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"Rupture" and the State: The "Radical Narrative" of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, Colombia



The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó in Urabá is one of the most emblematic groups of victims of the Colombian conflict. Trapped between the guerrilla, the paramilitaries and the army they declared themselves ‘neutral’ to the conflict, but violations continued, and they declared themselves in ‘rupture’ with the Colombian state. This article traces their ideas of ‘neutrality’ and ‘rupture’ ethnographically, showing how their genealogy constitutes what I call the ‘radical narrative’, an interpretative framework according to which the Community perceives every action of the state. It positions this analysis within anthropological debates which see the state as produced via state-society encounters with material and imaginative dimensions, in this case, direct violence and bureaucratic inefficiency. It concludes that communities’ perceptions of the state must be taken seriously in any trust-building attempt.
“Rupture” and the State: e “Radical Narrative” of the Peace
Community of San José de Apartadó, Colombia*
Gwen Burnyeat**
University College London, United Kingdom
How to cite this article: Burnyeat, Gwen. 2017. “‘Rupture’ and the State: e ‘Radical Narrative
of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, Colombia”. Antípoda. Revista de Antropología y
Arqueología 29: 17-40. Doi:
Received: January 11, 2017; Acceptance: June 5, 2017; Modication: June 19, 2017.
Abstract: e Peace Community of San José de Apartadó in Urabá is one of
the most emblematic groups of victims of the Colombian conict. Trapped
between the guerrilla, the paramilitaries and the army they declared them-
selves ‘neutral’ to the conict, but violations continued, and they declared
themselves in ‘rupture’ with the Colombian state. is article traces their
ideas of ‘neutrality’ and ‘rupture’ ethnographically, showing how their gene-
alogy constitutes what I call the ‘radical narrative’, an interpretative frame-
work according to which the Community perceives every action of the state.
It positions this analysis within anthropological debates which see the state as
produced via state-society encounters with material and imaginative dimen-
sions, in this case, direct violence and bureaucratic ineciency. It concludes
that communities’ perceptions of the state must be taken seriously in any
trust-building attempt.
Keywords: esaurus: Neutrality; state. Author´s keywords: Peace Commu-
nity; narratives; victims; anthropology of the state; Urabá.
* is research was carried out during the author’s studies for a Master’s degree in Anthropology at the
Universidad Nacional de Colombia in 2014-5 thanks to a Study-Abroad Scholarship from e Leverhulme
Trust (UK) and a Scholarship from the Instituto Colombiano de Crédito Educativo y Estudios Técnicos
en el Exterior (ICETEX). is article adapts a chapter of my book Chocolate, Politics and Peace-Building
(forthcoming 2018), which contains a more extensive genealogy of the ‘rupture. All translations from
Spanish are my own. e identities of the community members are disguised. anks to Jonathan New-
man and anonymous reviewers for challenging and generous comments.
** British anthropologist and writer based in Colombia and the UK, currently a Wolfson scholar reading for
a PhD in Anthropology at UCL and researching the role of the state in the Colombian peace process. She
was previously lecturer in Political Anthropology in the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, and producer
of the documentary Chocolate of Peace ( *
Antipod. Rev. Antropol. Arqueol. No. 29 · Bogotá, septiembre-diciembre 2017 · ISSN 1900-5407 · e-ISSN 2011-4273 · pp. 17-40
“Ruptura” y el Estado: la “narrativa radical” de la Comunidad de Paz
de San José de Apartadó, Colombia
Resumen: La Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadó en Urabá es uno
de los grupos más emblemáticos de víctimas del conicto colombiano. Atra-
pados entre guerrilla, paramilitares y el Ejercito, se declararon “neutrales” al
conicto, pero las violaciones continuaron, por lo que se declararon en “rup-
tura” con el Estado colombiano. Este artículo rastrea etnográcamente sus
ideas de “neutralidad” y “ruptura, mostrando cómo su genealogía constituye
lo que llamo “narrativa radical”, un marco interpretativo según el cual la Co-
munidad percibe cada acción del Estado. Mi análisis se ubica dentro de los
debates antropológicos que entienden al Estado como un producto resultado
de los encuentros Estado-sociedad, con dimensiones materiales e imagina-
rias, que en este caso incluyen la violencia estatal directa y la ineciencia bu-
rocrática. Concluye que las percepciones de las comunidades sobre el Estado
deben tomarse en cuenta en cualquier intento de construcción de conanza.
