergraduate dissertation, Universidad Javeriana, Bogot.

Personal Resources and Empowerment in a

Psychosocial Accompaniment Process
Claudia Tovar Guerra

An analysis of the psychosocial recovery process of forcedly displaced victims using personal resources in coping and empowering processes is presented in this
chapter. Participants were part of a psychosocial accompaniment program conducted by a team of professional psychologists and undergraduate students. The
results show that religious beliefs, acknowledgment of moral and practical values,
optimism, positive evaluation of adverse situations, good decision making abilities,
capacity to initiate effective behaviors, survival skills in aggressive social environments, communication skills, and pursuit of effective social support, compose the
personal resources set. Regarding empowerment the results indicate that there is a
different qualitative relationship between the type of accompaniment programs and
improvements in collective empowerment.
In the Psychology Department at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogot,
Colombia, since 1996 we have carried out a constant reflection about the political
violence problem of the country, and in particular about forced displacement. Our
first concern has been to search for the psychosocial effects of forced displacement
on people and communities from rural areas in Colombia. Secondly, the processes
of psychosocial recovery have been studied. This reflective work has been carried
out along with the training, research, and community service of psychology students.
Since 2001, a group of teachers started a process of implementation and consolidation of a psychosocial accompaniment proposal, in two scenarios: in Cedepaz
(Corporation for Education, Development and Peace), a community organization
of displaced families settled in Altos de Cazuca, at Soacha municipality near

C.Tovar Guerra()
Pontifical Javieriana University, Bogot, Colombia
S. Sacipa-Rodriguez, M. Montero (eds.), Psychosocial Approaches to Peace-Building in
Colombia, Peace Psychology Book Series 25,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-04549-8_6, Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014




Bogot, the capital city of Colombia, and in the Mencoldes Foundation of the Mennonite church1.
After 4 years of accompaniment, the group decided to analyze the scope of the
process, entitled Re-significating the Experience, by finding the variety of meanings expressed by the people participating in the process. With that aim, our research
was organized with the following objectives: (a) to rebuild with the participants the
story of the process of psychosocial accompaniment developed between the years
2001 and 2004. (b) To understand the meaning of their experience in the process,
through their narrations, thus acknowledging the results of the accompaniment.

The Method Employed

This research used a qualitative design based on the narrative analysis proposed
by Bruner (1990), applied in several occasions by other researchers in the group
(Sacipa 2000; Galindo 2000; Muoz 2001).
Narrative was used as a device to locate the subjects as readers of their own experience and, at the same time, as creators of stories expressing the way psychosocial accompaniment was experienced. This enabled the reading of various possible
worlds to which participants gave meaning in the process. This also allowed the
analysis of resignifying scope related to the forced displacement.
The study also showed how the participants social and cultural world was intertwined with the psychosocial proposal to shape this resignification or deconstruction
(Lieblich etal. 1998). Evocation and registration of the participants narratives was
facilitated by an in-depth interview that according to Bruner (1990) permits the
creation of meanings through open and reflective questions.
Twelve people were interviewed. Those individuals were intentionally chosen
according the following criteria:
To have been forcedly displaced.
To have participated in the psychosocial accompaniment process Re-significatating the experience for at least 6 months.
To be a member of Cedepaz or a beneficiary of the Mencoldes Foundation
From this group of people, six were members of Cedepaz (four women and two
men), and six were beneficiaries of the Mencoldes Program (five women and a
man). It is important to set clear that while the Foundation participants had 6 months
in the group, the people from Cedepaz had an accompaniment process of about 2
The Mencoldes Foundation supports displaced families in the emergency phase, providing food,
medical, and psychosocial support, and also technical training, for a period of 6 months. The
university psychosocial group worked along with the Foundation in the accompaniment model
design, specifically, the program that the Foundation applies in the early stages of recovery. We
are grateful to the Mencoldes Foundation for their constant openness and collaboration, allowing
this accompaniment process consolidation and validation.

Personal Resources and Empowerment in a Psychosocial Accompaniment Process


years. This time difference is explained by the type of relation the displaced people
have with each scenario. In Cedepaz the relation was direct with the community
base, in an open methodology process involved in the daily life of the community organization. In Mencoldes, the involvement was related to a formal project
in which people had to be registered acquiring a formal commitment for 6 months;
they also had to attend technical training courses, legal advisory groups, and psychosocial care.
These forms of linkage marked important differences in the way people lived
their psychosocial recovery process. As discussed below, one of the most important
aspects of accompaniment is empowerment, which was also affected by the differences between the two groups.
Results have been widely published (Sacipa 2003; Sacipa and Tovar 2004;
Sacipa etal. 2007a, 2007b, 2009). This chapter shows the results of the analysis in
two different categories: personal coping resources and empowerment.

Psychosocial Accompaniment Perspective

The Theoretical and Ethical Aspects
The group leading this process worked in the framework of an internship project
called Building Peace Cultures. The group took the historical and cultural perspectives of psychology as guidelines, as well as the social constructionist approach of
Kenneth Gergen (1996). It also used as theoretical support the paradigm of complexity as epistemological base (Morin 1998); the construction of Bruners meaning
approach (1990), and the liberation psychology of Ignacio Martn Bar (1990).
This implies the recognition of multiple identities and, therefore, the acknowledgment of the relationship contexts as enablers of subjectivities reconfiguration. It
also involves a temporal view of reality and acknowledgment of its historical character. It considers as well the interdependence of opposites, and therefore tries to
incorporate and understand the ambiguities, instead of eliminating them. Moreover,
this type of view acknowledges the recursive character of phenomena and in that
way, the ongoing feedback and learning process of all the people involved. Finally,
it implies a holistic view of processes and structures in its sequences and facets.
In this perspective, a unidirectional relationship between people suffering displacement and the psychosocial workers is inconceivable. In other words, it is not
possible to act upon another person without being affected. In this sense, every
action involves coconstruction. Therefore, we assume an ethical point of view of
the relationships between social psychologists and the community based on a distinction between accompaniment and intervention. In this logic of building with
the others, we considered that the psychosocial worker accompanies people and
communities in order to resignify their experience, rather than acting upon them in



order to operate specific changes according to preconceptions about what how it

should be.
Likewise, this point of view gives priority to the initiative and autonomy of the
individuals and communities in their recovery process, contributing to the sustainability of the actions taken, as long as the community members assume a vital commitment, while the companions are only transitory there.
This perspective does not exclude any useful tools or relevant guidelines that
accumulated psychological knowledge can provide. For this reason, psychosocial
trauma (Martn Bar 1990), study of crisis (Slaikeu 1996), and the progress made
on the grieving process (Fonnegra 1986; White 2000), have been useful as a starting point to understand the abrupt, devastating, and limiting experience of political violence and displacement. Likewise, the coping theory (Lazarus and Folkman
1984) and resilience concept (Theis 2003) constituted important contributions in
understanding the way some people and communities respond constructively to
their circumstances with their own resources, which can be recognized and promoted when they meet others who have experienced similar situations, as well as in
an intentional accompaniment context.
The intention was to do a critical analysis of reality based on these previous
sources and, in some instances, to take distance from them. Notwithstanding, it is
recognized that such a theoretical framework is insufficient to understand a phenomenon whose fundamental background is the sociopolitical context, and whose
intentional effects break social fabric with a rupture of social ties and the deterioration of the links of affection, solidarity, and trust among community members and
their surroundings (Martn Beristain 1999).
For this reason, reflections and actions in the accompaniment process were directed towards strategies aimed at the emotional recovery of the individuals, as
well as the strengthening of social ties and identity in a peace culture framework,
understood as the plural, tolerant, responsible, and equitable coexistence (UNESCO
1999). One of the challenges was to create a collective accompaniment process intended to give the recovery process a social character, without ignoring the uniqueness of its participants. This implies that each person lives and gives meaning to
their experience in a different way, but this experience is part of a shared social and
political context that can be confronted from the communitarian perspective.

The Praxis Aspects

Simultaneous with these collective processes, a great potential was found in the
informal conversational spaces that were turned into irreplaceable work scenarios.
This happened because in a political and urban violence context in which the Altos
de Cazuc families live, there are many psychosocial dynamics that take a while
to publicly emerge, and that manifest themselves quietly in the face to face meetings with the companion, within private spaces. Consequently, the theoretical paths
in conversational strategies and narrative therapy (Anderson and Goolishian 1994;
White 2000; Payne 2002) were of help in improving advances in private accompa-

Personal Resources and Empowerment in a Psychosocial Accompaniment Process


niment spaces, because they keep a vision of the context and prioritize the narrators
tools, without individualizing or pathologizing the experience.
Other work scenarios were:
The group meetings around an area of community interest, strengthening trust
among people.
Resignifying experience in workshops conducted in groups by gender and by
generation, using games, artistic expression, and conversation.
The accompaniment in organizational meetings and social events, with previous
invitation from the community. This allowed us to share meaningful moments
with the displaced people, to strengthen trust bonds, and to carry out a comprehensive approach to the community social dynamics.
In the experience with Cedepaz all these accompaniment strategies were brought
into play; while with Mencoldes, resignification of experience workshops according to characteristics previously mentioned, were favored, and additionally, in the
alternative scheduled meeting spaces, we took advantage of the conversational resource. The project Re-signifying the experience was reflectively reviewed, asking the displaced people what it meant to have participated in that experience.
Next, we analyzed the two main categories in the process, aimed to promote
idiosyncratic resources, as well as respect for their self-determination in the people.
These categories are: the personal coping resources and, empowerment.

Personal Coping Resources

Personal resources to deal with adverse events have been extensively documented
in psychological research. Characterization of those resources has been mainly
based on the concepts of Lazarus and Folkmans theory (1984)2. These authors
have defined coping as the constantly changing cognitive and behavioural efforts
to manage specific external and internal demands that are appraised as taxing or
exceeding the resources of the person (p.141).
According to those authors, there are two general coping strategies being distinguished depending on the efforts focus: the internal coping referring to efforts
aimed at managing emotions, reorientating thoughts; and the external coping referring to efforts towards the action aimed at the problematic situation. Related
to the resources concept, these authors identified, on the one hand the individual
characteristics, among which are health, physical energy, a positive worldview,
problem solving, and social skills. And on the other hand they also indentified social
and material resources which are social and economical supports.

Even though additional concepts by schools of thought such as coping, self-schema,

security-based, and defense mechanisms related to personality were taken, their classification
retains the scheme presented by Lazarus and Folkman.



Similarly, researchers in the field of resilience have classified resources in internal ones, and in resources facilitating the environment. It is important to mention
that, unlike the Lazarus and Folkmans perspective (1984), new researchers emphasize the family environment (Theis 2003).
The Personal Resources category in this study includes the internal resources.
The facilitating environment and/or material resources were considered as being
lost given the abrupt conditions of forced displacement and, the poor governmental
support. The nongovernmental organizations (NGO) work was considered as the
main local support during the years of this research (20042006).
Even though neither resilience nor coping were the main object of this investigation, during the accompaniment process it was very important to establish personal
psychological resources before the process started, in order to see how these resources were triggered through it. This gave the psychosocial group the possibility
to understand the accompaniment potential.
Resources identified in the participants stories
With respect to the internal resources, Lazarus and Folkman (1984) considered
that a strong physique, health, and a good energy level contribute coping when
responding to situations requiring constant physical activity, a lack of sleep and
appetite, and a constant state of alert and physical effort, to maintain control of
the situations. While these physical resources or favorable health statuses were not
explicitly mentioned by the participants as contributors in the coping process, three
participants did mention the opposite situation by mentioning how poor or ill health,
or physical deterioration related to age, make recovery difficult. This confirms the
importance of physical resources and invites us to consider the varying degrees of
physical condition in order to provide a comprehensive and integral level of support
to enhance the psychosocial process. This means, for example, that psychosocial
work cannot be done ignoring the nutritional status of children and women that have
been proven to be lower than those in men (Meertens 2004; Episcopal Conference
2005; Codhes 2003).
Another resource the authors identified refers to the beliefs system, judgment, and
values about themselves; others; and about existence itself. This system constitutes
the peoples worldview, which if it is mainly positive, helps to overcome the vicissitudes of a problematic situation. Within this worldview religious beliefs play a
vital role. Martn Beristain (1999) in his psychosocial accompaniment experiences
has found religious beliefs as a resource often used in political violence cases, as an
internal coping technique, in what he calls the strength of the people, to generate
protection feelings against vital risks. In this study, two participants from Mencoldes and three from Cedepaz referred to this resource. Religious beliefs allow them
to resignify vital situations, to keep hope alive, and to legitimate decisions in their
daily dilemmas.
Acknowledging personal values and qualities, with their usefulness in practical
life, reflect the presence of these positive belief systems. For example, a Cedepaz

Personal Resources and Empowerment in a Psychosocial Accompaniment Process


interviewee mentioned responsibility and honesty as the main causes that allow
us to live and adapt to other people and be likeable (M5)3.
Other forms of internal coping described by Lazarus and Folkman (1984) as
cognitive processes aimed at changing the way we perceive an adverse situation, to
remain optimistic or to deny the situations and its consequences. They also declared
those forms of coping as mainly arising when assessing the situation, and realizing
the impossibility of modifying the threatening conditions in the environment.
According to this, a Cedepaz participant (F10) admitted her capacity to look at
her situation in a positive way (We take it easily). She also downplayed the seriousness of her situation by comparing it to others (I dont really complain, because
there are cases worse than mine). And she also ascribed strength to herself facing
adverse situations she cannot change (I have to be strong because there is nothing
else you can do!).
A coping resource in the narratives told by women in the Mencoldes interviews
was their problem solving ability. This was identified in the narrative about the way
they took decisions and acted in the most critical time of the abrupt departure, and
also when they had to look for survival alternatives in the city. Lazarus and Folkman
(1984) also have included the capacity to look and find important information, to
identify what is or is not relevant, to generate multiple alternative solutions and to
select those most effective and efficient, and the ability to apply them. Thus, people
showed they are capable of imagining alternatives. And to conceive other ways of
being, act, and fight, as Bruner (1990) has said. This allowed them to face the new
situation with other tools to overcome difficult situations.
This coping resource was not found in Cedepaz, since people did not tell in detail
their stories prior to the accompaniment. The reason was that, as explained before,
their displacement occurred 2 years before this research. However, it is not possible
to say they did not have or use this coping resource.
It is noteworthy that all the women interviewed in the Mencoldes group recognized the use of this resource in some stages of their coping situation. This is
consistent with the work of several researchers (Duque 2000; Gmez 2004; Solano 2004), who have mentioned the recuperation capacity and life reinvention
displaced women have when facing new contexts. In contrast, men exhibit a more
active role in demanding initiatives, and hold for a longer time their intention to
recover what was lost.
A third central resource proposed by Lazarus and Folkman (1984) refers to social
skills which include the ability to communicate with others in socially appropriate
ways and consistent with the demands and requirements of problematic situations.
Accordingly, this study found that participants use their social skills to face adversity. One participant from Mencoldes and one from Cedepaz, mentioned their ability
to communicate with others and generate empathy as tools to solve situations and to
get support. The same participant from Cedepaz and a young man from Mencoldes
showed the ability to choose effective contacts correctly, through the discerning of
risk or advantage for each relationship. Martn Beristain (1999) described wisdom

M or F refers to men or female participants; the number identifies the participant.



or the ability to select speakers, as a coping resource given that being extroverted
does not guarantee effectiveness and might even endanger their personal integrity
in an armed conflict context.
One particular way in which people suffering displacement used their social
skills was the subtle balance they handle between the effective support searching
and the preservation of their dignity in a society that values self-sufficiency. To
that effect, a Cedepaz participant (F7) made the distinction between asking for, and
looking for help, so that she presents her situation in a way that people voluntarily
offer their support. This seems more honourable than making a direct request:
Im one of those people that, lets say, needs something. I wont shut up, but I wont ask
for it either, because Im not very good at asking for things but I might communicate
things I would at least call a friend n look, I dont have a job, I dont have food for my
kids. If you want Ill wash your clothes, Ill do the ironing, and you can decide what you
want to give me

While the classification of individual properties by Lazarus and Folkman (1984)

does not recognize the cultural skills and the previous knowledge of a person, those
who work on the topic of resilience consider access to higher education and/or
some kind of training a necessary resource to face adverse situations (Theis 2003).
Among those women interviewed in the Mencoldes Foundation, two of them referred to such resources and mentioned their profession as teachers. In Cedepaz no
one mentioned this resource. However a woman did mention her ability to work
(things are easy for me to deal with F7) and recognized the importance of education, by talking about the work opportunities she lost because she did not finish
high school.
Identification of these previous resources made by the participants and the way
they used them, show their moves through the psychosocial accompaniment process. This renews our belief about people having the most appropriate and effective
resources for their recovery, and that accompaniment must favor their promotion
and activation to build into the group new alternatives, over those made by foreign
observations and theoretical dissertations.

On the Road to Empowerment

The word empowerment does not have a single meaning. Its meaning has changed
according to the social and political context in which it is defined. As Narayan
(2002, p.6) says: Empowerment is the expansion of assets and capabilities of poor
people to participate in, negotiate with, influence, control, and hold accountable
institutions that affect their lives.
In the realm of international cooperation, empowerment has implied raising
the individual capacities to gain autonomy, gradually becoming independent of
state supports and taking a more active role to generate income and climb the
social ladder. It has also included increasing access and participation in markets
and political decision-making spaces. According to Murguialday etal. (1998) it in-

Personal Resources and Empowerment in a Psychosocial Accompaniment Process


volves a process that leads to a kind of participation, but does not question existing
On the contrary, in social movements and groups context, empowerment has
been considered a strategy aimed at increasing the power of marginalized groups in
terms of having access, use, and control of symbolic and material resources and a
greater influence on and participation in social change. Becoming aware of rights,
personal abilities, and interests and their relation with other social actors have also
been considered elements of empowerment.
According to these conceptions various forms of power have been defined, at
least according to three criteria: (1) the ability to access areas and actors recognizing social, political, and psychological powers (Friedman 1992). (2) The distinction
between ones own power as awareness, the power with as a organizational skill,
and the power to as a way to mobilize change (Murguialday etal. 1998). (3) The
meaning of power exercising; countering the power over, which means domination of others; with the power to that implies conjoint mobilization of creative
action (Snchez 2002).
These three criteria have common elements, such as consciousness recognition,
relation and transformative action as pillars of the empowerment process, and a
deep psychosocial sense. Assuming a closer identity to the empowerment sense,
built from social movements, this research adopted Snchezs empowerment definition (2002), proposed on the basis of psychosocial work with organizations: empowerment as an intentional, intersubjective and continuous process of conversion
of individuals into subjects that are aware of themselves, of their circumstances
and the social surrounding, through comprehensive, critical and transformative actions in relation to their own social interactions (p.19).
Given that empowerment is a gradual process and its promotion means various
actions and interactions, it is important to introduce the dimensions proposed by
Rowlands (1997), to visualize how the process re-signifing the experience contributed to promote empowerment in people at Mencoldes and Cedepaz.
The first dimension proposed by that author was the personal dimension, understood as developing a sense of self, confidence and personal capacities. This is
consistent with the personal power and the psychological power. Participants are
aware of their personal strength through the process, expressing changes and learning experiences related to their abilities and self-esteem.
For example, a woman in Cedepaz said:
I feel like crying, but I dont cry for pain, I cry because I feel restored, I feel I have that
strength, you know. I feel the drive to keep moving forward now I know Im ready to
take care of my daughters and to fight all the way for my own family- F1.

