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Politische Gewalt in Kolumbien. Die Violencia in Tolima, 1946-1964, Historamericana 32 (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2022 [Erstausgabe: Stuttgart: Heinz, 2014])

Cover Historamericana 32: Politische Gewalt in Kolumbien. Die Violencia in Tolima, 1946-1964

Cover Historamericana 32: Politische Gewalt in Kolumbien. Die Violencia in Tolima, 1946-1964
Bildquelle: wbg

Lukas Rehm

Der kolumbianische Bürgerkrieg Mitte des 20. Jahrhunderts, die Violencia, und die zu seiner Beendigung ergriffenen Maßnahmen prägen bis in die Gegenwart Politik und Gesellschaft des südamerikanischen Landes. Für den Ausbruch des Bürgerkrieges waren die Differenzen zwischen der Liberalen und der Konservativen Partei von zentraler Bedeutung. Der Autor untersucht in einem ersten Schritt aus einer kulturhistorischen Perspektive, auf Basis welcher Argumentationslogiken der als fundamental wahrgenommene Gegensatz zwischen Liberalen und Konservativen geschaffen wurde. In einem zweiten Schritt analysiert er Genese und Verlauf des Bürgerkriegs aus regionalhistorischem Blickwinkel und auf Basis weitgehend erstmalig ausgewerteter Quellen in dem departamento Tolima. In der Regionalstudie kann er sowohl den Konflikt bedingende nationalstaatliche Faktoren, als auch regionale, mithin sogar lokale Eigenlogiken der Gewalt aufzeigen, die zu einem besseren Verständnis der Violencia und der Geschichte der politischen Gewalt im Kolumbien des 20. Jahrhunderts beitragen.