Palabras clave: esaurus: neutralidad; Estado. Palabras clave de la autora: Co-
munidad de Paz; narrativas; victimas; antropología del Estado; Urabá.
“Ruptura” e o Estado: a “narrativa radical” da Comunidade de Paz
de San José de Apartadó, Colômbia
Resumo: a Comunidade de Paz de San José de Apartadó em Urabá é um
dos grupos mais simbólicos de vítimas do conito colombiano. Encurralados
entre guerrilha, paramilitares e o exército, declaram-se “neutrais” ao conito,
mas as violações continuavam e, então, declararam-se em “ruptura” com o Es-
tado colombiano. Este artigo rastreia etnogracamente suas ideias de “neu-
tralidade” e “ruptura, demonstrando como sua genealogia constitui o que
chamo “narrativa radical”, um referencial interpretativo segundo o qual a Co-
munidade percebe cada ação do Estado. Esta análise se delimita dentro dos
debates antropológicos do Estado que vê Estado como resultado de encontros
Estados-sociedade com dimensões materiais e imaginárias; nesse caso, vio-
lência estatal direta e ineciência burocrática. Conclui-se que as percepções
de comunidades do Estado devem ser consideradas em qualquer tentativa de
construção da conança.
Palavras-chave: esaurus: Estado, neutralidade. Palavras-chave da autora: Co-
munidade de Paz; antropologia do estado; narrativas; Urubá; vítimas.
‘Rupture’ and the State: the ‘Radical Narrative’ of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
Gwen Burnyeat
The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó is one of the most em-
blematic groups of victims of the Colombian armed conict.1 It was
formed in 1997 by campesino farmers2 living in the war-torn North-
West region of Urabá who found themselves trapped between the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Colombian
army, and right-wing paramilitary groups, all of whom involved the civilian popu-
lation in their war. In San José de Apartadó, some ve hundred campesinos decided
to declare themselves ‘neutral’ to the conict, to protect themselves and resist forced
displacement. is conception of neutrality is based on a creative interpretation of
International Humanitarian Law’s (IHL) principle of distinction between combat-
ants and civilians, which stipulates that conict actors should not target civilians.
ey built demarcated settlements with signs requesting that neither the guerrilla,
the paramilitaries, nor the state armed forces enter these areas, to prevent their living
spaces becoming military targets. is demand for respect in the midst of conict
has been made by several rural communities in Colombia who have championed
non-violence and impartiality as protection mechanisms (Sanford 2005; Alther
2006; Hernández Delgado 2011; Burnyeat 2013; Mouly, Idler and Garrido 2015),
usually accompanied by processes of internal organisation and agendas for auton-
omous living. e Peace Community of San José de Apartadó is famous, partly be-
cause they have been subject to brutal violence, mostly at the hands of the state and
the paramilitaries,3 and their public repudiation of this in frequent communiqués4
has exposed them to violent reprisals; and partly because of their radical stance of
non-participation with the Colombian state, which they call ‘rupture’ (ruptura).
1 Many scholars and activists who sympathise with those who have suered the eects of war criticise
the use of the term ‘victim’ because they consider, like Gómez Correal, that “the hegemonic use of the
category supposes the existence of passive and apolitical humans” (2015, 2n). Gómez Correal opts for
“victimized subjects”; some Colombians propose the term “survivor”, because they feel it foregrounds the
subjects’ agency. In some cases, this may be justied, but in this case, the category of ‘victim’ is mobilised
by the Peace Community itself, to make demands for justice. I am not suggesting that the members of the
Peace Community are only victims –they are not passive suerers of history, but active creators of it. By
using the term ‘victim’ I am recognizing that they self-identify as such and in doing so make profound
moral and normative claims. As with many other examples of positive appropriation of this term and the
subjects’ appeals to its associations in legal and political spheres (e.g. Castillo, Jimeno and Varela 2015), I
believe it is important to use emic terms.
2 I have written elsewhere: “Campesinos may be workers on the farms of others, or may own their land […]
e term campesino can be translated as peasant or rural farmer, but the author dislikes these options,
rstly because they sound potentially derogatory, and secondly because campesino is a whole cultural
category in Colombia and other parts of Latin America that is not accurately conveyed by these transla-
tions” (Burnyeat 2013, 437n). I therefore maintain the original Spanish.