Another one said:

Ive changed a lot, yes, I have! I threw out my shyness, I lost that silliness too, because even
when I was the leader I was afraid of speaking to the doctors. But now I dont believe all
they say, because no one is better than me, and Im not less than anyone. F2



Participants also talked about the strength and motivation to take care of their own
lives. They also identified their strengths and expressed awareness of their lives
being valuable.
Thus, a woman in Cedepaz referred to the courage and ability to fight when facing her experience: I see I can keep going on because if I were a coward, I would
stay still, but no, I keep on fighting and Ill see how far I can get (F9). Another
woman recognized the accompaniment as the heart of this process: you felt really
important; it was really nice, like lifting your self-esteem very high (F10).
The second dimension proposed by Rowlands (1997) is the close relationships
dimension. This refers to the ability to negotiate and influence the nature of relationships and decisions. Two different aspects were identified in this dimension:
the first, related to power with and the second one to power to. Regarding the
first aspect, narratives expressed a sense of doing together as well as doing for
This was expressed by the attitude to spread ones own strength to family members:
the problem is: how can I get the energy to give the kids all they need, so they wont
be sad. What worth is it for to remind them of our farms ? Ive tried to make them
see the other side of things, even if it doesnt have it; you have to make them see it. (F2,

Also the desire to contribute to the community with expressions such as Im working for my people (F9, Cedepaz), and:
The idea is that as long as I can move on, and have the opportunity to help others, whether
they are in a similar situation or not; as long as God gives me the possibility to help, Ill
really, really like that, I would love it, if God gives me the opportunity to do something for
my people. (F1, Mencoldes).

The second aspect of this dimension related to the concept of power to, both from
a mobilization perspective (Murguialday etal. 1998), and from a creative perspective (Snchez 2002). Far from expressing high-level incident actions or great innovation, Mencoldes participants revealed the attitude of assuming decisions and
actions for their own life as part of their psychosocial process. This is in contrast
with the paralysis produced by the eruption of violence and the uprooting in their
lives, as an expected consequence of displacement.
Ive moved as much as possible and have made denounces in one place and another. I
officiated for everyone. I went to the office of the General Attorney here, with the purpose
of preventing this sergeant from causing any more damage. He already killed my son. How
many more can he get killed, just because they dont agree with him? (F4).

In Cedepaz, the organizational capacity was bigger given the nature of the accompaniment and the neighborly relationship of its participants. The Cedepaz reorganization led by women was proof of this achievement. One participant narrated it
as follows:
he [the organization leader] had to leave, the organization stayed, and well, time went
by and when we saw each other, we felt so lonely we did not know what to do, so I started
to get the people that were going to the organization I started organizing myself a little

Personal Resources and Empowerment in a Psychosocial Accompaniment Process


and from that, the same people at the organization I was elected as the leader so I could
work for them (F10)

One element the World Bank4 has considered among the four fundamental empowerment elements is access to information (Narayan 2002). This was also present in
both Cedepaz and Mencoldes as an expression of power to.
I read all I can I have to take advantage of the best and I know that, even if we
depend on each other because we all live together, I know Im the one that has to get the
tools Ive spent a lot of time getting lots of information, to support my family, to move
on because here it is really hard (M2 Mencoldes).

While the perspective of the World Bank refers to making information access easier
by the cooperating agencies, the peoples attitude and interest in getting the information that will help them to make responsible decisions is the most important
indication of empowerment. In addition, rather than just having access to more information in an instrumental manner, as stated by the World Bank, it is important to
consider extending the knowledge horizon and accessing other points of view and
perspectives on reality. As seen in Cedepaz, this favored empowerment.
being the leader caught my attention to get knowledge. Right now on the Work Table, if
they tell me I have a meeting somewhere, they know Ill go. Ive always liked that, to go
and see new places where I havent been! (F9 Cedepaz).

Moreover, the accompaniment process can produce learning, achievement, change,

and strengthening of the bonds inside an organization. Undoubtedly, this scope of
impact shows a transition to the third dimensioncollective dimensionand a
clearer pathway to empowerment. The Collective dimension was defined by Rowlands (1997) in terms of participation in political structures and taking collective
action based on cooperation.

None of the narratives in Mencoldes revealed high levels of group or community organization for collective action. However an initial contact with the legal, political,
and state structures, in terms of enforceability, revealed an empowering attitude by
a woman in Mencoldes. This position represents an example of the accountability
proposed by the World Bank (Narayan 2002) as one of the elements in empowerment that becomes essential in the collective dimension.
In Cedepaz, the organizational strengthening and participation in conversational
spaces with management authorities, showed a joint action beyond survival and
demands for goods and services. It is important to note that in this organization, the
goal to promote empowerment was facilitated by other experiences the University
The four elements proposed by the World Bank nurtured the analysis. Those elements are: access to information, inclusion and participation, responsibility or accountability, and the Local
Organizational Capacity.



carries out, led by the Environmental Studies Department, and the participation
of Economics and Business Administration apprentices, as well as other organizations with a political and legal profile, such as FEDES (Foundation for Education
and Development), that allowed a process set on structural reality. In Mencoldes,
limits of this empowerment goal were acknowledged from the beginning, because
the work was done exclusively on the emergency phase (Tovar and Galindo 2006).
This experience taught that the conditions that favor empowerment in a psychosocial accompaniment process are: (1) An open and horizontal relationship among accompaniers and accompaniesthat promotes an enriched relationship between
different people without being detrimental to the professional role; (2) effectively
working across disciplines; (3) engaging people to actively engage in the design and
carrying out of the accompaniment activities, and (4) the linkage of the accompaniment process to the personal and collective daily life of the accompanies.
Analysis of the categories of personal resources and empowerment showed
that participants had their recovery strength, and that the temporary presence of
the psychosocial accompaniers can be replaceable. At the same time, this analysis
encourages psychosocial work in the sense that it acts as a catalyst of these processes that can be done without it, but which are strengthened and enriched with it.

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Memory, Narrative, and the Social

Transformation of Reality
Ral Vidales

In memory of Olga Tony Vidales

Ella guard acusiosa los ecos eternales
de pasos y de sueos que nunca fueron da
y torn sinsabores en notas musicales
y a luchas sin laureles calor de meloda.
La caracola es de tiempo,
Neiva 1982

This chapter is based on the research project The collective memory of the victims of State crimes as a political struggle and a challenge to social policy1. The
text presented below proposes an approach to the meanings of collective memory
retrieval in the National Movement of State Crimes Victims in Colombia. The aim
was to elucidate the social and political value of recovering the collective memory
of State crime victims, as well as the implications thereof for public life, and the
make-up of the populations social and political subjectivities.
The investigative procedure was conducted on the basis of analyzing content
from five in-depth interviews with representatives of organizations that are part of
the National Movement of State Crimes Victims in ColombiaBogot Chapter.
For reasons of confidentiality, their names will not be revealed.
This analysis, organized from the perspective of the social psychology of liberation, includes a conceptual approach to the process of building social frameworks of
memory (Halbwachs 2004a), to the work of memory (Jelin 2002) and to the sense
that this work promotes resistance to social oblivion and the fight against impunity.
Based on victims accounts, it also seeks to ascertain which strategies have been
employed to impose impunity and eradicate the memories of atrocities. This analysis is conducted on the basis of three conceptual themes: the use of direct violence,
threats, and harassment as a form of silencing the exercise of terror; the institutional
Thesis for Masters in Social Policy, Faculty of Political Science and International Relations,
Universidad Javeriana, May 2008.

R. Vidales()
Pontifical Javeriana University, Bogot, Colombia
S. Sacipa-Rodriguez, M. Montero (eds.), Psychosocial Approaches to Peace-Building in
Colombia, Peace Psychology Book Series 25,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-04549-8_7, Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014



R. Vidales

lie articulated towards selectivity, biased information, and the manipulation of social realities in the media; and polarizing designation and stigmatization exerted
from official sources as regards the complaint processes, rights enforceability, and
the updating of a past of never-ending victimization.
Considering memory from a land at war, such as Colombia, where the populations fundamental rights continue to be attacked on a daily basis, means finding
oneself in a setting where the logic of repression, extermination, and destruction
continues to prevail as the guiding principles of economic, political, and social control in large areas of the country. Through the pathways of terror arising from direct
violence and media manipulation, psychological violence undermines the collective
processes constructing social meanings of reality.
The possibility of an encounter with the past, with the present, with the other, and
with the way our identity has been shaped is mediated by the logic and practice of
dirty war. Faced with this panorama, the population must articulate collective processes that enable awareness and public debate around versions of national events
that have not been widely disseminated, and that reveal both the infamy of repression and the proposals for social transformation which, after the atrocities, owing
to its silencing, continue to be addressed and reconstructed within these processes.
The peaceful transformation of the social, political, and economical conflicts the
country is suffering requires public recognition of the different realities that comprise them. The work of memory for victims of State crimes in Colombia and for the
people and organizations assuming this joint work makes it possible for unofficial
versions of the social reality to break into the public arena, articulated in a collective process of fighting against impunity and in favor of the enforceability of truth,
justice, reparation, and guarantees of nonrepetition.
According to Giraldo (2004), Vice President of the International League for the
Rights and Liberation of Peoples, the fight against impunity is defined by disaggregating four key objectives and contrasting them with other perspectives:
1. Safeguarding memory, as opposed to those proposals which recommend collective amnesia as the basis for building a different future
2. Clarifying the facts, as opposed to those proposals that recommend a simple,
superficial, general, and anonymous recognition of the errors of the past
3. Punishing those responsible, as opposed to those proposals for constructing the
future which avoid justice
4. Repairing what was destroyed, as opposed to the proposal of constructing
responsibilities for the future on the base of the irresponsibility for the past
The truth of crimes against humanity, according to Giraldo, is repressed in Colombian society, in the expectation that the interests generated by the crimes, as
well as the projects in which they occur, can be uncovered and discussed in the full
light of day. It is expected that many thinkers (sociological, anthropological and
moral) will be able to unify the light to illuminate what it has been hoped would be
kept in dark tunnels, under the custody of powerful, dehumanized armies and antihumanity militants.

Memory, Narrative, and the Social Transformation of Reality


Faced with these demands, in the words of Elizabeth Jelin (2002), the past acquires an active sense, given by social agents placed in scenarios of confrontation
and struggle against other interpretations, other ways, or against oblivion and silence.
This raises the need to focus on the conflicts and disputes in the interpretation
and meaning of a past upon which impunity and oblivion were imposed through the
positioning of official accounts that have become hegemonic, steamrollering the
victims memories.
Within social groups, storytelling and other expressions of the past are articulated as constitutive of social practices, in the very configuration of the social being
within its different relational spaces; hence, when speaking of memory a reading
is proposed which exceeds the statism of thinking up a constituted memory, in a
series of memories stored in an individual or simply retained by social groups; as
suggested by the French sociologist Henri Desroche (1976), it refers to a constituent
memory, which is projected onto the social reality, intertwining the vectors of its
constant transformation and participating in the process of constituting the subjectivities that make it up.
Under this understanding of a constituent memory, Cepeda and Girn (2005)
suggest that the path taken by many people on the road to a nonviolent future shows
that, in addition to structural changes, the democratization of society entails a public
debate on the crimes of the past. Therefore, the work of memory, public Truth
Commission hearings, and show trials are liberating exercises in a society that for
long periods has had to remain silent, or where those who have spoken out have
been silenced forever.
It is in this sense that Mauricio Gaborit (2005) argues that Latin American societies with a long history of repression and war need access to memory as an essential
step towards obtaining even a modest level of mental health and configuring their
personal and collective identity (p.150).
Following this author, it is understood that, having experienced great losses in
personal and collective history, the recovery of collective memory must aim to
repair the social fabric torn by the official lie, concealing discourse and political
cynicism. This process directly involves the redefinition and the integration of these
memories with the personal and collective daily life, which necessarily entails the
reformulation and interpretation of historical legacies with a view to possessing
what is referred to as a responsible memory.
It should be noted that the impact of impunity and the selective oblivion of the
systematic violation of human rights of millions of Colombians rests not only on
the direct victims of internal armed conflict, but on society as a whole, which has
built its identity in the middle of the exclusion of vulnerable social sectors, deliberate institutional lies, the imposition of an official history riddled with omissions,
falsehoods, and fictions by the mass media, and the corrupt exercise of many of the
institutions and governments that administrate public life.


R. Vidales

Victims of State Crimes in Columbia

According to Spinellis (2001), the concept of criminality generally refers to the conflict arising when a citizen violates any of the rules that society has adopted when
organizing itself within the figure of the State. One condition of this rule infringement is the contrast between the individual and the State or any particular system,
meaning that the State represents a systematically organized society. Nonetheless,
when it is the State itself that violates the norm, through any of the natural persons
who represent it, when it is the bodies and agents thereof which act or fail to act in
order to perpetuate the effectiveness of the state of impunity, the concept of criminality must be transferred to the State body, thus involving those governors and
officials of the same who made the transgression of the populations fundamental
rights possible.
With respect to the unrestricted use of force by the military and security apparatus, the adoption of arbitrary regulations by the legislative powers and the inefficiency or biased performance of the judicial system should be added. In the case
of an armed conflict and war crimes, the distinctive character of the violation of
victims stems from the fact that it is armed agents or military organizations who
threaten individuals or civilian communities.
In opposition to this, the universal legal tradition has acknowledged the existence of superior rights for the State, which are demanded now not as citizens
of that State, but as human beings or members of the human species covered by a
suprastate legality (Spinellis 2001).
Therefore, Human Rights refer to the inalienable fundamental rights to which a
person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being: the State is
recognized as the main guarantor of rights, but at the same time, owing to its power,
it may be the entity against which people are most vulnerable. This is why Human
Rights treaties are signed by States, and if they are violated, the only guilty party
will be the State.
These attacks or criminal acts perpetrated by the State to meet certain ends, employing its agents (police, army, judiciary, intelligence, etc.), should be recognized
as State, violent, and corporate crimes and State terrorism. War crimes, crimes
against humanity, and genocide belong to this sort of crime as specific types of
crimes against peace (Montero 2000).
In contemporary history, it has been shown that these violent annihilation processes are not exceptional instances, but rather a particular technology of power,
a social practice designed to destroy and reorganize social relationships. From the
exercise of State power, policies of extermination have been implemented, aimed
at producing dramatic changes in the social fabric, more specifically in collective
subjectivity. These processes of the destructuring of subjectivity and restructuring
through terror have been implemented by means of physical force and with the aim
of controlling not only bodies, but thought and opinion, destroying the community
and the workplace, organizations that served to mobilize and maintain the populations awareness (Boleso 2008).

Memory, Narrative, and the Social Transformation of Reality


In order to speak of State crime in Colombia, we need to calculate the social

phenomenon that is referred to; most of the following data are inaccurate, taking
into account the underreporting owing to the fear for denouncing or reporting such
cases to the official institutions, or to human rights organizations.
According to the records of the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES), there are already more than 4,437,000 people displaced by the
war. According to the International Peace Observatory2, more than 65,000 summary executions have been carried out, of which more than 5,000 correspond to
the genocide of the Patriotic Union party and the Communist Party, and 2,515 were
Unionists; 10,000 people have been detained and have disappeared, their bodies
buried in mass graves; more than 6 millionha of land have been wrested from rural
communities and are now in the hands of the paramilitary or drug traffickers.
From July 2002 to December 2007 at least 13,634 people were killed outside
combat conditions owing to the sociopolitical violence; of these, 1,314 were female
and 719 were children. Of the 13,634 individuals, 1,477 were abducted by force.
Furthermore, in 75.4% of the 8,049 cases in which the presumed perpetrator of the
crime was known, the responsibility was attributed to the State: 17.53% (1,411 victims) through the direct involvement of State agents, and 57.87% (4,658 victims)
through supporting paramilitary crimes. Guerrilla groups were alleged to have been
responsible for 24.59% of cases (1,980 victims).3
According to Giraldo (2003), the State and the Colombian establishment have
adopted dirty war tactics in order to confront insurgency and to subdue civil society.
While in regular warfare the only lawful military target is the armed combatant
in armed confrontation, in dirty wars the human military target is more prevalent.
While in regular warfare it is possible to distinguish clearly between combatants
and the civilians, in this kind of war borders are more diffuse and broader sections
of civilians are embroiled in the conflict. While in regular war military objectives
are only physical assets at the direct service of warfare, in this type of war the target
to be attacked is much broader, since guerrilla warfare aims to dismantle the social
and economic model.
Following this author, even before the current Colombian guerrilla groups were
formed, a strategy of counterinsurgency, incorporating the action of civilian paramilitary structures as part of the fighting force, had been adopted, focusing on civilians as the main enemy target, all this while pursuing the American doctrine of
national security, which assumes the elimination of an ideological enemy, a way
of thinking, any social alternative or dissent generated within the social body.
As stated by the Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in its report on demobilization in Colombia in 2008.
The deployment of violence has been concentrated in certain areas where the country seems
to respond to military strategic and economic domination. The Departments most affected
Observatory of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. Coordination ColombiaEurope
United States.


R. Vidales
were Antioquia, Bolivar, Magdalena, Norte de Santander, Cauca, Meta, Arauca, Caquet,
Cundinamarca and Choc, although acts of violence and displacement have been registered
in all of them (p.20).

One of the victims of State crimes interviewed analyzed, from her own experience,
the widespread and systematic manner in which this dirty war strategy operates:
I have suffered two displacements, in two very different social contexts, which enable me to
recognize that what happened to me, and what happens to millions of people in this country,
is no coincidence. What is happening here forms part of a totalitarian project which they
aim to implement, for which the State has developed mechanisms of repression, not only
for destroying lives, but for eradicating thoughts, proposal and processes. (E3)

Rulings from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Reports of the Human
Rights Commission of the UN, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, documents of International Assignment in the country, as well as different internal criminal and disciplinary proceedings, have established the direct relationship between
military and paramilitary forces by way of example: the murder of Jaime Pardo
Leal, Carlos Pizarro Leon-Gomez, Manuel Cepeda; massacres such as the Uvos,
the Naya in Caloto, Cauca; Riofro and Trujillo in Valle del Cauca; Red Navy, 19
merchants, Rochela, May 16, in the Magdalena Medio, Segovia, El Aro, Ituango,
San Jose de Apartado, Antioquia; Mapiripan, Meta, among many others.
The Inter-American Court (2004) recognizes that members of paramilitary
groups have repeatedly been accused of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including massacres of unarmed civilians, assassinations of social leaders, trade unionists, human rights activists, justice officials, and
journalists among others; acts of torture, harassment, and intimidation, and actions
aimed at forcing the displacement of entire communities. In turn, it confirms that
the Inter-American Commission and Court have established the responsibility of
the State whenever these serious violations of the American Convention on Human
Rights were committed with the acquiescence of State agents (p.42).
Adhering to the Commissions report, this onslaught of violence has had an impact on human rights defenders and social leaders, who are the targets of constant
attacks by the armed conflict.

