Colombia in Literature and Conflict 

Colombia in conflict

This website’s intent is to study how literary representation conveys not only violence in Colombia, dimensions behind it: the weight of emotions, personal memories, distorted images, and networks of solidarity to go beyond said conflict. The historical development of the Colombian conflict are here explored as symbolically addressed through fiction and non-fiction literary works. As a group we developed various visual representations of this process of symbolization, including maps, annotated images, analytical graphs, timelines, etc. The narratives we analyzed use practices of memory, places of inhabitation, the country’s diverse territoires, and the objects of everyday life as a guide in a walk through different aspects of Colombian society. Concepts such as conflict versus post-conflict, transitional justice, and human rights are identified. For this particular contextualization we use Michael LaRosa's and German Mejía's  Colombia. A Concise Contemporary History.

Conflict and post-conflict manifest themselves in Colombian culture. The history of Colombia is marked by the variety of territories and geographies that the country encompasses. This relationship with space has brought about specific forces of internal development that in some way stimulate conflict, but that at the same time, appear to promote an idea of national unity: political bipartisanship, religion, language, centralization of the army, and the currency are all part of this centripetal drive of Colombian society. Particularly important to contemporary conflict is the way the political establishment devised the National Front after the period of partisan conflagration known as La Violencia, and after Rojas Pinilla's dictatorship. The National Front created a country where the two political parties, Liberal and Conservador, took turns for sixteen years to lead the country. This pact effectively marginalized vast sectors of the population and their access to political representation. So, if in a way the National Front served to diminish the violent partisan animosity, it also worked as a recipe for the way guerrilla and paramilitary groups eventually became "de facto" powers in some regions of the country (Marco Palacio's Violencia pública en Colombia precisely links these territories to the way public violence becomes such a sensitive issue in Colombian politics at the turn of the Twentieth century in Colombia).

The political parties have played a fundamental role in the nation’s economy and sociopolitical stability. Since the 19th century, political parties have represented urban sectors of society which included land owners, creating a sociopolitical hierarchy. This development caused the rural sector of society to be subjected to the “elite” urban sector, who regulated the prices of goods and services. The monopolization of various segments of the economy, the over reliance on coffee, fluctuating prices, economic growth to exportation and importation, and the recession of the twentieth century stimulated conflict.

Documented to have begun in 1964, the Colombian armed conflict is the oldest ongoing armed conflict in the Americas. Peace negotiations were underway early on. In 1990 and 1991, peace negotiations  resulted in demobilization and transformation into civilian political actors. After the longest period of violence, between 2003 and 2005, violence committed by paramilitaries dropped  after many paramilitary groups agreed to demobilize in exchange for limited immunity. It is reported that most Bacrim groups emerged from Colombia’s last attempt to negotiate a measure of peace. 

Finally, in 2016 with the assistance of The United Nations and the Security Council, the government of Colombia was able to reach an agreement during peace negotiations with FARC, the largest guerrilla group in the country.

Despite conflict, Colombian society seems to follow a pattern of unification. This website not only showcases aspects of conflict that have created societal division, but also aspects of society that have established unity. Religion, political parties, or education, one might associate with division, ultimately provide the Colombian people with a community and sense of identity.  

In spite of the great violence experienced, the nation of Colombia is populated by individuals who strive for peace. Conflict does not constitute Colombia. Rather, it emphasizes the resiliency of the nation and its people.

External factors also played a role in  the way conflict impacted the experience of millions of Colombians. External nations considered “first world countries”, often appearing as a resource of guidance, took actions in Latin America with nations-state interests in mind. External pressures were often charged politically as is the case of the way the United States extended policies and created counterinsurgency training units to counter the perceived penetration of left ideologies and communism during the span of time that the cold war divided the international community. This moment is but a continuation of a problematic relationship between Colombia and its neighbor from the north. The turn of the Nineteenth to Twentieth Century had already seen tensions as the United States used the War of a Thousand Days to promote the separation of the Panama territory from Colombia, and thus be able to benefit economically from the construction of the Panama interoceanic canal.
Other international pressures are more linked to contemporary  issues, such as those prompted by the negotiation of peace agreements between the administrations of Alvaro Uribe Velez with paramilitaries, and Juan Manuel Santos with the FARC guerrilla group. It was due to the 2005 UN establishment of the rights of victims that has given shape to these processes. Particularly, when it seemed that the dialogues with paramilitaries would provide lenient conditions for their reinsertion into society, it was under this international set of guidelines that the transitional justice measures related to said process had to be revised. This, so that the government would guarantee the rights of victims to truth, justice, and reparations with a guarantee of no-repetition.

by Priscilla Otero and Nicole Pfalz

© 2018 by Carlos Mario Mejía & Gustavus Adolphus College PCS 119 course

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