In This Review

Blood and Fire: La Violencia in Antioquia, Colombia, 1946-1953
Blood and Fire: La Violencia in Antioquia, Colombia, 1946-1953
By Mary Roldan
Duke University Press, 2002, 392 pp

Between 1946 and the mid-1960s, some 200,000 people were killed in Colombia during the time of terror known as La Violencia, an era little studied until now. Roldan's book goes a long way toward filling this void. She brilliantly describes the complex historical context behind the violence, challenging the simplified Manichaean vision of Colombian affairs that now holds sway in Washington, encouraged by Bogota's wily public relations. Her account focuses on Antioquia, a region rich in resources but wracked with tensions over class divisions, the devolution of power, and income inequality. Above all, she rejects the idea that the current violence can be attributed to a single catalyst. In the 1950s, Bogota dismissed La Violencia as a partisan phenomenon that could be solved through deploying greater force, ignoring the fact that these local armed groups were rising to fill a vacuum of public authority. More recently, Roldan argues, Colombia has made a similar error in dismissing the problem of violence as reducible to a single issue -- be it the emergence of the narcotics trade or the existence of leftist insurgencies -- and manageable through greater force. Most disturbing is her account of the rise of right-wing paramilitary groups, which are tacitly supported by Antioquia's regional government and Colombia's armed forces. The architect of Antioquia's policy, governor Alvaro Uribe, was just inaugurated as Colombia's president.