The National Movement of State Crime Victims

In Columbia, State crime victims organizations are constituted as a collective strategy to address the systematic and widespread human rights violations.
These organizations are based on local initiatives in those regions affected by
State crime in Colombia; they exist to denounce, demand, and enter into dialogue
with official and civil sectors. In turn, these organizational processes find similar initiatives in various regions with which they can construct common complaint
and lobbying processes, and articulate new organizational processes, platforms and

Memory, Narrative, and the Social Transformation of Reality


social movements at the national level, such as the National Movement of State
Crimes Victims.
Generally, these movements participate with and accompany organizations from
the civil society that support their initiatives on an organizational, legal, and psychosocial level, often laying bridges for and managing dialogue with the international community.
MOVICE brings together communities of different ethnic, cultural, and generational origins; organizations that have experienced the impact of violence generated
by the Colombian State. Thus, within this organizational process there are4:
1. Victims of crimes against humanity that is, practices widespread and systematic,
perpetrated by agents, institutions, and state authorities or armed structures covered by the State5
2. Victims of war crimes committed by the State against civilians and
3. Victims of genocide for political, social and ethnic reasons, as well as all kinds
of systematic extermination of human groups
4. Survivors organizations, the families of direct victims, social, labor, political and
legal organizations that have been assaulted within and outside the country and
assert their right to clarify the Memory, Truth, Justice, and Integral Reparation
5. Support organizations for victims of political, social, economic, social, cultural
and environmental rights violations
Within the process of articulating individuals and organizations, MOVICE aims to
that the social movement be plural, broad, and able to talk about topics which are not
broached in this polarized, fragmented and fearful country, about violence, about the lack
of guarantees for the fulfillment of rights, about what generates fear in this country, where
the criminalization of social protest has been naturalized and people are not considered as
subjects of rights (E1)

MOVICE was established within the research project Colombia Nunca Ms (Colombia Never Again), whose investigational work has, for over 12 years, been:
a strategic commitment to recovering the memory of social organizations working with
victims of State crimes, mostly organizations of a legal nature, some of a social nature that
do not deal with processes of legal nature but which provide support to victims, advising
them as regards their human rights, and a number of peasant and union organizations interested in telling the truth about crimes against humanity which also became involved in the
process. (E2)
Information from the movements website
Such as torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, abductions, selective assassinations, massacres, rapes, expulsions and forced relocation, arbitrary arrests, imprisonment for
political reasons and opinion, political persecution, arbitrary extradition, exile, and banishment.
Practices of persecution, torture, abductions, assassinations, bombings, displacement or starvation of the civilian population, death or inhuman treatment inflicted on prisoners of war, plunder of
public property, destruction of civilian property in military operations, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment exercised in combat or armed conflict.


R. Vidales

The Colombia Nunca Ms project has proposed to undertake a process of collecting, systematizing and analyzing State crimes, in order to launch an investigation
which, as a whole, will make it possible to discover and analyze:
their backgrounds, their motives, policies and strategies, among which they were
planned and carried out; their institutional mechanisms, procedures, methods and means;
the perpetrators profiles, the pattern of the transgression of laws and rights, the justificatory
discourses thereof, the mechanisms that make them possible, the constellations of support,
complicity, collusion and tolerance; profiles of victims, the effects of crime on families,
friends, communities, organizations, parties and other social fabric in which victims and
society in general were embedded (Project Research Team Colombia Nunca Ms, 2008

For one of the women interviewed, the project initially sought to document cases
lending credence to her information, on the basis that, in legal and social terms, their
versions should go against the official version, which in almost all cases refute them
in an exercise of concealment.
that was to say: there is no torture here, there are no missing people here, there are no murders here; accidents or deaths were all in combat; these two versions being found, and the
question was how to prevent those last remaining traces of the testimony focused on the
victims from being erased from memory To start with, we began to systematize the information, for greater reliability: how many crimes had been committed, who the perpetrators
of these crimes were and what mechanisms of impunity had been set in place around the
crime; this work allowed us to demonstrate that this was part of a State policy.

With the track record of Colombia Nunca Ms and of the organizations that articulated it, the idea arose of creating a social movement to combat impunity; then, after
many years of working with victims in the regions, the Movement of State Crimes
Victims held its first national meeting in 2004, establishing itself as the National
Movement of State Crimes Victims in 2005, the same year the Law 975 of 2005
(Justice and Peace Law) was signed (Cepeda 2008).
For Cepeda (2008), the leitmotif of MOVICE is that a truth pertaining to its
historical reality can be acknowledged and established in Colombia, so that it is not
only the official history which imposes a memory oriented towards transmitting a
version of the totally disfigured history:
The idea that in Colombia have been some kind of demons: drug traffickers and guerrillas,
and as a natural result of these two sources of crime, paramilitary groups have emerged as
a natural logical response of certain sectors against this form of violence, where finally the
State would appear as a victim, as a State that has had neither sufficient capacity, nor the
national framework necessary to combat these criminal ways, is a lie(Cepeda 2008).

In light of this distorted history, Cepeda (2008) recognizes the emergence of MOVICE as an alternative from the popular social sectors to build their version of history and place it in the public debate, seeking a different perspective of what has
occurred in Colombia.
In this sense, another of the interviewees said:
We victims are not only subjects of compassion: Poor victims how they suffer Lets
make sure the State guarantees them a handful of lentils to throw into the pot; we victims
also constitute an opportunity for change, we are the ones who, in our individual stories,

Memory, Narrative, and the Social Transformation of Reality


have all the arguments to say that something is happening here and that it has to be changed,
which has been very difficult in the midst of this context, because a right-wing project
has developed aimed at suppressing everything that does not conform In the midst of
so much crime, in the midst of so much brutality, the victims have been called to be at
the forefront of the building process, which has been totally denied by institutions and by
governments, because either the institutions have always been placed at the forefront or the
perpetrators have been placed at the forefront, and the victims are like accessories to these
processes, for whom it is a modicum of help needs to be generated, when in the end one
is really demanding fundamental structural changes and not simply particular individual
solutions (E4).

The Social Construction of Collective Memory

The exercise of the capabilities of remembering and forgetting is unique. Each individual, in his/her process of constructing reality, has the potential to activate the past
in the present or memory as the present of the past (Ricoeur 1999), thus defining
personal identity and continuity of ones self over time.
However, this process of constructing a reality and activating the past does not
occur in isolated individuals; it is embedded in the social relations networks, groups,
institutions, and cultures on which the passage from individual to social and interactive among specific social groups and contexts that make it impossible to remember
or recreate the past without appealing to them are imposed.
Each time memory is active, the version of past is modified, as constructions
are not simple impartial descriptions of events and happenings, but are erected on
arguments, explanations, and interpretations that interrogate, ratify, or defend the
constructions of the past into a dialogic relationship with other versions (Bajtin
1979, quoted by Vsquez 2005, p.115). Thus, the past is understood not as a finished article, but rather as a process of continuous construction, as an element that
lends meaning to social reality and participates in the ways subjects signify and give
meaning to the world around them.
It is in society that people normally acquire their memories, it is there where it
is remembered, recognized, and memory is located. The collective memory is not
a list where successive, linear events are retained, rather the joint reconstruction of
the reminded events (Halbwachs 2004b).
To conceive memory from its social character, as a process and a product of human relations and practices, entails recognizing both its symbolic and its historical
dimensions. The symbolic dimension refers to the character of social meaning of
the world, understanding that language, communication, and culture are the cornerstones of the articulation of reality, which is not separate or independent of people,
but they make reality through their meaningful construction for their relationship
(Vsquez 2005, p.117).
Thus, the social forms part of and is created from the common meanings of a
society, taking intersubjectivity (i.e., the space of constructed common meanings
in which we participate together) as a breeding ground, making the coordination of


R. Vidales

social activities possible through joint action between the participants in a relationship (Ibez 1989). Within this process of sharing meanings, the past is communicatively constructed through the practice of memory as a symbolic function practice
(Vsquez 2005).
In this sense, Halbwachs (2004a, p.279) argues that the use of a shared language
is the condition for group thinking, where each word is accompanied by memories:
memories are talked about before being evoked; it is the language and the entire
system of social conventions that are bound to them, which enables the past to be
reconstructed at any moment.
This shared nature of language and its communicative dimension make it possible to recognize society as a core element in the reconstruction of the past, it is
this that provides us with the means to build memory and it is what makes language,
the basic instrument of communication, possible (Vsquez 2005, p.118).
On the other hand, the historical dimension of memory involves recognizing
social reality as a process, given its temporally dynamic and changing nature. To
address a social phenomenon we cannot dispense with its genealogy or social and
cultural conditions of its production. The exercise of remembering cannot be separated from the historical moment in which it has emerged and has been created,
nor can it be divorced from the historical processes that have led to its appearance
(Vsquez 2005).
Even though a historical dimension of memory can be recognized, one which
places its approach to reality in space and time coordinates, it is worthwhile differentiating the concept of a collective memory of history, establishing in advance
a standpoint with regard to the discussion (often merely formal) between collective
memory and historical memory.
Within the concept of collective memory, Halbwachs (2004b) proposes a categorical distinction between two different dimensions of historical time: historical
memory and collective memory. This distinction asserts the originality and substantiality of a collective memory subtracted to the spectrum where the specificity of the
time characteristic of history is constructed.
As Carretero (2008) says, Halbwachs understands that to recognize the socioanthropological transcendence of collective memory necessarily entails assigning
this a qualitative entity clearly distinguished with regard to the historical, so as to
show its irreducibility with respect to the particularity of historical time. The past,
then, is something far more fertile than mere history; it cannot be encapsulated
within a simple reconstruction of an ordered series of important historical events
viewed from a distance promoted by objectivity.
Collective memory is an essential constituent of the social construction of a past
that refuses to be constrained, submitted, or subdued by the constriction imposed by
historical memory, as it inevitably transcends it, within a temporality characterized
by sinking its roots in living world (Carretero 2008).
History is not all the past; nor is it all that remains of the past alongside a
written history, there is a living history, perpetuated, renewed over time, and where
you can rediscover a vast number of ancient currents that had only disappeared in
appearance (Halbwachs 2004b, p.113).

Memory, Narrative, and the Social Transformation of Reality


According to Halbwachs (2004b), two key features distinguish collective memory from historical memory: collective memory, unlike historical memory does not
retain from the past more than what is still alive or able to live in the consciousness
of the group that remains (p.131); and, unlike the history which has traditionally
been understood as the universal memory of humankind, it has a dimension that is
always local, it is supported by a group limited in space and time (p.137). According to the author, history is nothing more than a subsequent reinterpretation of
earlier times that would seek to focus its interest on certain events, dates, or events
especially targeted for the scientific objectivity established by the historians analysis. Sometimes the persistent presence of the collective memory is repressed, rendered invisible by institutionalized history, as in the case of victims of State crimes
in Colombia. Thus, the vitality of the collective memory outlives the use that history
attempts to make of the past.
In this sense one of the interviewees stated: When it comes to memory from the
Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE), we are talking about the need for a
version of events that has not been widely disseminated, to position realities that our
lives have undergone and which have been covered up by the official version. (E 4)

Recovery of the Collective Memory of State Crime Victims

Within Their Organizational Processes
El olvido entierra rostros y voces, pero la palabra logra traer de vuelta a los ausentes y a los
silenciados. La memoria trae al presente a los que ya no estn, a los que fueron condenados
al silencio, los hace regresar del olvido (Campos 2003).

Maurice Halbwachs addressed the problem of memory within social groups in his
work Social Frameworks of Memory (1925) and Collective Memory (published
posthumously). For him, individual memories are always socially framed in settings containing the general representation of the society, its needs and values, we
can only remember when we can retrieve the position of the past events in collective
memory frames Neglect is due to the disappearance of these frameworks or part
of them (2004a, p.172). This implies the presence of the social, even in the most
individual, as it is only remembered with the help of the memories of others and
shared cultural codes, even when personal memories are unique and singular.
Past and present experiences are understood through the pictures and ideas the
community has endowed them with (Blondel 1945). Thus, collective memory can
be understood as the social process of reconstructing the past as lived and experienced by a particular group, community or society (Fernndez 1991, p.98).
The significance of the events being experienced by a group or society is what
will be remembered with the passage of time. Memory, both individually and collectively, does not exist independently of existing social and historical frameworks.
The past is constructed in a dialectical process of constant reinterpretation, framed
in the particular coordinates of a present space-time.


R. Vidales

Thus, approaching memory from its complexity entails recognizing it as a historical, social and contextual process/product, and to study it through their expressions in the action, their meanings, the speeches that propitiate and articulate and
the practices which promotes (Vsquez 2005, p.113).
In the case of State crime victims, different social frameworks of memory can
be discerned; these include dates on which acts of individual and mass victimization (assassinations, massacres, disappearances, and displacement) were committed: the Slaughter of the bananeras,7 the Slaughter of El Salado,8 the Slaughter
of Mapiripan,9 Arrest abduction case 8210, among many, many others. However,
significant dates associated with collective actions that have become milestones in
the process of claiming and enforcement of rights are also commemorated, such as
International Workers Day, the International Day of the Disappeared,11 or March
6, which since 2008 has been a tribute to victims of State crimes. These dates are
commemorated in the setting of galleries of memory, demonstrations, rallies, and
humanitarian missions, among others.
Similarly, the social framework for memory takes the form of those spaces where
experiences are stored, where the groups live their reality and lend significance to
their experiences (Mendoza 2007). For State crime victims, the places haunted by
barbarism and terror constitute social frameworks of memory; reference to territory
is full of meanings referring to their past, to what has happened there, thus, contributing to the understanding of the present context and the construction of meaning
on the collective processes of organization and resistance from the victims and civil
society in these scenarios.
Another of the social frameworks that are essential for State crime victims are
the social groups of which they are members, and which are responsible for keeping
alive the memory of the absent, of the collective projects persecuted and repeatedly
attacked for their claims of violated rights, for their social, cultural, and political
proposals for a different society. Among these groups is MOVICE, as well as the
organizational processes that shape it, the communities with which they work, and
the families linked to these processes.
However, these frameworks, which are constituted by dates, places, and groups,
are traversed by common searches, shared by millions of people in different regions
of Colombia, the search for truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of nonrepetition.
This took place in the Colombian town of Cienaga in December 6 of 1928, when a regiment of
Colombias armed forces opened fire on demonstrators protesting the poor working conditions in
the United Fruit Company, over a thousand people were killed.
Committed between 16 and 19 February 2000 by the Northern Block of the Defense Forces of
Colombia (AUC) with the complicity of members of the Armed Forces of Colombia. In June 2008,
the Attorney Generals Office determined that more than 100 people had been killed.
It took place from 15 to July 20, 1997, in the homonymous municipality in the Meta department
and cost the lives of an unknown number of citizens at the hands of paramilitary groups.
Between March 4 and September 13, 1982 members of the Colombian state F2 detained and
abducted more than 13 people, mostly students from the National and Local University.
The Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Detained-Disappeared
(FEDEFAM), declared August 30 as International Day of the Disappeared.

Memory, Narrative, and the Social Transformation of Reality


In turn, these searches converge in horizons of understanding shared around the

construction of a more inclusive society, one in which fundamental rights are balanced with the populations ability to exercise and enjoy them, where critical, divergent thinking, such as political opposition, can be expressed without being subdued,
persecuted, and silenced.

The Work of Memory

Quiero escarbar la tierra con los dientes,
quiero apartar la tierra parte a parte
a dentelladas secas y calientes.
Quiero minar la tierra hasta encontrarte
y besarte la noble calavera
y desamordazarte y regresarte.
Miguel Hernndez

According to Jelin (2002), atrocities of the past can break through, penetrate, invade the present as nonsense, as mnemonic traces, such as silence, such as compulsions or repetition; situations in which the memory of the past invades, without
becoming the object of work.
The trauma arising from these horrific events, the suppression of memory and
identity, as well as extermination campaigns, aimed at breaking up the social group,
can only be overcome through a situation of recasting symbolic representations
which establish the limits with respect to other social groups, particularly with respect to the traumatic past. If these symbolic walls are not built as a common security token that what has happened will not happen again, as stated by Ricoeur
(2000), more than a repetition of how events unfolded in the past, we will witness
the continuation thereof.
In the Colombian case, there is clearly no repetition of the traumatic past in
the memory encapsulated in a distant and painful yesterday; on the contrary, it
is reproduced on a daily basis. Relatives of those missing and murdered by State
or para-State agents, individuals, families, and communities which have been
displaced and tortured since the 1960s are todays victims in the articulation of
organizational processes for the enforcement, visibility, and recognition of their
violated rights.
These organizational processes are implemented in the middle of a dirty war
against broad sectors of the population, which despite being overlooked and invisible in the media and political sphere, cannot be torn from the consciousness of millions of victims and citizens, who, as witnesses of injustice, recognize and become
aware of these brutal exercises of hegemony and domination, noting the fracture in
their own rights and possibilities of becoming political subjects with the constitutional freedom and guarantees to which they are entitled.
The systematic annihilation is not being repeated; it is still going on, it is being
maintained and strengthened in the middle of impunity, of social polarization, of the


R. Vidales

stigmatization of victims and organizations or dissident social sectors, and empowered in the enforcement of their rights.
So, assuming the painful deluge of a traumatic past that is projected onto a bleak
present requires the symbolic processing thereof through the development of senses which render it apprehensible, and to that extent, transformable. This involves
working on, developing, and integrating memories and recollections.
Jelin (2002) argues that in psychoanalysis, the theme points to the work of mourning, which involves an intra-psychic process, sequential to the loss of an object of
fixation, and through which the subject manages to progressively discard this object
(Laplanche and Pontalis 1981, p. 435, quoted by Jelin, 2002). This entails being able
to forget and to transform emotions and feelings, breaking the fixation on the other
and on mourning, accepting the satisfaction that comes with staying alive.
However, as stated by Cruz (2007), mourning should not be a pathway towards
oblivion, but a relationship of another type with the past. The traumatic memory
cannot be conceived as a painful object that must be discarded; on the contrary,
it must be apprehended by the social body within a process of rebuilding a complex
It should be understood that in a setting that is far from being a transitional
process, with intensified political and social conflict, the past, conceived as part
of a strategy of terror and domination, is projected as, and becomes for victims of
State crimes in Colombia, a continuous threat to their present and possible future;
a threat which ripples out in shock waves towards the social body in an exercise of
either blindness or excision induced by the social realities of the conflict, or of the
recognition of the illusory nature of the democratic practice, of the real possibility
of becoming a subject of rights, of finding in the State a guarantor of rights, or of
the ultimate social function of its institutions (Vidales 2005).
Just as individuals must go through a time that allows them to come to terms
with the true extent of the loss, a society also must also not move on too quickly
if doesnt want that which has supposedly been forgotten to reappear at the least
expected moment. In a certain pragmatic and utilitarian sense, a therapeutic view of
the matter seems to underlie this conception of memory(Cruz, p.33).
For Manuel Cruz (2007), this passage of social trauma development which involves the work of memory, initially implies starting to talk, trying to create an
intersubjective account, subjecting to a determined treatment the experiences lived
by the protagonists in the perspective of trying to make them understandable experiences, and not only shared empathically to others, which is like saying: take the
experiences lived by putting them to work (p.53).
To this extent, the challenge for society is to overcome the reoccurrences, to
overcome oblivion and political abuse, to step back and at the same time to encourage debate and active reflection on the past and its meaning for the present/future
(Jelin 2002).
Referring to uses of memory, Todorov (2000) recognizes a pragmatic dimension to the work of memory conceived not only as something to be done with the
past but mainly with the present. The role of the past in the present, the reason
for remembering. This author argues that the battle for memory not only refers to

Memory, Narrative, and the Social Transformation of Reality


disputes between historians but also becomes the very terrain where the very identity of the republic and democracy arising from those events is rediscussed, recast,
or demolished.
Angel Sanchez River (2008) speaks of memory militants, Elizabeth Jelin (2002)
of memory entrepreneurs, referring in both cases to the people and groups working
to recover the memory of their victimization processes, seeking social recognition
and political legitimacy for their narrative version of the past, attempting in turn to
keep social and political attention on their venture visible and active.
For Carmen Becerra (2006), coordinator of the Truth, Justice and Reparation
Observatory in Colombia, the memory of the victims through their families, victims organizations and social organizations is incorporated into the imaginary and
into the work of a society that refuses to be forgotten:
Actions of memory retrieval constitute at the same time an act of empowerment, vindication and resistance: The stories of victims of political violence reallocate memory in the
public sphere disputed by the interests of different armed groups. Through their stories they
return to the public sphere from which they had been expelled and nullified (Becerra 2006).