3 e guerrilla also violated the Community’s human rights, and these were also denounced. However, in
the Community’s perspective, as well as analysts such as Javier Giraldo, CINEP and the documentation of
international NGOs such as Peace Brigades International and Amnesty International, the large majority,
over 80% of abuses, have been at the hands of paramilitaries and/or state forces.
4 See
Antipod. Rev. Antropol. Arqueol. No. 29 · Bogotá, septiembre-diciembre 2017 · ISSN 1900-5407 · e-ISSN 2011-4273 · pp. 17-40
When they founded their organisation in 1997, the Community5 held meetings
with state institutions, but the relationship deteriorated, inuenced by direct State vio-
lence, and indirect bureaucratic indierence or hypocrisy. In 2005, following a massa-
cre by soldiers and paramilitaries of eight of their members, the Community publicly
declared themselves to be in ‘rupture’ with the state. ey posited four conditions for
resuming dialogue: a retraction of stigmatising comments made by ex-President Álva-
ro Uribe in 2004 and 2005; a “Commission for the Evaluation of Justice”; the removal
of a police station in San José de Apartadó; and the recognition of their ‘humanitarian
zones’. is article tracks the historical genealogies of these four points.
e related positions of ‘neutrality’ and ‘rupture’ have provoked repudiation
from parts of the Colombian state, notably the army and ex-President Uribe. Even
some supposedly sympathetic actors such as diplomats have viewed the ‘ruptureas
radical and closed; a refusal to participate (Aparicio 2012, 264-265). On the other
end of the political spectrum, the Community has captured the interest of human
rights organisations and academics, who have usually focussed on their ‘neutrality’
and related actions and discourses as case studies to illuminate broader concepts: the
ideas of ‘civil resistance’ (Pardo 2007), ‘rightful resistance’ (Naucke and Halbmayer
2016), memory politics (Courtheyn 2016), strategies of non-violence (Masullo
2015), and the socio-legal implications of their ‘rupture’ (Osorio and Perdomo 2011;
Anrup and Español 2011).
I hold that their position of ‘rupture’ should be seen, not as a cipher for anything
else, but for itself, in the Community’s own terms, in order to understand it, in the
sense proposed by Bourdieu: “to take their point of view, that is, to understand that
if they were in their shoes they would doubtless be and think just like them” (1999,
626). is article traces the Community’s idea of ‘rupture’ ethnographically, and,
appropriating the term used to criticise them, shows how the genealogy of the ‘rup-
ture’ constitutes an interpretative framework based on an ethical rejection of the state’s
legitimacy, which I call the ‘radical narrative, according to which the Community
perceives every action of the State, and which is a topic of everyday conversation
among its members.
is article rst outlines anthropological debates about the state to argue that
the Community’s social experience of the state, produced via state-society encoun-
ters with material and imaginative dimensions, should be analysed as a social reality
in itself. Next, it gives an abridged chronological account of the Community’s for-
mation in the context of the Colombian conict, and the historical development of
‘neutrality’ and ‘rupture’ as emic categories. Finally, it concludes that the Communi-
ty’s interpretation of the state must be taken seriously in any trust-building attempt.
e methodology for this research involved a mix of classic and activist an-
thropological methods; I carried out eleven eld visits of between two and twenty
5 e idea of ‘community’ is at the core of their collective identity. For this reason, I use the term ‘Commu-
nity’ with capital C, rather than an acronym such as PCSJA, because it is how they refer to themselves.