This monograph analyzes the Colombian civil war, known as La Violencia, from 1946 to 1964, focusing on the Department of Tolima from a regional historical perspective. Conceptualizing the political, i.e. the totality of persons and topics considered political at a given point in time, in a constructivist manner the author investigates the use and legitimacy of physical violence during political struggles. The investigation is guided by two principal research questions. On the level of discourses and subjective perceptions, it seeks to understand how and why physical violence became one of the main modes of interaction between the different fractions situated in the political field during the aforementioned period focusing first of all upon conservative, liberal and communist collectivities. On the level of historical action, it is analyzed how massive and extreme physical violence was used in processes of negotiating the (constructivist) political, i.e. how representatives of different political fractions tried to prohibit that the adversary could participate in the field of politics, and, respectively, how social groups tried to achieve participation in the political field by means of physical violence. Due to the fact that the regional level of political action cannot be investigated isolated from the national level, in the first part of the book, the period investigated is historically contextualized focusing upon national-level political evolutions and incidences whose consequences and importance for the political processes and formations in the Department of Tolima are to be examined later on. For analytical reasons the period of examination is subdivided in five partially-overlapping phases, i.e. 1946-1949 (the presidency of Mariano Ospina Pérez), 1949-1953 (the presidency of Laureano Gómez), 1953-1957 (the military government of General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla), 1957-1958 (the Junta Militar) and finally 1958-1964 (the first legislative periods of the Frente Nacional). As recent sociologists like Sofsky, von Trotha and Popitz state, physical violence is a tool that is actually omnipresent, meaning that anyone can resort to violence whenever it is considered an adequate mode of interaction. At the same time the use of violence against other human beings always means the breaking of social taboos and norms of harmonious social gregariousness. Consequently Baberowski underlines the exigency of including “the cultural patterns [and] the cultural contexts” that facilitate acts of violence into the corresponding historical examinations (2008). In order to shed light on the aforementioned patterns and contexts of violent behavior, the second part of the book analyzes the discursive constructions of the collective liberal and conservative party identities combined with a frame analysis conceptualizing the partidos tradicionales as imagined communities (Anderson). It is shown that the perception of socio-political realities by the different representatives of the political subcultures (Pécaut) and the discursive construction of the collective party identities were intimately intertwined. Resorting to schemes of adversarial framing conservative and liberal politicians discursively construed the parties as multilayered antipodes. On a political level liberals and conservative underlined their entirely opposite political and philosophical heritage. Furthermore conservative politicians, in the perception of liberals, evolved to fascists and falangistas while liberals were considered communists by their conservative counterparts, i.e. they were imagined as fractions that, shortly after World War II, did not have any political consensus in common. Subsequently, liberals and conservatives cultivated a cultural opposition between barbarism and civilization, an opposition that dated back to the conquest of the Americas in the 16th century. By conceiving the political adversary as an (infectious and lethal) disease, a fourth, subjectively-perceived and construed opposition was created which additionally defined the political counterpart as nonhuman. Against the background of these definitions of the foe, conservatives as well as liberals equated the political success of their own parties with the survival of the glorified patria, and even Western civilization, and its promising future. The author argues that these perceptions of the political adversary, these interpretations of social and political realities, which are described as the dichotomization of the social world, made the use of violence more imaginable, in the words of Popitz, and therefore favored violent interactions between liberals, communists and conservatives. The following part of the book proves that “violence” as discursively-provided operational tool was used extensively in the political struggles on the regional level in Tolima. Though official historiography argues that La Violencia began on April 9th, 1948, when liberal presidential candidate Gaitán was shot dead, the author shows that violent political interactions began long before that; shortly after conservative Ospina Pérez had assumed the presidency. According to Krennerich, relations of violence (structural conditions that favor violent actions such as socioeconomic inequality, officials and politicians advocating violence, etc.) are distinguished from actions of violence (intentional acts of harming or killing people) for analytical reasons. Resorting to contemporary – partly archived, partly hitherto not analyzed – case records, police reports, memoranda of the different secret services, submissions of Colombian citizens to members of the political executive, the rare propaganda published by the contemporary combatant groups and a large amount of contemporary daily newspapers the different temporary alliances of liberal and communist guerrillas, differentiating space and time, are analyzed while highlighting the alleged justifications for the use of violence. Furthermore the cooperation of the police forces (chulavitas) and different types of para-governmental groups (referring to Waldmann) as pájaros or paramilitary contrachusmas is investigated in order to understand the often stated, but seldom sufficiently analyzed momentums of inner state conflicts stemming from the practice of reciprocal violence. As a further protagonist of La Violencia the armed forces are analyzed, too. The establishment of the liberal-conservative coalition, called Frente Nacional, did not mean the abolishment of violent political practices nationwide. In some departments political fraction actually returned to nonviolent forms of political interactions but in others violence continued to be a preferred means of political struggle – and Tolima was one of the latter. Oppositional groups like the communists as well as left liberal groups such as the Movimiento de Recuperación Liberal (MRL) resorted to violence in order to gain influence on government politics that were perceived as exclusive, oligarchic and oppressive. Representatives of the traditional parties, in Tolima basically of the Liberal Party, turned to ex-combatants of their party in order to violently protect their zones of political influence against communist and left liberal oppositional fractions. These two groups of liberal ex-combatants fighting for different political aims are investigated for analytical reasons as social bandits in the sense of Eric J. Hobsbawm on the one hand, and as political bandits according to Blok on the other. Due to the fact that the bandits’ roles and identities were not stable and fixed in time, resorting to anthropologist Victor Turner, they are described as liminal beings that were caught “betwixt and between” two value systems, i.e. the Liberal Party and leftist groups advocating class difference as the crucial social cleavage. Although political violence did not disappear in the following decades the research period ends with the defeat of the cuadrillas bandoleras around 1964 by the Colombian Armed Forces, the guerra contra el bandolerismo. The main argument for ending the research period in 1964 is the fact that the subsequent periods of political violence differ from the former ones and are best analyzed as types of violent state formation (Holden). After summarizing the most essential results of the investigation the author deliberates on the contemporary definition of the political demonstrating that the partidos tradicionales aimed at limiting the political on them while criminalizing oppositional political groups. Against the background of theses reflections the period of La Violencia is situated in the context of the history of political violence in Colombia since the time of political independence. Recapitulating the arguments of the so called continuity and discontinuity theses regarding the use of violence in processes of social and political negotiations, the author underlines the structural continuities of violent behavior in Colombian history advocating the continuity thesis.

Politische Gewalt in Kolumbien. Die Violencia in Tolima, 1946-1964, Historamericana 32 (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2022 [Erstausgabe: Stuttgart: Heinz, 2014])
Lukas Rehm
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