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Murderous Colombia

E.J. Hobsbawm November 20, 1986 Issue

Human Rights in Colombia as President Barco Begins

An Americas Watch Report

68 pp., $7.00 (paper)

Los años del tropel: Relatos de la violencia

by Alfredo Molano

Fondo Editorial CEREC-CINEP (Bogotá), 292 pp.

Estado y subversión en Colombia: La violencia en el Quindío


Años 50

by Carlos Miguel Ortiz Sarmiento

Fondo Editorial CEREC (Bogotá), 463 pp.

Pasado y presente de la Violencia en Colombia

edited by Gonzalo Sanchez, edited by Ricardo Peñaranda

Fondo Editorial CEREC (Bogotá), 413 pp.

La paz, la violencia: testigos de excepción. Hechos ye


testimonios sobre 40 años de violencia y paz que vuelven a ser
hoy de palpitante actualidad

by Arturo Alape

Planeta (Bogotá), 620 pp.

Cese el fuego: Una historia politica de las FARC


by Jacobo Arenas

Oveja Negra (Bogotá), 172 pp.

Colonización, coca y guerrilla

by Jaime Jaramillo and Leonidas Mora and Fernando Cubides

Universidad Nacional de Colombia (Bogotá), 239 pp.

Bandoleros, gamonales y campesinos: el caso de la Violencia en


Colombia

by Gonzalo Sanchez and Donny Meertens

El Ancora (Bogotá), 262 pp.

La Guerra por la paz

by Enrique Santos Calderon, prologue by Gabriel García Márquez

Fondo Editorial CEREC (Bogotá), 324 pp.

Historia de una traición

by Laura Restrepo, with the assistance of Camilo Gonzalez

Plaza & Janes Editores (Bogotá), 255 pp.

Narcotrafico imperio de la cocaina

by Mario Arango and Jorge Child

Editorial Percepción (Medellín), 318 pp.

The Fruit Palace

by Charles Nicholl

St. Martin's, 307 pp., $16.95


About the only thing that most non-
Colombians know about the third largest
country in Latin America, and virtually the
least known, is that it supplies cocaine and
the novels of Gabriel García Márquez. García
Márquez is indeed a marvelous guide to his
extraordinary country, but not a good
introduction to it. Only those who have been
there know how much of what reads like
fantasy is actually close to Colombian reality.
The drug traffic is also, unfortunately, an
important element in it, though one that Virgilio Barco; drawing by David Levine

authoritative Colombians are not anxious to


discuss much. It must also be admitted that they are a good deal more
relaxed about it than their North American opposite numbers. This is
probably because, authoritative or not, Colombians today are chiefly
worried about the rising tide of murder.

The country has long been known for an altogether exceptional proclivity
to homicide. The excellent Americas Watch report of September 1986 on
human rights there points out that homicide was the leading cause of death
for males between the ages of fifteen and forty-four, and the fourth-ranking
cause of death for all ages. Violent death is not simply one way in which life
can end in this country. It is, to quote a superb and chilling recent exercise
in oral history, “an omnipresent personage.”1 But what Colombians fear is
not simply death, but a renewed drift into one of those pandemics of
violence that have occasionally flooded across the country, most notably
during the twenty years from 1946 to 1966, which are known simply as La
Violencia. This grim era has recently been seriously studied by an excellent
group of younger local historians, among whom Carlos Ortiz’s study of the
coffee region of the Quindío is remarkable for showing what can be
achieved by a combination of archival research, oral history, and local
knowledge. Among systematic attempts to link the Violencia years with the
present, the books edited or compiled by Gonzalo Sanchez and Ricardo
Peñaranda, and Arturo Alape’s important La Paz, la violencia, should be
mentioned.

Fear of a new high tide of murder—the last one killed some 200,000—is
both political and social. (The figure of 300,000, quoted in the Americas
Watch report, is not based on evidence, and is almost certainly too high.)
Colombia was for most of its history, and still is to a surprising extent, a
land for pioneer settlers (“the classic colono with his axe, gun and hunting
dog,” to quote a description of the 1970s2 ). National government and law
still make only occasional incursions into much of the countryside from the
cities, which in turn are only vaguely under the control of the capital. Even
the most ancient and powerful national institution has only a skeleton
organization: There are no more than sixteen priests in the diocese of
Valledupar, which covers one and a half of the country’s twenty-odd
departments.

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