According to the author, manifestations of memory and collective commemoration

are articulated as a set of images and information that, despite being neither pertinent nor legally relevant in the midst of a justice and peace process12 that focuses
on the offender, make it possible to remember victims in their work, in their daily
lives, in their experience, in their life projects.
Thus, the ineffectiveness of the judicial system gives rise to alternative forms
of sanctions, alternative forms of making complaints and of the collectivization of
mourning which are articulated through acts of remembrance and public demonstrations which commemorate the victims and their life histories transgressed by the
history of infamy; the pre-empted criminal actions against them are exposed; mention is made of those responsible and the systematic nature and continuity of these
crimes is censured (Becerra, 2006).
For MOVICE (2008) any work on the reconstruction of collective memories
must, above all, foster an active experience of the empowerment of the victims
as moral subjects of law on the basis of the search for truth, justice, and reparation. This active experience presupposes, initially, a break with the logic of terror
that the omnipotence of the perpetrators assumes, reducing, from a language and a
limited view of the problems of the victims, the chances of influencing society as
a whole.
As part of this dynamics of social impact, the process of recovering collective
memory is understood as the recognition of how memories related to particular
Act 975 of 2005. Omissions, systematic denial of State responsibility and the still practically
zero progress on reparation establish this law, primarily as a means of impunity in the State crime
and the alleged "demobilization" of paramilitary groups, which instead of a cessation of military
action is a systematic concealment of it, by qualifying its exercise of social control towards absolute impunity and invisibility as regards public opinion; thus resulting in an escalation of the dirty
war, in which victims have no guarantees whatsoever of restitution, compensation, rehabilitation,
satisfaction and non-repetition.



R. Vidales

stories in specific environments and social sectors are registered in a more general,
more global memory.
In accordance with that postulated by MOVICE, when collective memory processes are generated, the aim is to ensure that those who have had their rights violated, and society as a whole, assume the historical legacy of victims, transforming
their experiences of civil resistance, faced with oblivion and impunity, into the cornerstones of a pedagogy for appropriating human rights.

The Challenges of Memory

In the articulation of State crime victims organizational processes, the mistrust
and fear learned through the practices of psychological warfare which target civilians must be confronted. This psychological warfare aims to generate feelings of
insecurity and paralysis among the population, through the exercise of terrifying
repression employing the visible execution of cruel acts which unleashes massive,
uncontrollable fear among the population:
Thus, while the repression physically eliminates those people who are the direct
targets of their actions, their terrifying character tends to paralyze all those who,
in one way or another, can relate to some aspect of the victim (Martn-Bar 1990,
According to Martn-Bar (1990), the procedures in psychological warfare use
the anxieties, fears, and frustrations of the people (men, women, and children)
transforming danger and life-threatening situations into a permanent situation with
an unpredictable outcome.
This psychological warfare gives rise to psychological and psychosocial traumas
in the victimized populations, affecting the social and political being as well as
the intersubjective space which enables joint actions to be consolidated within the
social setting.
Faced with the trauma caused by this psychological warfare, the cohesive force
that is released by being able to share memories among the victims that are part of
the MOVICE Bogot Chapter is recognized, as a process of renewing confidence
and confronting fear in order to commit to a construction with the other, to a construction which, in the middle of adversity, is singled out, stalked, and constantly
attacked by paramilitary forces and a number of State agents.
These shared memories have generated bonds between us; there are things that are hard to
say, the people who had not spoken have moved along this path, sharing and feeling part
of something; its been a real construction of identity, from that initial distrust and from the
need to share. Memory is part of what we have achieved as a substrate unifying the chapter
(Bogot); we have succeeded in constructing strategies to surround each other, through
commemorative events, surrounding ourselves with key dates; this was based on sitting
down initially to share and mourn among ourselves; this is an area which has started to be
strengthened, by making these acts and these tributes public, by inviting more individuals
to come and surround the people (E1).

Memory, Narrative, and the Social Transformation of Reality


The problem of the fear, silence, and the difficulty is related with the aim of retrieving, transmitting, and acknowledging the memories of the victims with the brutality
and terror that have been unleashed in the country:
Here a lot of blood has flowed; people learn from these things and are afraid, and we are
afraid, too; we also assume the risks involved because the situation here is not easy and it
wont improve in the short term. The situation has got even worse with the present government: repression is more severe. Thats what makes you think that what its doing is not
going to improve in the short term. This shows a historical debt for each and every one of
us living in this country, that we always have been alienated in the face of a truly frightening reality (E2).

Unlike historical memory, collective memory only retains from the past that which
is still alive or able to live in the consciousness of the group that keeps it (p.131).
Collective memory is an essential constituent of the social construction of a past
that refuses to be constrained, submitted, or subdued by the constriction imposed by
the historical memory, since it inevitably transcends it, within a temporality characterized by sinking its roots in living world (Carretero 2008). History is a subsequent
rereading of earlier times which aims to define its interest in certain events, dates,
or events specially targeted for scientific objectivity established by the historians
analysis. At times, the persistent presence of the collective memory is repressed,
rendered invisible by a history that is institutionalized by the official versions.
As societies are formed by groups with different interests and values, collective
memory is inherently plural; there is no single memory or interpretation of the past
shared by the whole society. The transmission of knowledge and meanings of the
past becomes an open, public question, the object of strategic struggles, and it is
frequently conceived by the non-hegemonic sectors as a battle against forgetting or,
in any case, against the official history (Jelin 2002, p.54).
For Mendoza (2004), there are narrative agreements that shape experiences, to
account for the way they have been experienced, to make sense of the world. These
forms of speech are also a way of organizing the memories of past experience. The
reality of a given group, person, or community is not restricted to one single event:
there are several, and these become a thread of continuity that attempts to lend coherence to the past, transforming it into a memory.
In MOVICE this process of recognizing realities is, in turn, positioned as a way
of combating impunity, which is not only interpreted from the lack of criminal sanctions for perpetrators. Collective memory allows cases to be clarified, it being possible to then project it onto the social body, in order to thus mobilize public opinion
and raise questions among the population, attempting at the same time to counterbalance the biased information issued by the mass media and the accounts of events
which constitute the official version (Vidales 2005).
Updating a past is conducted within processes of constructing horizons of
meaning in continuous dialogue with the present, which on a daily basis take the
form of actions and collective work. Rather than being something that is thought
of and discussed, memory is that which we use to consider and we configure our
work with a view to transforming our reality, the reality of the social body of which
we are part.


R. Vidales

The motivation for social demands that bring certain versions or past narratives
to the public sphere, or demands for the inclusion of certain data from the past into
the official story is twofold: one is explicit, linked to the transmission of meaning
from the past to new generations; and the other implicit, responding to the urgency
of legitimizing and institutionalizing the public recognition of a memory. This with
the proviso that these are not neutral stories and data; rather they are loaded with
social mandates (Jelin 2002).
In the words of one interviewee:
Why do we endeavor to remember? Why do we insist on not forgetting the atrocity of
crimes, unspeakable infamy, extreme anguish? Because those actions that allow us to
restructure the memory, put it back into the present, playing with images and sounds that
evoke what once was, do not constitute an exercise which remains in the individual setting
of the person who remembers; it goes beyond this, into the public setting where collective
memory is in dispute (E2).

For Elizabeth Lira (2000), the political conflicts of this century and their outcomes,
the serious human rights violations that have occurred and the subsequent reconciliation processes, have generated a field of reflection and study to be tackled from
political and social processes13. These studies have addressed many expressions that
appeal to the need to contest the oblivion and to maintain memory. Nonetheless,
given the manner in which victors build a social and political memory of their actions and deeds, we need to go beyond acknowledging the facts and identifying antagonisms. Each national history is part of a set of facts and cross-political processes
for a variety of coexisting memories, which together constitute the collective memory of a society that avoids the ethical or political trial of those processes (p.149).
As suggested by Domnech (2008) a policy of fair memory14 must make it
possible to glimpse a horizon limited by the selective suppression of neglected or
repressed memories. A policy of fair memory would transcend the representation
of war as nonsense to be overcome with merely a reconciliation, as if so it would be
forgotten, on the one hand, that peace building is an active exercise that requires the
reparation of justice, and secondly, that the future depends on the use and presence
that is made of the past.

The Sense of Memory

As societies are formed by groups with different interests and values, collective
memory is inherently plural; there is no single memory or interpretation of the past
Key questions concern the scope of the political justifications, ideologies, and doctrines, and the
psychological and moral field to explain how it was possible that humans have produced this range
of cruelty and terror. The answer to this last question is not in the psychopathology of individuals
or groups. It is the combination of political justifications of the conflicts of power and interests, the
moral foundations for certain ideological definitions of the common good and collective personal
emotions and other motivations have been strengthened, which has made it possible for these processes take place (Lira 2000. p.148).
Concept coined by Ricoeur (2000) in Memory, history, forgetting.

Memory, Narrative, and the Social Transformation of Reality


shared by the whole society. The transmission of knowledge and meanings of the
past becomes an open, public question, the object of strategic struggles, and it is
frequently conceived by the non-hegemonic sectors as a battle against forgetting or,
in any case, against the official history (Jelin 2002, p.54).
For Mendoza (2004), there are narrative agreements that shape experiences, to
account for the way they have been experienced, to make sense of the world. These
forms of speech are also a way of organizing the memories of past experience. The
reality of a given group, person, or community is not restricted to one single event:
there are several, and these become a thread of continuity that attempts to lend coherence to the past, transforming it into a memory.
Approaching the problem of meaning given to the recovery of the collective
memory inside MOVICE entails addressing the sense of organizational action that
it articulates. A sense which, far from conceiving the collective memory as an end in
itself, it positions it as a strategic component of the process of enforcement of truth,
justice, reparation, and guarantees of nonrepetition.
Collective memory is understood as the reference for understanding what has
happened in the country, why it happened, those who have suffered and who have
been responsible, it makes it possible to recognize the fabric that has generated all
the victimization of people that have suffered crimes in the most insane ways that
one can imagine (E5). In order to unravel and articulate victims memories we
need to recognize how they have planned, developed, established and the mechanisms of repression by terror in Colombia while guaranteeing impunity.
Thus memory is recognized as the lynchpin for understanding the present in
the light of the past and to think about the future in a constructive way, not to avoid
acknowledging the pain of the wound open and all the painful things that could not
come to light because they are not recognized by the whole society (E4).
This process of recognizing realities is, in turn, positioned as a way of combating impunity, which is not only interpreted from the lack of criminal sanctions for
perpetrators. Collective memory enables cases to be clarified, it being possible to
go beyond the social body in order to mobilize public opinion and raise questions
in the population, trying in turn, to counterbalance the bias information that mass
media operates and the comfortable public narratives of events that make up the
official version. (E3)
The process of positioning State crime victims memories in the public sphere
implies a task, a struggle, the positioning of an account is something that is fought
for, the meaning is being able to participate in this struggle, as therein is an ethical
commitment with the victims, as not fighting for the memory and not fighting for
truth is tantamount to aiding and abetting the perpetrators, to letting them get away
with it, allowing their actions go unpunished and forgetting everything that they
have done(E2). The ethical commitment is to try to undermine the official version
that has been imposed on what has happened in Colombia in order consider other
scenarios and explanations of what happened.
In this regard, the Spanish psychologist Felix Vsquez Sixto (2005) states that
it is through memory that we try to sustain what has been and is no longer, to make
sense of and articulate meanings about the past, to negotiate versions about events,


R. Vidales

and eventually, to defend them against possible undermining or against conflicting

versions. Memories comprise elements that make it possible to lend stability to the
constantly shifting world in which we lead our lives, and of elements which enable
us to think of the world in transformation. In this sense, their function is to stabilize
the reality and to create spaces for new interpretations.
However, considering the problem of the emergence of truth as part of the meaning of the recovery of collective memory and of the very political struggle for the
memory, poses a number of questions regarding the nature and constitution of this
According to Jelin (2002), in scenarios of social and political conflict, different
social actors, with different links to past experience struggle to assert the legitimacy of their truth. The struggle arises between actors who claim recognition and
legitimacy for their word and their demands. The memories of those who were
oppressed and marginalized, who were directly affected by their physical deaths,
disappearances, torture, exile, and imprisonment, arise with the dual purpose of giving the real version of history from its memory, and of demanding justice. At such
times, memory, truth, and justice seem to blend into one, as the sense of the past on
which we are fighting is actually part of the demand for justice in the present.
The truth is assumed by the representatives of the National Movement of Victims
of Crimes of State as a clarification and public recognition of the facts of victimization, of the political control, social and economic strategies, imposed after them,
and their responsible ones. This implies that the people be aware and think that
the main thing is not justice, the main thing is the truth, to know why the events
occurred, why they kill, and then know for what we can use this truth to continue
forward (E5).
In this sense, another of the interviewees said: Truth is a need that peoples and
societies have to build stable projects on peace and justice. If society is built on lies,
this is only perpetuating the conflict, injustice and inequality. Hence we insist on
the need for memory, so as not to settle with the perpetrators truth, which is what is
happening (E1). The final declaration of the Third National Meeting of MOVICE15
suggests that the truth is an essential principle for overcoming impunity for crimes
against humanity, and for the full realization of the rights to justice and reparation.
For the Victims Movement the elucidation of what has happened is not a procedure
to be conducted secretly behind closed doors with those affected by violence. Truth
and collective memories are part of a process of democratization of society and an
opportunity for the social forces that have been excluded, persecuted, stigmatized,
and exterminated to be able to participate in public life. It is also a process that
must seriously challenge the democratic nature of the Colombian political system
and weaken the social legitimacy of the power groups that, through the systematic
use of lies and justification of the crimes, have succeeded in keeping up an image
of social respectability, and making the victims accountable for the aggression to
which they have been subjected for long periods.


Third National Movement of Victims of State Crimes. Bogota, D.C., July 9, 2006.

Memory, Narrative, and the Social Transformation of Reality


Becerra, C. (2006). Los Derechos De Las Victimas, La memoria y la resistencia al olvido. http:// Accessed 2 June 2007.
Blondel, C. (1945). Psicologa Colectiva. Mxico, D.F.: Compaa Editora Nacional.
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Campos, Y. (2003). Memoria de los silenciados: El Baile Rojo. Bogot: Grafiq Editores.
Carretero, A. (2008). Maurice Halbwachs: Oficialidad y clandestinidad de la memoria. Athenea
Digital, 33.
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Cepeda, I., & Girn, C. (2005). La segregacin de las vctimas de la violencia poltica. Bogot:
Ediciones Uniandes.
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21 June 2009.
Colombia Nunca Ms. (2008). Crmenes de lesa humanidad en la zona quinta. Bogot: CAJAR.
Comit de solidaridad con presos polticos. (2008). Interview with Ivan Cepeda, February 28,
2008. Accessed 12 June 2009.
Cruz, M. (2007). Acerca de la dificultad de vivir juntos: La prioridad de la poltica sobre la historia.
Barcelona: Gedisa.
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D.F.: Universidad de Guadalajara.
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multidisciplinarios en contextos mundiales. Madrid: Batarata.
Gaborit, M. (2005). Memoria histrica: Relato desde las vctimas. In N. Portillo, M. Gaborit, & J.
M. Cruz (Eds.), Psicologa social en la posguerra: Teora y applicaciones desde El Salvador.
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Halbwachs, M. (1995). Memoria colectiva y memoria histrica. Revista Espaola de Sociologa
Histrica, 69, 209219.
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Ibez, T. (Ed.). (1989). El conocimiento de la realidad social. Barcelona: Sendai.
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Lira, E. (2000).Verdad, justicia e impunidad. Memoria, perdn y olvido. In Vsquez J.(Ed.), Psicologa Social y Liberacin en Amrica Latina. Mxico, D.F: UAM Iztapalapa.
Martn-Baro, I. (1990). Psicologa social de la guerra: trauma y terapia. San Salvador: UCA editores.
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Masters degree dissertation, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogot.

Discourse as a Strategy for the Construction

of Peace Cultures
Wilson Lpez-Lpez, Jos Manuel Sabucedo-Cameselle, Idaly Barreto,
Yeny Serrano and Henry Borja

The Colombian violent conflict is one of the longest in the history of mankind, and
even though many diverse approaches towards its understanding have been made, it
has been only in the past few years that psychology has provided a systematic perspective on it. In social psychology it is clear that the peaceful solution of a violent conflict is chimerical without an understanding of the psychosocial processes
involved in it. This is even more so when the chosen strategy is the military path to
victory, because the presence of many different actors, together with socio-political,
socioeconomic, historical and even geographical conditions, make a military victory
impossible to achieve just by means of warfare, as shown by Palacios (2012) in his
recent book about public violence in Colombia. At present, Colombian government
and the guerrilla groups are trying to find a negotiated solution to the conflict, but the
specific terms of the negotiation are linked to traditional demands related to exclusion
(socioeconomic, socio-political, socio-legal) and inequality, which have been used
by guerrillas to justify their military action. The current government has tried to take
measures that respond to some of those demands, but a peace accord has been elusive.
W.Lpez-Lpez() I.Barreto
Political Psychology, Pontifical Javeriana University, Bogot, Colombia
J.M.Sabucedo Cameselle
Social Psychology, University of Santiago de Compostela, Santiagode Compostela, Spain
Political Psychology, Catholic University of Colombia, Bogot, Colombia
Political Psychology, University of Santo Tomas, Bogot, Colombia
Y. Serrano
Department of Information and Communication Sciences, University of Strasbourg, Strasbourg,
S. Sacipa-Rodriguez, M. Montero (eds.), Psychosocial Approaches to Peace-Building in
Colombia, Peace Psychology Book Series 25,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-04549-8_8, Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014



W. Lpez-Lpez et al.

In Colombia, approximately 14 billion dollars are invested annually in the maintenance of the military, which is over 20% of the national budget. The figure increases about 10% if costs derived from actual clashes and from the other actions
are included. In addition, there are some other unrecoverable or non-quantifiable
costs related to the destruction of social tissue: loss of lives, suffering, recovery
processes of direct and indirect victims, the complex task of incorporating armies
into the society and the multiple long-term psychosocial interventions involved,
which aim to modify the large number of violent practices that appear within societies in which life is not the top value. There is also the complexity of performing
interventions on corrupted institutions, plagued with accomplices of the war, with
or without legitimizing discourses (Dinero 2012; El Espectador 2012; Presidencia
de la Repblica 2012; Dilogo 2012).
This chapter aims to explore the psychosocial issues associated with the construction of legitimising discourses of violent conflict and, peace. The main interest is to
reveal the discursive strategies of political violence legitimacy, showing at the same
time the type of discourse that contributes to legitimise peaceful actions, through the
recollection of a number of studies on the Colombian conflict in which the authors
have worked during the past few years. These studies address the discourses that
have been created and placed into the belief systems of the Colombian society, and
that currently plays a fundamental role in the course of Colombias violent conflict.