‘Rupture’ and the State: the ‘Radical Narrative’ of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
Gwen Burnyeat
days each, travelling between the eleven settlements of the Community, where I en-
gaged in participant observation, and held dozens of in-depth interviews and focus
groups. I received Community members on their visits to Bogotá and London, made
a feature-length documentary called Chocolate of Peace, with co-director Pablo Me-
jía Trujillo,6 and worked with British barrister Kirsty Brimelow QC in a process of
mediation between the Community and the government. My formal eldwork was
informed by a relationship which spanned ve years (I initially worked with the Com-
munity for two years as a eld-ocer for NGO Peace Brigades International). e
deep hanging out’ and the strong friendships I developed with Community members
were complemented by interviews with people who have accompanied the Communi-
ty, and research in the previously-unstudied personal archives of Father Javier Giraldo,
a Jesuit priest who supports the Community and compiled multiple folders of docu-
ments such as ocial minutes of meetings between the Community and State entities,
correspondence between Community and state, legal documents and press.7
e ‘Radical Narrative’: Documenting Perceptions of the State
On the morning of 23 March 2015, the Community were preparing for their yearly
anniversary, marking eighteen years since their foundation. ey had worked hard
for the event, cutting the grass and building new wooden bunk beds to accommodate
guests, including the ambassadors of France and Germany. Sitting in their thatched-
roof kiosk where the commemoration was to be held that aernoon, I watched two
men bring a huge white ag into the kiosk, painted with green capital letters, and
hang it carefully from the walls. It read:
It gave me an odd feeling. I thought: you have survived for eighteen years, stay-
ing in your territory against all odds, building a support network with international
visibility, ghting for autonomy, building peace from the bottom up… and that is
the identity phrase that you choose for your commemoration? Its inherent negativity
would strike many of the Community’s critics. is commemorative phrase holds a
ritualistic rearmation of a collective identity and a world view, a need to rearm
the idea of the perpetrator state, one of their founding beliefs, in order to continue
being the Peace Community.
e Community’s ‘radical narrative’ sustains the idea that ‘the state’ has a uni-
lateral plan to exterminate them. is narrative portrays an antagonist state with
three motivations: (i) the state wants to eliminate all social organisations; (ii) the
Community denounces human rights violations which are largely direct or indirect
7 ese date from 1994 to 2013. References to these clarify sources and appear as JGA (Javier Giraldo
Archive), folder year/pages.
Antipod. Rev. Antropol. Arqueol. No. 29 · Bogotá, septiembre-diciembre 2017 · ISSN 1900-5407 · e-ISSN 2011-4273 · pp. 17-40
responsibility of the state, and the Santos government (2010-2018) wants to clean up
its image; (iii) the state, in alliance with multinational companies and paramilitaries,
has economic interests in the Community’s land. is narrative presents a homog-
enous and demonised vision of the state, which converges, in a simplistic way, with
the paramilitaries and multinational companies; a view which attens the complex-
ity of histories of perpetration.
In focussing on the Community’s interpretation of the State, and linking it to
their collective identity, I am not suggesting that the persecution they have suered
is imaginary. Many scholars have documented the convergence of political, mili-
tary and economic interests which have specically targeted the Community (Uribe
2004; Aparicio 2012; Cuartas 2014), and there is extensive ‘grey literature’ which
documents human rights violations.8 I am underlining the cultural construction of
the narrative, and dissecting its elements, to argue for the importance of taking a
community’s perception of the state seriously, recognising that perceptions are so-
cially constructed, out of the very real horrors of massacres and displacement, but
are also subjectively forged. My solidarity is with the Community, but I am also
critical of their ‘radical narrative’ insofar as it simplies the state and simplistically
converges it with the ‘paramilitary project’ and ‘economic interests.
In state-centric theories, ‘the state’ is oen seen as a clearly-bounded institution
that is distinct from society, a unitary actor, which anthropologists can ‘disaggregate,
problematizing this common imagination –exemplied by the Community’s ‘radical
narrative’– of a reied, homogenous totality (Sharma and Gupta 2006, 8). Anthropo-
logical approaches see the state as culturally constituted, both materially –how the
state manifests itself in peoples lives– and imaginatively –how their understandings
of it are shaped by their locations and their embodied encounters with state ocials
and processes (Sharma and Gupta 2006, 11). e imaginary of the unied institu-
tion is not to be discarded, but engaged as a social reality in itself. Abrams (1988)
distinguishes between the ‘state-system’ –the system of institutional practice– and
the ‘state-idea’ –the reication of this system. Mitchell (2006, 169) criticises Abrams
separation of the two, because you cannot analyse the way in which power operates
without taking both into account: he argues that the imagining of the state –the
‘state-idea’– and its material reality –the ‘state-system’– should be taken as “two as-
pects of the same process” (2006, 170).
e ‘state-idea’ assumes a clear boundary between the state and its ‘other’,
society, but Mitchell writes that it is important to “examine the political processes
through which the uncertain yet powerful distinction between State and society is
produced” (2006, 170). He asks how this dualism is produced as a social reality, and
what its practical eects are (2006, 176). Anthropology has frequently engaged with
this by observing everyday encounters between state ocials and society.