Discourses and Beliefs Related to the Sociopolitical

Conflict and Peace
In order to identify the peaceful prospects of group actions and, at the same time,
to explain the interaction dynamics of the groups related to peace, it is necessary to
understand how social actors schedule, create and commit themselves to a certain
type of discourse (legitimising or delegitimising) about peace. Understanding the
way conflicts are handled results in an account of how beliefs about them are constructed, spread and consolidated in societies, legitimising peaceful or violent ways
of dealing with conflicts.
Therefore, discourse is not only one of the ways through which groups and societies communicate: Discourse builds both consensus and contradiction, decisions
to act or postpone commitments with others and with politics. Mass media spread
these discourses through news, opinion and entertainment channels, going beyond
purely giving information and directing ideological and political social constructions which legitimise or delegitimise actors, ideas and initiatives, influencing the
mobilization of large audiences.
Relationships of power and submission, of group identity or rejection, as expressions of social dynamics are evidenced by discursive communicative actions, as social subjects are responsible for them. Discourse is an instrument that reveals the dynamics of social, political and economic realities. The social subject is the beginning
and the end of the production of discourses, of the meanings it acquires, of the rules
and practices it imposes and is ruled by. We here agree with divergent and complementary proposals of Van Dijk (2003) and Barthes (2005). Therefore, discourse for

Discourse as a Strategy for the Construction of Peace Cultures


Fig. 1 Levels of discourse analysis related with beliefs of political violence and peace

us is relevant as a unit that comprises psychosocial meanings related to the historical,

socio-political and socioeconomic context it is produced in.
In fact, the importance of mass media in the spread of discourses, allows us to see
how diverse societal actors legitimate or de-legitimate both their actions and those of
others, because these discourses influence, interact and disseminate ideologies that
grow and mobilise social networks. This is why we can, in the structures of language,
find commands, meanings and its differential functions. Our proposal is that these
commands, meanings and functions should be analysed in three levels at the least,
allowing us to identify: (1) the semantic networks of interpretation that actors use to
build their identitiesgroups, (2) the beliefs created and communicated by groups
through different means of spreading informationmass media and (3) the history
of interaction between actors, citizens and the socioeconomic and political context in
which their dynamics occursociety (Van Dijk 2000, 2001, 2003; Fig.1).
However persuasive, assertive or aggressive, these strategies are generally
geared towards protecting the group, attacking other groups, creating identities, justifying friend or foe, defending or gaining access to scarce or to plentiful resources,
be they real or imaginary. Depending on the group identification, adjectives and
verbs that qualify and describe actions expressing causality, opposition or affirmation are used. These expressions correspond to discursive strategies that configure
semantic networks (cognitive and emotive), which are incorporated into the culture
of groups, and at the same time are reinforced or punished by these or other groups
(Van Dijk 2003).
This is the reason why linguistic categories used by mass media in their informational discourses (which depend both on the media actors and the informative
sources and other groups with power over mass media), to name and qualify social
facts and actors, by using causal relationships, create agendas and evidence the
framing of reality performed by the media. In other words, the discourse is the


W. Lpez-Lpez et al.

means through which mass media influence the opinion of citizens, and their
perception of conflict and peace.
From this perspective, discourse serves multiple functions in countries with political conflicts and where violence is justified as the only way out. Generally, the
warlike discourse of the actors who have chosen this option as the main strategy
for handling conflicts is marked by polarisation, victimisation of the in-group, tendency to emphasise the others aggressive actions, qualification of their own violent
actions as heroic or patriotic and of others as atrocious, and criminalisation and
dehumanisation of antagonists. With these positive or negative qualifications, in
rhetorical terms, the discourses use redundancies, adjectives, nouns and verbs in order to emphasise contexts, meanings of the words, identification of the actors (their
interests and power relationships) and the ways used by the media to communicate
them (construction of agendas, hierarchisation of agendas, framing) (Barreto and
Borja 2007). The latter is fundamental because they can contribute strategically to
the mobilisation and political participation of citizens (McQuail 1992; Lull 1995;
Curran 2002; Hallin and Mancini 2008), and also to the creation of peace cultures.
For example, Galtung (1998, as cited by Kempf 2003) points to a set of categories that allow a clear identification of how mass media build warlike or peaceful
discourses according to actors, their interests, their agendas and their commitments
within the conflict. These categories indicate that a violent orientation is characterized by conflict and dehumanisation of the actors, accompanied by propaganda
based on lies. On the other hand, a pacifist orientation emphasises humanisation and
direction towards the truth of all the parties involved in the conflict.
In the warlike orientation of conflict, a tendency to polarisation can be identified (good and bad, heroes and villains, legal and illegal). The enemy is a criminal (criminalisation of the conflict) which is to be blamed for violence. The elites
defend themselves from enemies and emphasise the visible consequences of violence: terror is created in order to instil fear and emotional reactions of rage, fear,
confusion and hopelessness. Elites also tend to emphasise their own suffering and
downplay the suffering of others (asymmetrical valoration of suffering), which is
oriented towards the victory of one of the actors. This is possible to win by means of
war, even if it involves covering mistakes derived from the confrontation (theory
of the lesser evil), and the only option for the enemy is surrendering, disarming and
demobilizing itself.
The pacifist orientation recognizes the multicausality of actors, histories, views,
beliefs and interests. Therefore, there are no poles. The relevant thing is not to find
who is responsible, but to identify interests, and as we said before, the motivations,
the conditions and the contexts in which the conflictive scenario is played. In this
perspective, everybody suffers, there are victims everywhere, all losses are valued
and humanised. The invisible effects of violence are noted and the destruction of
social tissue is recognised. Efforts are geared towards avoiding armed action by
means of humanitarian agreements and the search for negotiated solutions.
The pacifist discourse shows all parties lies, and that truth is not an instrument.
There is no place for everything goes or, the lesser evil theory, to justify violent
action. The discourse is also focused on people, so it is the peace tendencies of the

Discourse as a Strategy for the Construction of Peace Cultures


population, not of the legally or illegally empowered elites, that are emphasised.
Lastly, there is no single victorious actor; it is necessary to look for solutions that
let everybody win by using non-violence, creativity, reconciliation and material and
psychosocial reconstruction.
In this proposal, it is important to point out that discourses that build both dominant and defying agents are the vehicle to spread beliefs that legitimise violent or
peaceful actions. In any case, choosing one alternative over others depends on the
interests of each of the groups involved in the conflict, and on the power structures (political groups, economic groups, government entities) that favour dominant
groups. In this sense, it is worth mentioning that conflict actors can orient their
communications, and contribute with them to the escalation of violent conflicts, or
they can also reorient the discourse of de-escalation, favouring the construction of
peace cultures.

Studies About Discourses That Legitimize Political

Studies about legitimization of political violence involve the analysis of beliefs
spread by different actors that legitimize or delegitimize the construction of peace
or violence cultures in Colombia (See Fig.1). The first studies carried out by the
authors of this manuscript focused on the analysis of discursive strategies used by
groups directly involved in the armed confrontation to legitimise the use of political
violence during the government of President Andrs Pastrana (19982002). Later
on, studies identified the role of mass mediaColombian newspapersduring the
first term of President lvaro Uribe Vlez (20022006) and finally, to establish the
beliefs held by a sample of Colombian youngsters about the actors in the conflict.

Sabucedo etal. (2004) compared dehumanisation discourses used by two illegal
groups in Colombia, extracted from websites. The analysis was made with the
SPAD 5.0 Software using the Textual Data Statistical Analysis (TDSA) methodology, allowing us to quantify the most widely used expressions and create categories
according to the semantic context of the words uttered in the texts (Barreto et al.
2011; Sabucedo et al. 2006). Then, the association structure between words and
authors was analysed through a Principal Component Analysis. The analysis proceeded with 49 papers authored by the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces
(FARC-EP) and 46 by the United Colombian Self-Defence Forces (AUC)1, both declared as insurgent and counter-insurgent groups, respectively. The results showed
the use of linguistic categories advanced by Bar-Tal (2000) as categories used to
delegitimise the enemy by presenting members of the group as violators of social
They signed a demobilization agreement in 2003 during President lvaro Uribe Vlezs first
term (20022006).


W. Lpez-Lpez et al.

rules (proscription), with negative personality traits (trait characterization) and

compared to other social or political groups that are negatively valued by society
(use of political labels).
On the other hand, Borja etal. (2009) analysed the discourse of the Pastrana
Government through Text Data Statistical Analysis. In this case, since there was
only one author, the nominal variables are the community that the discourse is intended for, and the moment of the Peace Process in which the discourse occurred.
90 speeches given by President Pastrana between January of 2001 and April of
2002, published in the website of the Colombian President, were analysed. 78 of
those were directed to the national community and 12 to the international community; 64 were given before the break-up of the Peace Talks and 26 after that.
Results show, in the same way as in the discourses of illegal armed groups, the
use of de-legitimizing categories such as proscription, negative characterization of
actions, use of political labels and dehumanization, among others (Borja-Orozco
etal. 2008). Specifically, the study identified that during the negotiation toward a
solution to the Colombian conflict, the government did not modify neither the delegitimisation of the opponent nor the faced identities, even though a change of the
delegitimising beliefs would have been expected. On the contrary, after the failure
of the peace process, the Pastrana Government exclusively blamed the adversary,
and intensified its de-legitimisation. In other words, studies show that legal and
illegal armed actors delegitimise adversaries by means of a differential use of delegitimisation categories according to their ideological standing.

Mass Media
In a climate of conflict and armed confrontation in Colombia, Lpez-Lpez (2011)
studied the role of mass media. Specifically, he worked with the psychosocial framing made by the journal El Tiempo2 about the socio-political conflict and peace
in Colombia, using the Text Data Statistical Analysis (TDSA) method. To do so,
the newspaper sections featuring news related to the armed conflict and peace in
Colombia were identified first, and then a random probabilistic sample of 52 issues
from 2006 were selected. Out of these, 558 news stories related to the topic were
selectedthat was a critical year for the management of the conflict, since the reelection of lvaro Uribe Vlez was at stake, and with it, the re-election of a conflict
and war model in Colombia. The variables analysed in this study have to do with
the textual and visual framing performed by El Tiempo, according to the contents
(either pacifist or warlike) of each news story (Kempf 2003), the day it appears, the
month, the section it is published in (front page, national news, opinion), the images (pictures or photos) that accompany the information and the place it is located
(even or odd page).

The most widely circulated newspaper in the country, founded in 1911.

Discourse as a Strategy for the Construction of Peace Cultures


The results of textual framing indicate that El Tiempo, in 2006, mainly published
discourses with warlike features, according to Kempf (2003). Among the most frequent, the following were found: visible effects of violence informing of material
and human costs as consequences of the armed conflict; orientation towards elites,
emphasising the job of leaders (both legal and illegal) who are the main decisive actors in peace or war processes, and victory-oriented activities. That is, an emphasis
on military successes.
Likewise, the visual framing was found to strengthen the warlike framing by
using the Front Page, First Look, and Nation sections, the odd-numbered pages and
the use of photographs and graphs in order to emphasise related news stories that
single out elites and the effects of violence.
Accordingly, the study showed that El Tiempo does not direct its framing towards a pacifist discourse, since there are few mentions of Peace from a multicausal
perspective in socio-political, socioeconomic and psychosocial terms. Humanising
victims presents the invisible effects of violence (destruction of social tissue), that
aims for non-violent solutions and that does not have truth just as an element in
service of war.

After the studies involving the main actors of the armed conflictgovernment and
illegal armed groupsand the role of El Tiempo in the socio-political Colombian
context, Barretoet al. (2012) carried out a study designed to explore beliefs held by
Colombian citizens about the conflict and its actors. Specifically, the intention was
to establish an association between stereotypes held by young college students in
Bogot about the Colombian Army and the Illegal Armed Groups AUC and FARCEP. To do so, a descriptive, survey-based study was carried out, using the Text Data
Statistical Analysis method. The purpose was to find relationships between answers
to open-ended questionstext and nominal variables. Three dimensions of analysis
were considered: (1) the socio-demographic dimension (sex, marital status, age,
socioeconomic level, political affiliation and mass media used to learn about news
in Colombia); (2) the legitimation of political violence dimension, geared towards
asking about the recognition that young people have of the social, armed, political
and economic conflict/war in Colombia, its actors, the justifications and arguments
related to the use of violence as a strategy for the achievement of political objectives
and (3) the stereotypes dimension, consisting of group beliefs (stereotypes) about
the legal and illegal armed groups and their violent actions.
Three hundred college students from public and private universities participated
voluntarily. They were selected because they received demobilised people from
guerrilla and paramilitary groups coming from the process that started in 2003, during lvaro Uribe Vlezs first term, which granted legal benefits for members of
illegal self-defence forces and other illegal armed groups who demobilised. Accord-


W. Lpez-Lpez et al.

ing to the Ministry of Defence, 1.06% of the collective demobilisation population

and 0.62% of the individuals had higher education. The figure increased in July
2008 to 3.89% collective and 4.35% individual (Ministerio de Defensa, cited by
Conpes 2008). This signals the need for studying diverse scenarios that promote a
framework of reconciliation and tolerance on the part of the demobilized population
and, in this case, inclusion in the educational system.
The results showed that legitimising and delegitimising categories used to categorise the groups are different. The Colombian Army is defined by college students
with categories framing it as a group of patriots, generally with expressions such
as heroism and bravery, which are in turn related to the protection and the defence
of the Colombian population. Other words categorising the Army as murderers had
a lower frequency. On the contrary, illegal armed groups are mainly characterised
with expressions in the proscription categories, such as terrorists and murderers.
Among the most frequent beliefs about FARC-EP are those proscribing both the
group and its actions, with terrorists being the most frequent word, followed by others such as violence, murderers, drug traffic, kidnapping, drug traffickers, among
others. Other expressions of the dehumanisation category also appear (inhuman).
The AUC illegal armed group and its actions are described by the youngsters with
words such as murderers, terrorists and drug traffickers. In this particular case,
there is also a mention of the legal establishment with words such as State, Uribe
and parapolitics, emphasising the perception of association between AUC and the
Colombian State.
These results partially present the consistency on the framing performed by actors, in regard to conflict and peace in Colombia. Further studies are therefore necessary with other sectors that also play a central role in the way groups are identified, categorised, compared and related to others according to negative or positive
beliefs about them, which allows for the appearance of marginalisation or social
exclusion in social re-insertion processes.

The Colombian conflict has been going on for over 50 years. It has left over 400,000
dead, 50,000 disappeared and millions of displaced people. Colombia has over 50%
of population in absolute poverty and one of the worlds highest inequality indexes.
These figures and social conditions are used by the groups in their speeches to legitimize armed political actions. In this situation, Psychosocial studies should continue
to be performed in order to increase our understanding and our chances of peaceful
conflict resolution.
In this perspective, the approach must necessarily include a triangulation strategy
that enables the study of beliefs legitimising violence and delegitimising adversaries, and that (1) are communicated through discourses by mass media, (2) include
the main actors in an armed conflict and (3) give information about how the illegal
armed groups, the Government, mass media and the society handle the conflict.

Discourse as a Strategy for the Construction of Peace Cultures


In this psychosocial dimension, discourse, as an emergent product capable of

building realities legitimising the different groups competing for a hegemonic perspective on the conflict, has a pivotal role in processes associated with the construction of group identities and to the use of a kind of language that dehumanises and
deindividuates others. That favours politically threatening scenarios that justify
safety policies in which adversaries are regarded as terrorists with whom no negotiation is possible and, on the contrary, must be met with special defensive measures. In contrast, in negotiation contexts, acknowledgement of the conflict and
recategorisation of terrorist groups as illegal armed groups engaging in rebellion is
key to give guerrillas a status of political adversary, in order to seek a negotiated
exit to the conflict (Turk 1996). This should happen in a political context in which
the contents of discourses become a strategy to frame the parties positions, and that
is characterised by the parties presenting themselves as champions of peace, but at
the same time not expressing political will and the desire for a negotiated solution to
the conflict suffered by victims and non-victims in Colombian society.
In this analysis we expect that the negotiation process that begins in the presidency of Juan Manuel Santos Caldern (20102014) feature discourses by the different
actors (armed illegal groups, mass media, and the Colombian Government) which
contribute towards a climate of trust that leads to agreements among the parties and
the much desired peace with social justice in Colombia. This peace involves actions
geared towards a redesign of the society and of a culture in which the psychosocial, cultural, political, economic and communicational dimensions serve to express
non-violent forms of action (beliefs, values, emotions and ideologies) that face the
warlike discourse with a pacifist one; that places life as the supreme good over any
ideology, and that leads to the construction and the valuing of humanising practices
and discourses by all social actors and victims, and especially those with who are
most vulnerable in society (Lpez-Lpez 2011).

Barreto, I., & Borja, H. (2007). Violencia poltica: Algunas consideraciones desde la psicologa
social. Diversitas. Perspectivas en Psicologa, 3(1), 109119.
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violencia poltica por un sector de la poblacin universitaria en Colombia. Revista Mexicana
de Psicologa, 29(1), 7385.
Barreto, I., Velandia-Morales, A., & Rincn-Vsquez, J. C. (2011). Estrategias Metodolgicas para
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Borja-Orozco, H., Barreto, I., Sabucedo, J. M., & Lpez-Lpez, W. (2008). Construccin del discurso deslegitimador del adversario: Gobierno y paramilitarismo en Colombia. UniversitasPsychologica, 7(2), 571583.
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27(3), 279291.
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Van Dijk, T. A. (2003). Ideologa y discurso. Barcelona: Ariel.

Genderization and Links with Illegal Armed

Groups in Colombia
Daro Reynaldo Muoz Onofre

This chapter presents qualitative research results on the relationship between gender
socialization (genderization) and the joining of illegal armed groups in Colombia,
through narratives of 21 male and 13 female ex-combatant guerrillas and paramilitaries, obtained through focus groups, in-depth interviews, and field diaries. The
analytical perspective includes: constructionist social psychology, the theory of
gender performativity and perspectives from technologies of the self. The results
show how certain gender patterns normalized during infantile socialization have
a bearing on the future possibility of joining armed groups. They also show how
participation in these groups strengthens belligerent subjectivities. The conclusions
suggest psychosocial keys for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration processes, from an ethicalpolitical perspective which combines gender and cultures
of peace.

Research Problem
In the main, links with illegal armed groups in Colombia appear at early ages and
form part of the socialization dynamics for children in regions of armed conflict
(Aguirre and lvarez-Correa 2001; Ombudsmans Office 2006; Human Rights
Watch 2004; Riao 2005). Wood (2008) holds that this phenomenon is part of the
social processes linked to civil wars, insofar as they give rise to transformations in
actors, practices, and norms. One disconcerting transformation is expressed in the
moral and psychological consequences that active participation in combat has on
children and adolescents (Boyden 2003).
The psychosocial transformations that arise owing to the said participation pose
challenges for societies endeavoring to overcome civil wars and cultivate cultures of
peace. In Sierra Leone, the armed conflict led young people to assume a militarized

D.R.Muoz Onofre()
Department of Psychology, Pontifical Javeriana University, Bogot, Colombia
S. Sacipa-Rodriguez, M. Montero (eds.), Psychosocial Approaches to Peace-Building in
Colombia, Peace Psychology Book Series 25,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-04549-8_9, Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014




identity which was difficult to discard when attempting to readapt to post-war civilian life (Denov and Maclure 2007; Wessells 2005). Also, in El Salvador, this active
participation of children in war gave rise to long-term effects which adversely affected their welfare in later life (Dickson-Gmez 2002).
In Colombia, the participation of children and adolescents as combatants in illegal armed groups is not an isolated, fortuitous event, but rather the result of processes which lack a clearly identifiable onset (Aguirre and lvarez-Correa 2001;
Muoz 2007; Riao 2005).
From a Human Rights perspective, this harsh reality is contradictory and unacceptable; the linking of children and adolescents with armed groups is often explained by forced recruitment (Human Rights Watch 2004; Ombudsmans Office
2006) though involvement in an armed group is not always the result of direct imposition by these groups (Aguirre and lvarez-Correa 2001; Boyden 2003; Muoz
2007; Riao 2005).
Although the discussion around the causes of this link is still unresolved, a number of research projects in Colombia coincide in acknowledging the existence of
configurations of a psychosocial, affective, familiar, economic, political, and cultural nature which support this process (Aguirre and lvarez-Correa 2001; Human
Rights Watch 2001; Muoz 2007; Ombudsmans Office 2006; Riao 2005; Springer 2005; Theidon and Betancourt 2006). The link is associated to socialization processes prior to children and adolescents joining the armed group (Boyden 2003;
Muoz 2007; Riao 2005).
One situation that is a precondition for involvement in an armed group is a civil
society that is forced to live side by side with scenarios and actors from the armed
conflict, which is fairly common in a number of regions in Colombia. The social
order and everyday regulation of life established by armed groups in their areas of
influence play a significant role in the populations socialization in the dynamics
of war and reproduction of violent practices (Aguirre and lvarez-Correa 2001)1.
This grave situation particularly affects rural families in which infants and adolescents are socialized. These families are characterized by having to cope with low
socioeconomic levels, the restructuring of the members thereof, the significant presence of surrogate or superimposed father figures and the predominance of maternal
leadership (Aguirre and lvarez-Correa 2001; Riao 2005). Coexistence with the
dynamics of, and actors from, the armed conflict and high levels of social disintegration transform these families into a node of psychosocial problems (gender
violence and child abuse) which incite children and adolescents to flee their homes
and, in many cases, to join armed groups (Aguirre and lvarez-Correa 2001; Ombudsmans Office 2006).
These factors leading to links coincide with the gender experience. A reciprocal
relationship of influence between gender and armed conflict is currently recognized
This trend cannot be generalized to all populations living alongside armed actors and war dynamics. The Lazos sociales y culturas de paz research group identify community experiences of
resistance and nonviolent coexistence, with the aim of acknowledging them as creative strategies
for the denormalization of war and the demilitarization of society.

Genderization and Links with Illegal Armed Groups in Colombia


(United Nations Security Council 2000)2: Gender mandates and the practices derived from the same nurture the dynamics of war and, in turn, war reproduces discriminatory gender mandates and practices (Goldstein 2001; Stern and Nystrand
2006). Armed conflicts generally exacerbate traditional gender inequalities (Cifuentes 2009; Goldstein 2001).
A number of studies adopt a gender perspective which focuses on the experience
of girls and women within armed groups and the impact of this experience on them
(De Watteville 2002; Fox 2004; Mazurana and McKay 2001). Nonetheless, this perspective only recognizes the experience of females, either as victims or combatants,
without also considering those of males (El Jack 2003; Theidon 2009).
With this in mind, in the present study I adopt a relational perspective of gender
and propose genderization as a concept for explaining the psychosocial experiences
that mark children and adolescents links with armed groups. I develop the concept
throughout the narrative analysis, incorporating different perspectives: constructionist social psychology (Gergen 1996; Shotter 2001), the theory of gender performativity (Butler 2002, 2010), and technologies of the self (Foucault 1990, 1996;
Larrosa 1995).
I therefore understand genderization as a psychosocial process involving the
regulation of behaviors and bodies, and which results in the constitution of specific forms of masculinity and femininity. In the case of illegal armed groups, this
regulation is accomplished through military discipline and gives rise to belligerent
masculinities and femininities.

Phases, Procedure and Participants
The research comprised four phases: the first, related to a consultation for the Colombian Family Welfare Institutes Specialized Victims of Violence Support Programme3 (Muoz 2007). Narratives were obtained through 6 focus groups which
consisted of 31 men and women in the Bogot and Medelln Program who had
become disassociated from armed groups.
The second is related to the psychosocial backing for demobilized adult men
carried out in Bogot by the Colectivo Hombres y Masculinidades [Men and

Resolution 1325 calls for planning for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) to
consider the different needs of female and male ex-combatants and to take into account the needs
of their dependants (United Nations Security Council 2000).
Colombian State Institution devoted to promoting and protecting the human rights of children
and adolescents and their families. The aforementioned program accompanies, psychosocially,
pedagogically, and economically, the process of reintegration into civilian life of children and
adolescents disassociated from illegal armed groups.



Masculinities Group]4 for the International Organization of Migration (IOM).

These mens narratives have been reconstructed using field notes.
The third is related to the academic direction of a thesis in psychology which
studied the process of dehumanization in ex-combatants from guerrillas (Vega and
Muoz 2008). The narratives were obtained during three interviews with three demobilized adult men5.
The fourth is related with the process of analyzing information obtained in the
previous phases, by analyzing the narratives (Rosaldo 1991; Coffey and Atkinson
2003; Muoz 2003). Preliminary results from this analysis were presented at international academic events (Muoz 2008a, 2008b).

Genderization and Links with Armed Groups

The analysis tackles two temporal axes from the narrated experience: before the
link with armed groups and during participation within the same. Both constitute
a line of continuity which marks the life pathways and entails training in belligerent
subjectivities. The former recounts the family, social, regional, and economic conditions and situations mediated by genderization, arising from the link with groups.
The latter recounts the disciplinary practices regulating bodies within armed groups.

Segregation of Activities and Responsibilities

Segregation determines differential places, activities, and responsibilities for men
and women in line with sexual division and inequality (Pateman 1995; Fraser
1991). It appears before the link with armed groups and during participation
in the same.
Segregation in the family: The girls at home and the boys in the field. This type
of segregation appears in the narrative of one female ex-combatant: My jobs
started when I was four or five: sweeping up, mopping up, washing clothes, washing things. It also revealed in the way in which a male ex-combatant recalls his
experience as an eight-year-old boy: I used to like studying: not because I liked
school but so that my dad wouldnt take me to work. You know that in the country,
on a public holiday, thats a day you spend out there hacking with the machete [].
I started hacking and at first I worked okay, but around ten oclock I started to get
tired and lazy; I didnt feel like doing anything.
For the last 15 years, the Group has been encouraging the emotional, corporeal, and relational
transformation of behaviors and patriarchal attitudes among men involved in gender-based violence.
In parallel with this phase, in the Lazos sociales y culturas de paz research group discussions are
going on regarding the possibilities and limits of psychological backing for demobilized individuals in the process of reintegrating into society.

Genderization and Links with Illegal Armed Groups in Colombia


In narratives such as these, I found that the child rearing patterns situated girls
in the place traditionally assigned to women at an early age: carrying out maternal
activities of looking after the family and household chores (doing the chores, cooking, and looking after younger siblings), as well as learning modest behavior and
attitudes of finesse, delicacy, and dependence.
Boys, however, are assigned work responsibilities outside the home as breadwinners for the family from an early age. This assignation constitutes the masculinity of
ex-combatants, insofar as the child-rearing models reproduce the patriarchal order
predominant in rural Colombia: boys have work obligations from an early age and
are put in a place of responsibility and authority, as material and economic providers
for the household.
Placing responsibility on them at such an early age results in a self-narrative of
virile defiance, expressed by an ex-combatant guerrilla in the following manner:
Im the one whos responsible; I am the man. This self-narrative starts to be encouraged in boys from the age of 6 or 7, and is consolidated by 14, 15, or 16 years
of age. It means that, with regard to males, children and adolescents have to assume
parental and provision tasks and responsibilities, owing in many cases to the lack of
a father. The socializing pattern which obliges and disciplines for work is habitually
associated with the absence of the biological father or, ultimately, with a distorted,
weak, or absent father figure. This finding is in line with Colombian research projects which characterize families in which young ex-combatants are socialized as
single-mother families (Riao 2005; Ombudsmans Office 2006).
Consequently, loading minors of both sexes with responsibility through exploitation, excessive workloads, and mistreatment would appear to be a significant risk
factor leading to links with armed groups. The Ombudsmans Office (Ombudsmans Office 2006) found that exploitation of child labor is a constant factor in
the family socialization of children joining armed groups: more than 90% of the
population investigated by this body carried out at least one type of nondomestic
and/or domestic activity before joining the group.
The narratives from both men and women show that the link with the armed
group is associated with a supposed liberation from early parental responsibility, exploitation, and mistreatment. Nonetheless, this expectation of liberty is confronted
and frustrated in light of the numerous, onerous, risky, and painful activities and
responsibilities that they are forced and coerced to assume once they have joined
the armed group.
Segregation within the armed group: the boys to fight, and what about the girls: to
serve? The segregation characteristic of the family setting seems to be especially
attenuated in guerrilla groups, as explained by one female ex-combatant: within
the group everyone washes clothes; or the man looks after the woman or the woman
washes his clothes he helps her to wash the clothes, too, but nobody ever washes
everybodys clothes there [] They have you working in the kitchen all day there,
cooking for the others. One day a woman cooks, the next day a man, and thats how
it goes, it varies, women and men cook the same.



Female and male ex-combatant guerrillas highlight the existence of equality in

responsibilities regarding activities such as washing clothes or cooking (considered
to be culturally feminine) or standing guard, bearing heavy loads, and participating
in combat (traditionally considered masculine). Despite this, the children voice their
preference for activities such as standing guard or participating in combat, instead
of cooking activities: a service activity which includes the organization, preparation, and distribution of food for all the other combatants.
This equality of responsibilities is not expressed in narratives from paramilitary
ex-combatants. The traditional sexual division of activities is reproduced in these
groups, placing women in a dependent, subordinate position. Narratives from various ex-combatants show that there are women who, as commandants partners,
enjoy certain privileges within the group. They do not participate in the armed
groups war activities (carrying heavy backpacks, standing guard, undergoing military training, participating in armed confrontations), or in activities for sustaining
the squad (preparing the food for the entire squad, washing clothes). But they do
carry out service activities exclusively for their husband who is usually the commandant of the group.
Thus, there are two types of femininity: combatants or warriors and commandants women or the mollycoddled. The former have to carry out the same
activities as men and are generally characterized as not being very attractive to
them, since, they are recognized as fellow combatants who know how to shoot a
bullet and who on occasion show themselves to be their peers or even superiors in
terms of combat skills and capabilities. On the contrary, the latter, as the sentimental
partners of high ranking combatants, only have to carry out service tasks for their
husbands and are occasionally entitled to benefit from the services rendered by
other members of the group.
The narratives point to some of the young females in the second type of femininity acting as sexual workers within armed groups. Given that this labor consists
of pleasing their male companions at given moments, they have the opportunity to
wear make-up, to dress up, to wear seductive clothing, and show off their bodies. So
they are differentiated from the female warriors, who have to be ready for combat
without delay and who do not have the time for putting on makeup and primping
themselves in a feminine manner.
Instead of the proximity, empathy, and seduction of the second type of women,
the female combatants have learned mistrust, hardness, and coldness. In these
cases, through said learning they end up losing the ability to use their feminine
charm () because they simply have to be drier and more serious, in the words of
one male adolescent demobilized from a guerrilla group.

Imaginaries and Practices Which Configure the Possibility of Links

The analysis of narratives shows that the link with armed groups is mediated by
what in another setting I have referred to as gender imaginaries (Muoz 2004). The

Genderization and Links with Illegal Armed Groups in Colombia


naturalization of imaginaries, such as: enduring pain is for men and the reiteration
of practices such as bullying and the sexual abuse of girls and adolescents marked
the life pathways of both male and female ex-combatants and contributed to their
link to armed groups.
Boys play war games and teach themselves to put up with things.Narratives
from male ex-combatants reveal that stamina and the development of physical
strength to carry out heavy work are practices and imaginaries through which their
manhood is forged. In the words of one adolescent now dissociated from guerrilla
groups: the work isnt hard after you have taught yourself; its hard while youre
building up your strength.
The research findings bear out the incidence of three situations which lead to the
linking of children and adolescents with armed groups: the experience of an absent
or abusive father, the childhood dream of becoming a combatant and childhood war
With regard to the first situation, I have already pointed out that the majority of
those demobilized were raised in single mother families or by substitute mother
figures, such as aunts or grandmothers (Ombudsmans Office 2006; Riao 2005).
The absence of the biological father or the negligible presence of a reliable, stable,
and affectionate father figure is recounted by ex-combatants as a situation which
marked their initial childhood experiences and their rearing process. This is corroborated by research from Aguirre and lvarez-Correa (2001) and Riao (2005).
Owing to this situation, the children develop no type of fatherchild link and, thus,
their narratives evince a tendency toward negation (and at times denial) of the father
figure and of any memory related to the same. The vague recollection that they have
of their fathers is symbolically mediated by their mothers and is far from being a
positive, authoritative model; on the contrary, it is characterized by a lack of affection, the absence of a material provider (neglect of family obligations), and the
ill-treatment of wife and children. This is also corroborated by the Ombudsmans
Office (2006).
The narratives also show that the blows and physical mistreatment received by
children during their childhood gave rise to hardening and desensitization in them,
and their getting used to pain and suffering, as a constitutive feature of their masculinity. Violence and mistreatment are also present in relationships among peers
and in the practices of virility promoted therein: there is a strong tendency toward
competition and virile defiance, as relationship patterns which have marked the
process of becoming men.
This background of family socialization leads to links with armed groups as, on
one hand, it is an opportunity to flee from abusive relationships, and, on the other,
it opens up pathways for identification with authoritative masculine figures other
than the father, as a manner of supplementing the absence thereof. That the armed
combatant is the ideal figure of masculine authority that is most stressed in these
narratives is a motive for concern.
In relation to the childhood dream of becoming a combatant, ex-combatants perceive joining the armed group as the realization of an ideal or dream they had in



their childhood. Also significant is the fact that during this period they feel attracted
to and admire weapons, military uniforms, and combatants. The uniform and the
rifle are signs of membership of the armed group and appear in ex-combatants narratives as bastions of a higher level of power, recognition, authority, and social
status. These bastions of virility are compared hierarchically with the civil status of
men who are not members of armed groups. In the words of one demobilized exparamilitary fighter: they sort of see you as bigger and civilians lower their heads;
nobody winds you up.
The bearing and use of firearms strengthens the sense of membership of an
armed group. In both training and combat, this practice is a highly valued experience and a significant memory in ex-combatants narratives. Within armed groups
the handling of weapons is a crucial test of manhood. It is common to hear men talk
emotively about combat experiences, war actions, confrontations with enemies, and
the handling of weapons (in a narrative exercise of virile reaffirmation). In contrast,
for girls, weapons and combat have no great significance, and they only speak of
them when asked about them.
Economic power also forms part of this dream. The narratives reveal children and
adolescents expectations regarding their eventual participation in armed groups:
economic independence and purchasing power. Generally in guerrilla groups this
is soon frustrated, as not only do they receive no financial remuneration, they also
have to comply with rigorous military discipline: collecting firewood for cooking
or preparing food for large groups of people, standing guard for long periods, going
on long, never-ending hikes, bearing the weight of rifles and rucksacks weighing
between 12 and 20lb, and participating in combat, among other activities, often accompanied by physical and psychological mistreatment.
With regard to childhood war games, in mens narratives it is clear that the imaginary figure of the combatant starts to take shape (in the sense of acquiring form
and subjectivity) fundamentally though group war games played during childhood.
In these games, the children form gangs identified with actors in the armed conflict
and reenact the battles in their games. On the basis of ritualized repetition during
childhood, these recreationalbelligerent practices lead to the embodiment of belligerent masculinities. In line with Butler (2002), I understand these practices as the
repetition of performative acts which model bodies and shape subjectivities.
In short, the connection between these three situations is down to the normalized
presence of armed actors in the places in which the ex-combatants were socialized. As a number of research projects have indicated (Aguirre and lvarez-Correa
2001; Human Rights Watch 2004; Ombudsmans Office 2006; Riao 2005), children grow up seeing combatants walking through the streets of their towns every
day, exercising authority, showing off their weapons, boasting of their economic
power, and holding social status.
Girls grow up vulnerable and seek protection. Female ex-combatants were socialized on the basis of moral prescriptions that kept them apart from men, above
all after puberty. The narratives show that modesty and restraint are traits which
mark femininity. From childhood, the maternal figure (often in the form of the

Genderization and Links with Illegal Armed Groups in Colombia


grandmother, aunt, or older sister) instills the proper posture for women and the
concealment of their erogenous areas, e.g., the proper way to hold the body when
wearing a skirt. In the words of one female ex-combatant from a guerrilla group:
As a woman, I wasnt allowed to speak with the men because we were still very
young [] because men are very forward and they dont respect really under-age
This sort of pedagogy of concealment and shame operates as a relational mechanism by way of which girls learn how to place limits on mens sexual impulses
from infancy (Carvajal 2004). It is a constitutive component of the femininity which
places women in the position of provocateurs (e.g., if a very short skirt is worn) and
has the corresponding image of man as sexual instigators. Female ex-combatants
stress that in their family socialization process, the proper thing for women to do
was to protect themselves and to be wary in relationships with men.
Nonetheless, the narratives show that their life courses are marked by incitement and sexual abuse during infancy, puberty, and adolescence. This has been
borne out by research (Aguirre and lvarez-Correa 2001; Ombudsmans Office
2006). Stories of child sexual abuse, both within and outside the original family,
confirm the vulnerability of women, insofar as during the process of psychosexual
development they are subjected to the risk of instigation and sexual abuse by adult
males, above all after puberty. The experiences of abuse recounted by female excombatants took place between 11 and 12 years of age, mainly in the family setting, not necessarily committed by blood relations, and frequently at the hands of
the stepfather.
Sexual violence toward children is a significant risk factor which results in fleeing from the family setting in which violence is reiterated. Research by the Ombudsmans Office (2006) with girls and demobilized female adolescents confirms
this trend, revealing that 10.5% stated that they had been the victim of violent defilement by a family member, while 5.3% affirmed that the violent defilement was
perpetrated by the stepfather.
Consequently, for those female ex-combatants who suffered sexual violence in
the family setting, coming to form part of armed groups signified the acquisition
of a power status from which to counteract this violence. The narratives revealed
different reactions: fleeing and not returning to the scene of the defilement, putting
a stop to the situation of defilement by confronting the aggressors, undertaking
violent protective actions against potential aggressors, and exacting violent revenge
against past aggressors.
On the other hand, girls links with armed groups are also configured in the establishment of partner relationships: some female ex-combatants recount that prior
to joining armed groups they maintained friendships or sexual relationships with
men who had joined or who were in the process of joining. When on leave in the villages, combatants make a show of their economic status and establish relationships
with young girls by satisfying the latters consumer needs (clothes, food, money),
so that for the girls they begin to assume the role of economic and material providers, and later on they invite them (and in extreme cases, force them) to join armed
groups with them.



As in the case of males, females cannot ignore the high value bestowed by military symbolism; only in their case, the uniform and membership of an armed group
signify the possibility of overcoming sexual violence linked to the family setting.