8 Giraldo (2010); Derechos de petición by Javier Giraldo (; communiqués by
the Peace Community; communiqués by international NGOs such as Peace Brigades International, Am-
nesty International, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Operazzione Colomba.
‘Rupture’ and the State: the ‘Radical Narrative’ of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
Gwen Burnyeat
Much ethnographic work on such encounters has been done at the local level.
Das and Poole foreground ethnographies in state ‘margins’ –areas impenetrable to
the idealised Weberian rational-bureaucratic administration– mapping the “eects
and presence of ‘the state’ in local life” (2004, 5), e.g. encounters between citizens and
state ocials at a military checkpoint. ey claim that such ‘margins’ –which are not
necessarily geographical– are “sites of disorder, where the state has been unable to
impose its order” (2004, 6) and “are a necessary entailment of the state” (2004, 4),
echoing the school of thought that casts the illegal and the liminal as necessary to the
production of the legal. Durkheim wrote that “the production of state authority […]
is dependent on the production of an unlawful underside of the state” (Durkheim
1993, cited by Blom Hansen and Stepputat 2006, 11), while Blom Hansen and Step-
putat hold that anthropological studies of de facto non-State sovereignty reveal the
“two sides of state making: the law and the violence on which it rests” (2006, 16).
is article foregrounds the production of the state in the ‘margins’ of San José
de Apartadó, one of the many areas of Colombia typically seen by academics, legal and
illegal conict actors, state bureaucrats and civilians alike as characterised by a ‘fail-
ure’ or an ‘absence’ of the state (Serje 2006; Richani 2007; Ramírez 2015). It privileges
the social experience of the Community in state-society encounters: state violence,
threats from soldiers on the ground, stigmatisation in the press by government o-
cials and meetings with bureaucrats in San José and in Bogotá, whose promises did
not materialise and led the Community to feel that ‘the state’ was hypocritical, because
such promises did not stop the presence of the state-on-the-ground, the army, from
continuing to commit human rights violations. It is a one-sided account, and does
not engage the subjective experience of state ocials in these state-society encounters,
which involve a “mirroring dynamic” in which those embodying the state also imagine
the state in such interactions with society (Aretxaga 2003, 399). e genealogy of the
‘rupture’ shows how this ‘radical narrative’ is (re-)produced in state-society encounters
with inextricable material and imaginative dimensions.
Since independence in 1810, Colombia has experienced successive conicts. Four
civil wars in the nineteenth century were followed by ‘La Violencia’ (1948-1958),
when the two dominant parties, the Conservatives and Liberals, battled for power.
Subsequently, le-wing insurgent guerrilla groups formed in the 1960s, ghting
the armed forces, and, later, right-wing paramilitary groups formed in the 1980s
(Palacios 2006). e ‘current’ internal armed conict has also gone through multiple
stages. Materially and imaginatively, the social experience that dierent Colombians
have of ‘the state’ is inextricably connected with these cycles of violence.
e history of the paramilitary counterinsurgency project is inseparable from
the emergence of drug-tracking in Colombia. By the 1980s a mosaic of actors and
various drug cartels comprised a newly-rich “narco-bourgeoisie” (Palacios 2006,
203-206). All of society has been involved in the transnational drug trade in one way
Antipod. Rev. Antropol. Arqueol. No. 29 · Bogotá, septiembre-diciembre 2017 · ISSN 1900-5407 · e-ISSN 2011-4273 · pp. 17-40
or another: the guerrilla, paramilitaries, the state, politicians and civil society (Garay
Salamanca et al. 2012). In the 1980s, drug cartels joined forces with civilian coun-
terinsurgency groups; regional-level power blocs with diverse public and private in-
terests merged into a national structure in the late 1990s: the United Self-Defence
Forces of Colombia (AUC) (Romero and Valencia 2007). A demobilisation agree-
ment, negotiated between 2003-6 by Uribes government (2002-2010), was heavily
criticised, as armed groups (including ghters who never demobilised, ghters who
demobilised but returned, and new members drawn from organised crime) contin-
ue to operate in the same regions, exerting armed pressure on populations for social,
territorial and political control, carrying out selective assassinations and forced dis-
placement, and backed by drug-tracking (CNMH 2015, 39).