Genderized Military Disciplining

Accounts of participation in armed groups tell of different experiences of ex-combatants of both sexes: military disciplining, sense of membership and role within the
group, participation in combat, among others.
Modulations of masculinity for war. In the narratives from ex-combatants there is a
marked reflexive critical attitude with regard to the childhood war dream, motivated
by coping with difficult experiences within the armed group. One ex-combatant
guerrilla asserts that once youre in, theres no way out.
The narratives allude to the risks associated with armed combat, brushes with
death and the sensation of imminent danger. Confronting this reality seems to be
a psychological and emotional impact which disconcerts the combatants. In the
words of one adolescent who participated in guerrilla fighting: Out there, you take
on whoever is there, or you die. But at the same time as it is damaging and disconcerting for them, participating in war enhances their virility. According to Kaufman
(1995) and Connell (2005), in the setting of hegemonic masculinity, men are always
being put to the test; hence, heroically overcoming each test results in a permanent
game of virile reaffirmation.
The military disciplining implemented within the armed group guarantees the
young combatants permanent readiness for war, insofar as they are constantly
presented with a series of challenges with which to reaffirm their masculinity and
demonstrate their fighting prowess. In general, ex-combatants agree that their experience in armed groups made them more manly. They soon learn that any sign of
doubt or cowardliness places them in a situation of danger and increases the risk of
death, hence, they eschew hesitation or displays of fear at all costs.
The normalization of armed violence is the principal psychological impact that
war generates in combatants (Vega and Muoz 2008). This is evinced in the sentiments recounted by two paramilitary ex-combatants: you kind of get to like war.
It is not uncommon to find buzz-heads who get depressed when theres no fighting.
The duty to kill, to which combatants are forcibly obliged, is the most radical
and effective mechanism in the process of emotional hardening and desensitization
to the danger and pain caused to othersdehumanization (Muoz 2008b). This
mechanism produces belligerent masculinity, insofar as it forms part of the initiation rites to the dynamics of war.
Modulations of femininity for war. One female ex-combatant recounts that during
family socialization she learnt emotional strength and stamina. When I was nine
years old I would go off cutting with my brothers and my mum we used to cut

Genderization and Links with Illegal Armed Groups in Colombia


that stubbly grass and, from time to time, coffee I dont find cutting wood hard
I got used to it and thats why I didnt suffer. Where I do suffer is in the kitchen
because like at home I dont like cooking: I prefer the other work, cutting wood.
Her narrative shows that these capacities acquired in childhood later facilitated her
participation in war.
Girls are also the targets of regulation and corporal punishment leading to the
establishment of belligerent femininities. The previous narrative shows that from an
early age women see themselves induced to force transformations in their corporeality aimed at increasing stamina, becoming emotionally tougher and increasingly
resistant to pain and fatigue. Later, within the group and through military discipline
and combat experience, they acquire the ability to inflict pain and kill.
The corporeal practices that girls and female adolescents are subjected to when
joining armed groups constitute a process of disciplining that is even more radical than that awaiting boys. In girls there is clearly a sort of symbolic-moral negation and physical repression of physiological phenomena characteristic of their
bio-psychosexual condition: menstruation and pregnancy. They learn how to view
them as an illness, synonymous with physical and psychological weakness, which,
as such, incapacitates them for military duty. They also learn to accept and naturalize the practice of forced abortion, given that pregnancy is a serious personal and
collective hindrance for the objectives of war. Consequently, there is a homogenization of women under the discursive, practical, and disciplinary regime of masculine
Negation, disciplining, and homogenization are practices which strengthen the
devaluation of certain attributes traditionally considered to be characteristic of traditional, stereotypical femininity: care, weakness, and passivity and, on the other
hand, they consolidate the exaltation of attributes characteristic of hegemonic masculinity. In armed groups, feminine attributes generate social disrepute and are frequently sources of denigration, discrimination, and violence. This leads to a reduction in the social value of the feminine and to an excessive valuation of the fighting
capabilities of the masculine body. This is how hegemonic masculinity operates,
as a genderization model for both sexes, since, being a male or female warrior
equates basically to distancing oneself from stereotypically feminine behavior and
In their narratives, female ex-combatants acknowledge having hardened their
attitude and behavior in response to the hostile environment of the armed group.
Worthy of note among feminine transformations for war are muscular and corporeal
strengthening, hardening of attitude, and emotional fortifying.
Nonetheless, these transformations vary, depending on the two aforementioned
profiles of femininity: warriors/hard-faced and obliging/mollycoddled. In
the former, transformations are identified as: hardening of facial expression, fixed
challenging stare, use of offensive vocabulary, strong imposing tone of voice, increased muscular mass, and rigidity of the body. Physical strength and emotional
firmness are essential competences for women fighting in war. The routine reiteration of corporeal acts (Butler 2002) associated to military discipline encourages
belligerent feminization. The result of carrying a rifle and a tent weighing between



12 and 20lb include a significant increase in muscle mass, the extension of their
stamina and pain threshold, well as the strengthening of their corporeal self perception of stamina.
Sexual and reproductive regulation: Girls are discriminated against; boys stimulated in their sexual incontinence.
The narratives point to the existence in armed groups of institutional control mechanisms for the body, sexuality, reproduction, and sexual relations, to prevent these
experiences from adversely affecting war effectiveness.
The moral regulation of sexual relations constrains the free determination of
girls privacy. Although sexual relations are also morally regulated for boys, the
limitations imposed on them are not as strict as those imposed on girls. This fact is
reflected in the inequalities and discrimination within armed groups.
The regulation operates on the basis of pro-masculine moral guidelines6 which
value masculine promiscuity and situate women as sex objects, the exclusive property of a man. In the words of one male paramilitary ex-combatant: a man is man
and a woman has to open her legs, shes had her fill. Feminine sexuality is controlled through moral censorship and punishment for promiscuity. This inequality
is equally present in both guerrilla and paramilitary groups. In the former, feminine
sexuality with different men is considered a relaxation and is banned through the
imposition of different types of punishment.
The narrative of one male ex-combatant indicates inequality in the types of punishment: Women are punished because they like to fool around, men because they
dont like showing respect. Females are punished for instability and promiscuity,
while males are not, provided they have the consent of the women with whom they
establish relations and they respect them.
In paramilitary groups, the punitive measures operate on a de facto basis: the
husband has the power to burn his wife if she unfaithful to him. Burning
refers to murder and this case connotes what I call de fact marital power (evoking a legal figure long since prescribed in Colombia) of the man over the body, the
sexuality and the life of his female partner. If she does not meet the expectations of
her husbandcommander, she runs the risk of being murdered by him. Thus the
womans self-determination is restricted; she is subjugated to depend totally on a
In contrast, in guerrilla groups, female sexual behavior judged as immoral is not
punished by an individual, rather by the group. Offending females are subjected
to a court martial and punished publicly, but the death penalty is applied if the
behavior is repeated for a third time.
The moral regime is patriarchal: men must always be sexually active and the
women must respond passively to this activeness. It is discriminatory against women given that as soon as they join the group (generally after having reached the age
of majority) they are obliged to use contraceptive devices, generally Norplant. This
I understand morality as prescriptive relational guidelines for action, which are generated, maintained, and operate by means of social mechanisms institutionalized by the armed group. This
conception is based on Gergen (1996) and Shotter (2001).

Genderization and Links with Illegal Armed Groups in Colombia


institutional measure normalizes their sexual availability. It also regulates reproduction: while women are exclusively responsible for preventing pregnancy, men
exercise sexual freedom, contraception not being their concern.
The normalization of sexuality affects the womans self-perception and the
groups social perception of women. This configures a type of sexual initiation
which generally anticipates the first instance of intercourse. The Ombudsmans
Office (2006) corroborated this quantitatively, interpreting it as sexual violence
against boys, girls, and adolescents joining armed groups, as they lacked the psychological capabilities for taking free, informed, autonomous, and consensual decisions regarding their sexuality.
Nonetheless, obligatory contraception is not the only method for preventing
pregnancy within the groups. The narratives also referred to forced abortion: Pregnancies are prohibited there and they are punished because, whos going to bring
up a kid out there in the country, in the middle of a war? (Adolescent guerrilla
ex-combatant). The consequence of gender in sexual and reproductive regulation
analyzed is the consolidation of women as sexual objects for men, which also occurs in other contexts (Muoz 2004).
This sexual objectification of women is reproduced in masculine practices within the groups. Owing to the fact that men may spend long periods out in the field
with no contact at all with non-combatant women, and given that in the groups
relationships between combatants is prohibited, the relationships they have with
outside women is mediated by prostitution. This occurs during visits to towns or in
the camps themselves, when commandants order women to be brought in for the
entertainment of their troops. Sexual access to women may be a reward for success
in combat.

I will finish off by pointing out a number of key reflections and recommendations
for qualifying strategies for preventing the joining of armed groups and for the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) programs.
Preventing links with armed groups requires promoting social education programmes encouraging and guaranteeing conditions of care and protection for children and adolescents in their family settings and in the public sphere, especially in
regions under the dominion of armed groups. Child abuse and labor exploitation
will need to be eradicated as recurring patterns of child rearing, along with the
sexual abuse of children. Child vulnerability is a risk factor which is conducive to
links with armed groups.
Nonetheless, this will be insufficient if it is not accompanied by peace processes
with armed groups, providing political solutions to the ongoing conflicts in Colombia which continue to stoke armed confrontations. Only thus, will the normalized coexistence of communities with armed groups in the midst of war be denaturalized.
Strengthening the armed forces and social militarization are not the way forward.



On the other hand, it is essential that the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) processes are not be reduced to the disbanding of groups and
handing in of weapons. According to various studies (Cifuentes 2009; Farr 2003;
Springer 2005; Theidon 2007; Theidon and Betancourt 2006) whenever those processes are reduced to military or legal dimensions, peace is reduced to disarmament.
Hence, they will need to be assumed in the framework of wide-reaching psychosocial, cultural, and economic processes, beyond the military and legal spheres.
Here, I would stress that genderization is key to these processes. Assuming a
gender perspective does not merely mean including the experiences of women and
exposing how they are victims of the armed conflict, as civilians or combatants.
Without demeaning their importance, it is also crucial to acknowledge the experiences of men and the formation of masculinities associated to armed violence. DDR
programs do not have a relational gender perspective and they do not conceive men
as gender subjects.
Genderization is key to rethinking reintegration: in order for it to transform and
not merely reproduce the practices of domination, inequality, and gender discrimination. Laying down weapons does not automatically entail the psychological,
emotional, and corporeal disarmament of belligerent masculinities and femininities. Thus, gender-sensitive psychosocial and pedagogic strategies must consider
the dimensions of genderization: body, sexuality, emotionality, affectivity, imaginaries, and relationship patterns.
The promotion of cultures of peace includes the transformation of these every
day, intimate dimensions. Encouraging in ex-combatants practices such as: coresponsibility and gender equality; care of the self and of others; emotional acknowledgement and handling; creative, nonviolent conflict coping strategies; and, above
all, the acknowledgement of the damage caused by acts of war and the implementation of restorative actions in the communities affected.

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Eight Cultures of Peace Indicators Applied

toColombian Conflict During 20022006
Mnica Alzate, Jos Manuel Sabucedo-Cameselle and Mar Durn

This chapter presents an analysis of the eight large action areas proposed by the United Nations for the development of a culture of peace and their corresponding indicators applied to the Colombian socio-political conflict during first term of President
Alvaro Uribe (20022006), whose government was based on a struggle against subversion and underinvestment in social indicators. Based on the description of eight
cultures of peace indicators, an explanation of how it affects the psychosocial situation of the Colombian population is developed. From this analysis, it can be concluded that there are indirect sources of violence which have been institutionalised
and which must be transformed if the substrate is to be removed from the conflict.
The Colombian conflict qualifies as an intractable conflict according to the criteria proposed by Kriesberg etal. (1989). The conflict is characterized by its lengthy
duration, by the extensive scope and intensity of the use of violence, and by the
irreconcilability of the parties positions. A conflict such as this one is conducive
to the development of ethnocentric attitudes, negative images of the opponents and
dysfunctional strategies for conflict resolution. The now classic studies by Sumner
(1906), LeVine and Campbell (1972) and Sherif etal. (1961) propose, that under
conditions of intergroup competition and of intimidation, ethnocentric activities
develop and there is a tendency towards the exaltation of the endogroup and the
denigration of the exogroup. Kinzel and Fisher (1993) have related this preference
towards ones own group with a negative image of the other one. The construction of this negative image implies processes such as deindividuation, delegitimisation and dehumanisation, which are conducive to the use of violence against

M.Alzate() M.Durn
Departamento de Psicoloxa Social, Bsica e Metodoloxa. Facultade de Psicoloxa, Universidade
de Santiago de Compostela. Campus Vida, 15782, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Social Psychology, University of Santiago de Compostela, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
S. Sacipa-Rodriguez, M. Montero (eds.), Psychosocial Approaches to Peace-Building in
Colombia, Peace Psychology Book Series 25,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-04549-8_10, Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014



M. Alzate et al.

the adversary (Bar-Tal 1990; Milgram 1974; Tajfel 1984; Wilder 1986). Once the
dynamics of violent confrontation is embarked upon, groups will tend to respond in
the same way and these actions and reactions will result in a spiralling escalation of
the conflict (Osgood 1962; Pruitt and Rubin 1986).
The definitive nature of these conflicts leads social scientists to search for strategies which tend to prevent and, where applicable, eliminate conflicts. One of these
is the so called conflict prevention or preventive diplomacy approach, the objective
of which is to intervene in the initial symptoms of conflict before high levels of violence are reached. The aim is to contain and mitigate conflicts in their initial stages
by adopting the form of reactive prevention (Reychler 1997).
The optimal peace strategy is undoubtedly preventive. Nonetheless, strict prevention should anticipate moments of crisis, in order for individuals to find themselves in a constructive context even before tensions arise. Thus, we refer to proactive prevention, established over the deepest cultural roots, and which enables
the formation of a climate of peace in which individuals basic needs, rights and
freedoms are guaranteed.
One of the most ambitious projects in this regard is that of the United Nations (UN),
cultures of peace program. This is an extensive social movement involving nation
states, individuals and NGOs. The most distant origins of the construction of a culture
of peace are to be found in one of the primary objectives for founding the UN, that of
saving future generations from the scourge of war. Several decades passed after the
founding, thereof, until the idea of encouraging the construction of a culture of peace
developed during the International UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific
and Cultural Organization) conference in 1989. According to de Rivera (2009), this
notion was based on two previous works: the first was that of the Peruvian educator
Filipe MacGregor, who in 1986, in opposition to the culture of violence, maintained
that education is the pathway for creating a culture of peace; the second is the Seville
Statement on Violence, which concludes that biology does not condemn humanity to
war, and that a species which invents war is also capable of inventing peace.
On the basis of this background, the United Nations in its resolution 52/13, established that:
A Culture of Peace consists of values, attitudes and behaviours that reflect and inspire
social interaction and sharing based on the principles of freedom, justice and democracy,
all human rights, tolerance and solidarity, that reject violence and endeavour to prevent
conflicts by tackling their root causes to solve problems through dialogue and negotiation
and that guarantee the full exercise of all rights and the means to participate fully in the
development process of their society (United Nations 1998).

In October 1999 a programme of action towards a culture of peace was defined

on eight extensive areas: education; sustainable economic and social development;
encouraging respect for human rights; equality between men and women; fostering
democratic participation; promoting understanding, tolerance and solidarity; supporting participatory communication and the free flow of information and knowledge; promotion of international peace and security (United Nations 1999).
Although the concept of culture of peace originates from a social-political declaration from the UN, it should be mentioned that in this declaration an explicit call

Eight Cultures of Peace Indicators Applied to Colombian Conflict 


to the scientific community was made. This call was answered by the proposals by
de Rivera (2004, 2009) and Morales and Leal (2004) to systematise indicators in the
eight areas of action for the construction of a culture of peace. Other studies worthy
of note, dealing with the culture of peace from a psychosocial perspective, are those
by Adams (2000), Basabe and Valencia (2007), de Rivera etal. (2007), FernndezDols etal. (2004) and Mayor and Adams (2000).
Given that the definition of culture of peace implies a set of values, attitudes,
behaviours and social exchanges; studying it from social psychology will entail
analysing how the perceptions, beliefs and values of the parties in conflict affect
the perception of their social situations and, how these situations affect the development of their psychological situations (Deutsch 1980). The objective of the present
chapter is to describe this social reality and how it affects the psychological reality
of the participants in a conflict. Therefore, we turn to the description of the eight
indicators of culture of peace during the first presidential term of lvaro Uribe, who
conducted a hard security policy (See Presidencia de la RepblicaMinisterio de
Defensa Nacional 2003) after the failed peace process of former President Andrs
On the basis of the eight areas proposed by the United Nations in order to achieve
a culture of peace, we shall describe the indicators applied to the Colombian context, and we also shall link these indicators to the psychosocial impact that they
have on the population.

Indicators for Constructing a Culture of Peace

In general, the indicators will be implemented along the lines of the proposal of
de Rivera (2004). In certain cases other indicators, specific to Latin America, are
included. It goes without saying that indicators for one single country and at a specific moment in time are insufficient for making an analysis of its situation; thus,
we shall be monitoring the indicators over a number of years. In some cases, they
will be compared with those of other Latin American countries; in other cases as
reference, we shall use the mean and the range of the values, as in the 74 countries
studied by de Rivera in 2009.

Education for Peace

In this case we consider the extent to which individuals are educated or socialised as
pacific individuals, with regulations which place emphasis on cooperation and conflict resolution through dialogue, negotiation and non-violence. This is measured by
means of the gross domestic product given to education and to the homicide rate.
Included in Tables1 and 2 is a final column with the results for Colombia from
the study conducted by de Rivera (2009).


M. Alzate et al.

Table 1 Public expenditure in education percentage of the GDP excluding the percentage of
Colombian universities own resources. (The World Bank 2012)
2005 2006
Mean and range for 74 nationsa
4.9 (1.48.3)
De Rivera (2009)

Table 2 Percentage of homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in Colombia. (Instituto Nacional de

Medicina Legal y Ciencias Forenses 2004, 2006)
2005 2006
Mean and range for 74 nationsa
10.8 (0.778.6)
De Rivera (2009)

Gross Domestic Product Devoted (GDP) to Education in Colombia

According to the United Nations, the recommended percentage of public expenditure in education should be 6% of the GDP. The information presented by The
World Bank on Colombia from 2006 reports public expenditure on education of
3.9% (The World Bank 2012).
Rate of Homicides per Capita in Colombia
The homicide rate in Colombia has decreased significantly over the last decade.
Some analysts maintain that this is due to the Democratic Security Policy of the expresident, lvaro ribe, the demobilisation of paramilitary groups and the weakening of the guerrillas. In spite of this reduction, Colombia still has one of the highest
homicide rates in Latin America.

Sustainable Economic and Social Development

This refers to the extent to which there is equitable, sustainable development, making it possible to satisfy needs in an environmentally friendly manner. It includes
indicators such as gross domestic product per capita (in dollars), the Gini inequality
index and CO2 emissions per capita (Table3).
In 2006 Colombia was above the average in terms of the GDP per capita in
Latin America; nonetheless, it is the Latin American country with the fourth largest
inequality gap, ahead only of the Dominican Republic, Bolivia and Brazil. With
regard to CO2 emissions, Colombia is below the mean for other Latin American
countries, which in 2004 was 2.04t per capita.