e ‘state-idea’ in Colombia is bound up with this paramilitary project. Taussig
writes, “e paras are part of the state. But at the same time, they are separate and
even opposed to it” (2003, 23). Civico sees paramilitarism as functioning as “an exten-
sion of the states sovereignty” (2016, 23) and proposes the term ‘intertwinement’ for
the paramilitary/state relationship, reecting “a convergence and synergy of interests
between organized crime and other economic and political patrons that engender
[…] support, sympathies and impunity” (2016, 144). e economic interests driving
these perverse alliances are not limited to drug-tracking, but include mining, agri-
culture, arms-dealing, and land-grabbing. e question of continuities between pre-
and post-demobilization is a crucial element in perceptions of the state.
e region of Urabá is one of the epicentres of the Colombian conict. Steiner
and Martín characterise Urabá as a “zone of borders and settlers”, factors which
continue to inuence the conguration of the armed conict (CINEP 1995, 50).
Following the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century, an imaginary of Urabá
was created of a wild land to be tamed and its natural resources exploited, and this
imaginary has persisted across centuries (Cuartas 2014). In the late-nineteenth
century, settlers were encouraged to come to work for foreign logging companies
(CINEP 1995, 14). During La Violencia, the image of Urabá as a wild and dangerous
land was promoted by Antioquia (Roldán 2002, 217), a department which saw the
economic benets of the Urabá Gulf with access to the Caribbean Sea. In 1955 a road
was inaugurated which connected Urabá with Medellín, giving Antioquia control
over the resources of Urabá (Roldán 2002, 219).
Urabá was mostly a Liberal region, and aer the 1948 assassination of Liberal
presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitain, Liberal guerrillas in the region attacked
Conservatives. e State militarised Urabá, especially to protect business investors. e
Liberal-Conservative violence in Urabá was not only partisan but “increasingly obeyed
economic motivations” (Roldán 2002, 244). In this context, the United Fruit Company
arrived and began to cover the region in banana plantations, encouraging more settlers.
e Communist Party came to Urabá in the 1960s and recruited the banana workers,
helping them unionise (Díez Gómez 2009). e FARC and EPL (People’s Liberation
Army) guerrilla groups permeated the banana workers’ sector and developed a de facto
‘Rupture’ and the State: the ‘Radical Narrative’ of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
Gwen Burnyeat
sovereignty over swathes of Urabá, distributing lands, resolving disputes, regulating re-
sources and imposing minimum wages (Valenzuela 2009, 12-13).
As the banana industry grew, some campesinos migrated eastwards from
the banana zone of the Urabá lowlands to the wild Abibe mountain range. Other
campesinos from municipalities further South in the mountains (Dabeiba, Peque,
Urama) were displaced in La Violencia and ed north. Both groups founded the
town of San José de Apartadó on the lower Abibe slopes in 1964 (Aparicio 2012,
714). For a while, the mountains were safe from the growing tensions in the banana
plantations. B., who arrived as a little girl, told me “It was wonderful, very peaceful.
ere were many animals you could eat. […] If Urabá hadn’t been so damaged by the
violence, we would be living in paradise” (interview January 2015). But the violence
between the guerrillas and the state intensied across the country.
President Belisario Betancur (1982-1986) held negotiations with FARC, and
the Patriotic Union (UP) party was formed in 1985 as a political solution to the con-
ict. e UP included FARC members, Communist party members, and civilians
who did not sympathise with the armed struggle but believed in the party’s le-wing
project. With time, the UP distanced itself from the FARC, but the original con-
nection meant that the party was stigmatised, and discourses circulated in political
space justifying what many have denominated a ‘genocide. During the late-1980s
and early-1990s, ve thousand members of the UP were killed, including two presi-
dential candidates (Gómez-Suárez 2015).
e UP was strong in Urabá. In San José de Apartadó, support for it was almost
unanimous (Aparicio 2012, 183). According to Gloria Cuartas (interview March
2015), mayor of Apartadó in 1994-1997, the party had a development project in
Urabá with three cornerstones: economy, education and healthcare. Agricultural
cooperatives were established as the economic motor for community development,
and the pilot cooperative was Balsamar, a cacao cooperative in San José, funded by
Dutch aid money. J.E. recalls the UP’s project as “geared towards development for
the campesinos. […] It was us, the campesinos, planning the development that we
wanted” (interview January 2015). Narratives about organisational process, autono-
my, and the hope of a ‘viable’ le-wing project le a legacy in the collective identity
of the campesinos of San José de Apartadó.