Eight Cultures of Peace Indicators Applied to Colombian Conflict 


Table 3 GDP per capita in dollars, income gap and CO2 emissions. (Polilat and Konrad Adenauer
Foundation 2007)
GDP per capitaa
Income gapb
CO2 emissionsc
Costa Rica
El Salvador
Dominican Rep




FMI World Economic Outlook Database, April 2007. The data are projected
Panorama Social de Amrica Latina 2006. CEPAL
United Nations Statistics Division. Indicators for the millennium development objectives. CO2
emissions during 2004 in tonnes per capita

Respect for Human Rights

This measures to what extent human rights are guaranteed through a government
which includes all groups, and the probability of these rights being maintained.
de Rivera (2004) proposes an inverse measurement of the Gibney index (Gibney
and Dalton 1996) of the rate of political terror reported by Amnesty International.
This index ranges from level 1 to level 5: in level 1, incarceration for opinion and
torture are rare or exceptional, political assassinations are extremely rare; in level 5
the violence is somewhat generalised throughout the population, implying political
incarceration, assassination, disappearance and torture.
The following table (Table4) shows just some Latin American countries, illustrating sufficiently well the situation of Colombia with regards to other countries
in its setting. The table includes countries from central and South America and the
Caribbean. Also included are some larger more developed countries, such as Brazil,
and smaller and less well developed countries, such as El Salvador.
Between 2002 and 2006, Colombia was at the highest level in the political terror
scale in Latin America, and among these countries, since 1980, it is the one which
has had the highest mean for this indicator. In 2005 Colombia had a level similar to

M. Alzate et al.

Table 4 Political terror scale according to the Gibney Index. (Gibney etal. 2006)
Costa Rica
El Salvador

Table 5 Percentage of womens participation in the parliament. (United Nations

Statistics Division 2008)

El Salvador
Costa Rica



Information available between 2002 and 2006

that of Brazil and Haiti. In level 4, the practices are not generalised to the population
as a whole, but occur in a large part thereof.

Equality Between Men and Women

This indicator measures to what extent the voices of women are as important as those
of men, on the basis of public posts held by women. Although in the 1990s, Colombia exceeded other Latin American countries; as of the year 2000, the percentage of
womens participation in the parliament fell to the lowest positions, experiencing a
regression last year which it had not suffered in over a decade (Table5).
In his study with 74 nations, de Rivera (2009) establishes a mean of 15.4 in
parliament, ranging between 0.5 and 42.7. Colombias values are a long way below
this mean and, unlike other Latin American countries, instead of progressing it has
regressed, since the percentage of women present in parliament has decreased from
2007 to 2010.

Eight Cultures of Peace Indicators Applied to Colombian Conflict 


Table 6 Democratic development index for Colombia between 2002 and 2006. ( and
Konrad Adenauer Foundation 2007)
IDD-LAT 2002
IDD-LAT 2003 IDD-LAT 2004 IDD-LAT 2005 IDD-LAT 2006

Table 7 Democratic Development Index in 2006. ( and Konrad Adenauer Foundation
Costa Rica
El Salvador
Dominican Rep.

Democratic Participation
This indicator measures to what extent the civil society participates in those decisions which affect personal welfare. The result was obtained by the democratisation index calculated by Vahnanen. This index multiplies the percentage of the
voting population by the percentage of contested elections (Vanhanen 2000). In
the study by de Rivera (2009) the Vanhamen index for Colombia is 16.5, below
the mean (22.4) for the 74 countries analysed, in which scores ranged from 0 to
Although, de Rivera (2004) suggests the use of the Vanhanen democratisation
index, we have found a democratic development index more suitable for Latin
America, prepared by and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which
provides updated data for the region. We have opted to show the level of democratic
development on the basis of this index, which evaluates four dimensions: basic
conditions of democracy, respect for political rights and civil liberties, institutional
quality and political efficiency and exercising of effective power for governance.
The evolution for Colombia is shown in Table6.
In recent years Colombia has shown an improvement in the index; nonetheless, it
only reaches average development with regard to the rest of Latin America.
Table 7 shows 18 Latin American countries on the basis of their democratic
development. Countries with higher development are considered to be those which
achieve over 7.5 points, countries with medium development are those with scores
ranging from 4.51 to 7.5 and countries with low development are those with scores
between 1.0 and 4.5.

M. Alzate et al.


Table 8 Statistical information from UNHCR regarding refugees, asylum seekers and the displaced in Colombia. (UNHCRWorld tendencies on refugees in 2006 (United Nations High
Commissioner for RefugeesUNHCR 2007))
Colombian refugees abroad
Asylum seekers
Returned refugees
Displaced individuals within the country
Other individuals of interest from UNHCR
The government of Colombia estimates that there are between 2.5 and 3million internally displaced persons in the country, with 1,896,160 being registered in the Single Registry System
(Sistema nico de RegistroSUR) up to 31 October 2006

Understanding, Tolerance and Solidarity

This is measured by means of the number of refugees, since tolerance implies the
acceptance of refugees and shortcomings in solidarity are reflected in the generation
of refugees and internal displacement. Thus the indicator is obtained by the number
of refugees admitted, minus the number generated (including internally displaced
individuals) divided by the total population.
The problem of internal displacement in Colombia is one of the most serious in
the world. The government of Colombia estimates that there are between 2.5 and
3million internally displaced persons in the country, with 1,896,160 registered in
the Single Registry System (Sistema nico de RegistroSUR) as of 31 October
2006. According to data from the Consultancy on Human Rights and Displacement
(CODHES), from 1 January 1985 until 30 June 2006, a total of 3,832,527 were
displaced due to violence, and this figure is increasing on a daily basis, owing to
the political violence associated to the internal armed conflict, see Table8 (United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR 2007).
If we calculate this index with the parameters proposed by de Rivera (2004), for
the Colombian case we find a negative index: refugee population admitted minus
population generated over the total population: 155 (admitted)[3,000,000 internally displaced individuals+60,415 refugees+19,754 (asylum seekers)]/44,000,000
total population=7 (See Table 9).
The Social Cohesion and Tolerance Index proposed by de Rivera (2009) also has
a negative value for Colombia (12.7). The atypical nature of the value obtained for
the case of Colombia is thus evident.

Participatory Communication and Free Flow of Information

and Knowledge
The freedom of information and communication, and the exchange of information and knowledge are essential for a culture of peace. This indicator measures
to what extent there is open communication with transparency and responsibility,

Eight Cultures of Peace Indicators Applied to Colombian Conflict 


Table 9 Refugee population by country/territory of asylum 2006. (UNHCR 2007)

Population admitted as refugees/ Population generated as refugees/
destination country, 2006
Territory of origin, 2006
Costa Rica
El Salvador

Table 10 Negation of press freedom in Latin America between 2002 and 2006. (Freedom House
Costa Rica
El Salvador

as opposed to press control and corruption. It is measured by means of the Freedom

of the Press Index (Freedom House 2007), which examines restrictions on the spoken and written media, through the level of constraints from laws and regulations
(030 points), the range of political pressure (040 points), and the range of economic influence on content (030 points).
A score of 100 corresponds to the total negation of press freedom.
Those countries with scores between 0 and 30 are classed as countries with press
freedom, scores between 31 and 60 indicate partial press freedom, and scores between 61 and 100 indicate the negation thereof.
Regarding the freedom of press (see Table10), Colombia was one of the worst
countries, both in 2006 and in terms of the average for the last 5 years. It exceeds
seven countries and is exceeded by Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela. The results since
2002 have shown no significant improvements, even when there was an improvement in 2006.

M. Alzate et al.


Table 11 Military spending in Latin America between 2000and 2006 in relation to gross domestic
product. (Stockholm International Peace Research InstituteSIPRI 2007)
Dominican R.
El Salvador
Costa Rica and Panama are omitted from this table, as they have no armed forces

International Peace and Security

This indicator measures to what extent society encourages international security
over the competence of power and the sale of arms. It is measured by means of an
indicator of the percentage of military expenditure in the gross domestic product.
The data appearing herein are taken from the Stockholm International Peace
Research Institute (SIPRI), which is one of the four most important international
sources for defence spending in the world. It is estimated that in 2006 worldwide
military expenditure was the equivalent of 2.5% of the world GDP (Stockholm
International Peace Research InstituteSIPRI 2007).
No country registers what it receives in military aid from abroad as its own
expenditure; the country providing the aid is the one that registers it; thus, in the socalled Plan Colombia (Colombia Plan) it appears in the US budget and not in the
Colombian one. It should also be mentioned that during 2002 and 2004 Colombia
received 2.6billion pesos from the citizenry through the establishment of a specific
war tax.
Among the Latin American countries Colombia and Chile have the highest military spending for the 20002006 period (see Table11). According to de Rivera
(2009), the mean for the 74 countries he analysed is 2.2, within a range between 0
and 9.5. As can be seen, Colombia exceeds this mean percentage of the GDP invested in armament every year, and it is the Latin American country with the highest
score for this indicator.

Eight Cultures of Peace Indicators Applied to Colombian Conflict 


Psycho-Social Impact of the Indicators of a Peace Culture

In the previous section, some of the indicators enabling us to verify the baseline conditions which Colombia has for progressing towards the construction of a culture of
peace were presented. The diagnosis derived from these indicators is that the peace
construction process is at a midway point and a set of conditions which are stoking
the current conflict will need to be modified. Notable among these conditions are
the following: the gap between the GDP devoted to education that recommended by
the UN; the high homicide rate, which is three times higher than the mean obtained
in a study conducted with 74 by de Rivera (2009); the fourth worst equality gap in
Latin America, despite it being a country with a medium level GDP; the constant
evaluation of the highest political terror level; the low level of equality between
men and women in the parliament, in spite of it being considered as a country with
medium levels of democratic development; the quantity of the displaced and refugee population; the negation of press freedom; and the high military expenditure.
All the above conditions are elements conducive to the persistence of a conflict
such as the Colombian one, due both to the deprivation of resources and rights
suffered by individuals, and because this deprivation is equated with Runcimans
definition of fraternal relative deprivation (Runciman 1966).
In a first sense, the deprivation of resources and rights corresponds to what
Galtung (1996) has called structural violence: a type of violence which is institutionalised to keep individuals in infra-human conditions, without the need to
apply any direct physical aggression to them, they are maintained under conditions of poverty, insecurity, etc. If these sources of violence are not transformed,
the result will be a substrate which precludes the establishment of constructive
social relations. The perception of unmet basic needs intensifies antagonisms,
and this dissatisfaction goes hand-in-hand with frustration and fear, which may in
turn lead to extreme behaviour, such as violent conflicts (Staub and Bar-Tal 2003;
Staub etal. 2005).
In the second sense, fraternal relative deprivation consists of that deprivation responding to membership to a certain social group which is perceived to be at a clear
disadvantage as opposed to others who could well be considered equal. Sabucedo
etal. (2006) observed that, from the perspective of political action, the relevant
aspect is not the objective situation in which individuals find themselves, but rather
how they perceive it. This situation of fraternal relative deprivation could be one of
the causes which have encouraged the emergence of guerrilla groups in Colombia.
The perception of fraternal relative deprivation leads individuals to search for
those responsible for their situationeven more so when the causes clearly do not
respond to uncontrollable forces of nature or to supernatural agents; rather, they
are the products of decisions and actions of other human beings, as occurs in the
Colombian conflict. As soon as an individual responsible for the situation has been
identified, they will need to be open to democratic causes in order to constructively
manage the perception of grievance; because if these pathways for action do not exist, strategies which are perceived as more effective (though socially reprehensible)


M. Alzate et al.

will be searched for, such as the use of violence (Marsella 2004; Moreno etal. 2004;
Sabucedo etal. 2002; Sabucedo etal. 2003; Sabucedo and Alzate 2005).
The use of violent strategies as a way of tackling conflict leads to the escalation thereof and, according to Alzate etal. (2009), certain psycho-social changes
come about in the groups and communities which surround the opposing parties.
These changes include: the development of perceptions of threat and mistrust in exogroups; the strengthening of ethnocentric attitudes in the endogroup and the polarisation of the opposing parties; the construction of a negative, delegitimised image
of the adversary; feelings of grievance and mistrust in institutions. The emphasis
is placed on authoritarian imposition and the interest in negotiation is diminished.
Transforming the aforementioned psychosocial processes will require hard work
to enable it to overcome the psychological and emotional barriers that have been
constructed and which block the pathway towards the resolution of the intergroup
conflict: this is what Nadler and Shnabel (2008) refer to as reconciliation.
According to Kelman (2008), reconciliation is a process which may commence
even before the signing of peace agreements, since it is not simply a consequence of
the resolution of the conflict. The authors of the present chapter are convinced that
reconciliation must be the ultimate aim of societies divided by intractable conflicts,
such as the Colombian one. Understanding this reconciliation in the terms of BarTal and Bennink (2004) as a process must enable mutual recognition and acceptance, thus reversing interests and goals to develop peaceful relationships, mutual
trust, positive attitudes, as well as sensitivity and, consideration for the needs of the
other party and for the interests thereof.

The social political and economic context described in this review brings together
an extensive set of factors which, in one form or another, have an impact on the generation and maintenance of armed conflict. These conditions have a psycho-social
impact which mainly takes the form of loss of confidence, and destruction of the
social fabric, in terms of loss of solidarity and of citizens construction. It generates
feelings of intimidation, hate, vengeance and desperation. It destroys positive group
identity and social cohesion. It propagates the perception of insecurity, delegitimises institutions and diminishes the formal and informal participation in the social
and political life of the country.
The analysis presented in this chapter is not intended to be a description of the
current Colombian conflict; instead, the analysis underscores the relationship between social investment and promoting cultures of peace. Although, a contextual
analysis of the Colombian armed conflict is important, it is worth stressing that
this context has been constructed on the basis of relations between persons and
on relations between different social groups. It is neither an unmodifiable context,
nor is it dependent on historical determinism. As it has been socially constructed,
it could also be transformed in the same manner, allowing a change which could

Eight Cultures of Peace Indicators Applied to Colombian Conflict 


rebalance Colombian society. Additionally, the link between the situations of injustice towards the membership to a determined group gives rise to the creation of a
mobilised identity (Sabucedo etal. 2010), and it is through this social mobilisation
that changes within societies are produced.
Education for peace could be a key element for this social transformation. According to Salomon, it could enable each of the parties that have contributed to the
conflict, to develop cognitive and emotional empathy towards the exogroup, and
to cultivate more positive attitudes towards the other and towards peace (Salomon
2009, p.111).
Further elements which would favour the constructive transformation of the Colombian conflict are to be found along the lines of the proposals for recategorisation
by Petigrew (1998, p.75), for inclusive superordinate identities by Hewston etal.
(2002) and for crossed categorisation by Brewer (1999). Such a recategorisation
and development of more permeable identities would enable the construction of a
more extensive and inclusive category of citizenship, fitting the interests of all the
Colombians and who, through intergroup cooperation, are willing to transform the
situation of conflict.
If more inclusive identities are to be constructed, those individuals responsible for preparing the discourses that animate social life (leaders, communications
media, institutions, education centres, citizens, etc.) will have to abandon the arguments of division and social confrontation. In place of these, they will have to
opt for creating more extensive identities which, instead of separating the country
into good and bad Colombians, lead to the establishment of social categories
welcoming all citizens, including those who are adversaries in the conflict. The
objective of this new construction of citizenship will be to establish superordinate
objectives, such as those proposed by Sherif and Sherif (1975), which lead to joint
efforts towards collective goals and which, in turn, will pave the way towards reconciliation and the construction of a culture of peace in Colombia.

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Armed conflict, 25, 33, 35
and responsible actions
Columbian leaders assumptions, 34
as political fact
of social responsibility, 90
in Columbia, 89
negotiations, 32
resisting violence from, 31
with people, 90
Children, 143145, 147151, 155
family socialization of, 147
Collective empowerment, 97
Colombia, 25, 63, 64
armed groups
violent actions from, 64
Attorney Generals Office, 73
cultures of peace in, 3133
guerrilla phenomena in, 64
HPI, 64
Justice and Peace, framework, 75
Law of Justice and Peace, 65
paramilitary and guerrilla, 72
paramilitary phenomena in, 64
social process
complex dynamics of, 64
victims of armed violence
testimonies of, 67
war, effects, 65
with high indexes of
family violence, 71
school violence, 71
sociopolitical violence, 71
Colombian conflict, 159, 169, 170
transformation of, 171
Conflict, 133, 134

sociopolitical, discourses and beliefs

related, 134137
transformation of, 171
Coping, 97, 100, 101
personal resources, 101104
Cultures of peace, 29, 136, 137, 170
alternatives, for construction, 26
and social bonds, 25
as useful tool, 26
construction of, 2628
description of, 159
generation of, 26
in Colombia, 3133
UN program, 160
psychosocial keys for, 143
Democratic Security Policy, 162
Disarmament, 156
psychosocial keys for, 143
Ethical-political perspective, 143
Experiential avoidance
as coping process, 74
Fear, 8588, 90
of annihilation, 91
of reawakening experienced feelings, 91
Forced displacement, 89, 90
and feelings, 81
fear, 85, 86
loss of trust, 87, 88
mourning and sense to live, 85
pain, 82, 83

S. Sacipa-Rodriguez, M. Montero (eds.), Psychosocial Approaches to Peace-Building in

Colombia, Peace Psychology Book Series 25,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-04549-8, Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014




sadness, 83
shame, 83
suffering and psychosocial trauma,
84, 85
uncertainity, 83
in Colombia, 81
internal armed conflict, 81
victims of, 89, 92
Forcedly displaced victims
psychosocial recovery process, 97
Functional contextualism, 74
Gender patterns, 143
Gender socialization, 143
Guerrillas, 143, 146, 148
Internal war
bleeding in, 25
Lack of trust, 88
Legitimization of violence, 137
Para-military troops, 143, 148, 150, 152, 154
Peace cultures
indicators, psycho-social impact of,
Perpetrators, 73
and offenders, 69
damage in, 70
dimensions of damage, 66
psychic damage of, 69
scarcity of studies, 70
victims, 64, 69, 75
dynamics between, 69
interactive and continuous process, 73
psychology of, 71
Personal resources, 101, 102
Political violence, 137, 138
discursive strategies of, 134
legitimation of, 139
Psychological damage, 64, 69, 76
concept of, 64, 65
legal perspective of, 65, 66, 70
Psychology, 29
challenge for social sciences, 33
clinical, 28
for social transformation, 30
political, 28, 30
social, 28

Psychosocial accompaniment, 89, 91, 97, 98

objectives of, 90
praxis aspects, 100, 101
processes of, 90, 95
renewal of trust, 92
spaces of, 95
theoretical and ethical aspects, 99, 100
Psychosocial processes
transformation of, 170
Rage, 94
Reintegration, 156
psychosocial keys for, 143
Research, 30
and practice, 25
challenges, 3236
psychological, 31
Research group, 26, 28
members of, 29
of feelings, 81
Social support, 97
Strategies of intervention, 76
Colombian armed conflict
intervention with, 76
dimensions of damage, 66
justice, purpose of, 75
kinds of, 68
of armed violence in Colombia
testimonies of, 67
of displacement, 67
of guerrillas, 74
of Human Rights violations
justice and reparation, 66
of landmines, 73
of massacres, 66
of police violence, 65
of violence
and displacement, 68
interventions, good part, 67
psychological research, good part, 67
perpetrators, 64, 69
dynamics between, 69
interactions between, 69
interactive and continuous process, 73
negative effect, dynamics, 69
psychology of, 71



psychological damage, 65
psychological problems, analysis
justice and fragmentation, 64
relieving suffering, purpose of, 75
reparation process for, 75

right to reparation, 75
subsequent reparation and restoration
CNRR recommendation criteria, 67
traumatic experiences and psychological
damage, 70