e business sector was concerned about the spread of guerrilla inuence. In
the late 80s, an alliance of banana businessmen, cattle farmers, drug cartels and the
army launched ‘Plan Return’ for the business sector to regain control and prevent
the spread of communism in Urabá (Valenzuela 2009, 14). e violence echoed the
national expansion of the paramilitary counter-insurgency project, but had local dy-
namics responding to economic interests, which not only targeted guerrilleros but was
specically aimed at certain community leaders and organisations that represented
economic and political alternatives. San José de Apartadó was a target because it was
stigmatised as FARC territory; because of the Balsamar cooperative and the original
FARC-UP link; because Balsamar represented an alternative to capitalism expansion;
Antipod. Rev. Antropol. Arqueol. No. 29 · Bogotá, septiembre-diciembre 2017 · ISSN 1900-5407 · e-ISSN 2011-4273 · pp. 17-40
and because the region was strategic in military terms. (Uribe 2004, 89-93). Joint
military-paramilitary operations began in the early 1990s, ostensibly to ‘cleanse’ the
territory of the guerrilla.
N. told me that in 1996, six directors of Balsamar were assassinated and hung
publicly from butcher’s hooks in San José (interview January 2015). e Governor of
Antioquia at the time was Álvaro Uribe, who had General Rito Alejo del Río made
commander of the Seventeenth Brigade of the army, with jurisdiction in Urabá
(Madariaga 2006, 27). Del Río was known as the “pacier” of Urabá. A chain of illegal
actions unfolded in which the paramilitaries and the army worked together, using
methods of terror.9 Violence was brutal, dramatic and public. During 1996, many
Balsamar and UP leaders in San José were assassinated. F. remembered sadly, “ey
killed all the members [of Balsamar]. What happened was that they catalogued them
as UP and that was the motive. But they were just people working” (focus group April
2014). During this period, their social experience of the state was of direct, intention-
al violence –this legacy continues to resonate with the campesinos of San José.
Neutrality: “How are we going to live in the midst of the conict without
being part of it?” (B. interview January 2015)
e idea of ‘neutrality’ has multiple origins, and dierent communities have appropri-
ated it dierently. According to Valenzuela (2007), the rst neutral community in Co-
lombia was the Association of Campesino Workers of Carare (ATCC) in Santander, who
declared themselves neutral to the conict in 1987. In Urabá, the indigenous commu-
nities were the rst to talk about neutrality, making declarations about not being part of
the war between 1994-1996.10 In 1995, an independent Commission, sent to investigate
the situation of increasing violence, recommended creating “zones that are neutral to
the conict, where inhabitants who are not part of the armed conict and who are af-
fected by combat can be protected” (CINEP 1995, 45). e Catholic Church, the mayor,
and Colombian NGOs Interchurch Justice and Peace Commission (CIJP) and Centre
for Popular Research and Education (CINEP), began to meet with communities from
dierent parts of Urabá and discuss the option of neutrality as a protection mechanism.
Out of these meetings, various community peace initiatives were born, including
four “peace communities”. ere has been some academic confusion on this issue:
some scholars cite 59 peace communities along the Atrato River in Urabá (e.g. San-
ford 2005, 258). However, triangulating multiple sources reveals three –San Francisco
de Asís, Natividad de María and Nuestra Señora del Carmen,11 in which 57 distinct
9 General Del Río’s second-in-command, Alfonso Velásquez, was a whistle-blower in the army who denounced
Del Río’s collaboration with paramiltiaries. See Burnyeat (forthcoming 2018).
10 Compilation of several communities’ declarations of neutrality, JGA, 1995-7/78-84.
11 A multi-institutional meeting in 2003 among at-risk communities compiled documents and minutes of
the workshop, and accounts for 57 settlements in the Lower Atrato that formed three Peace Communities:
San Francisco de Asís was formed in 1997, Natividad de María in 1998, and Nuestra Señora del Carmen in
1999 (UNDP 2003, 20-21).
‘Rupture’ and the State: the ‘Radical Narrative’ of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
Gwen Burnyeat
settlements were grouped into three umbrella organisations, clarifying this seman-
tic point.12 Several NGOs and academics have spoken about ‘peace communities’ in
cases of communities declaring themselves to be neutral; regardless of whether they
self-identify as “peace communities” or whether they use another comparable, but dif-
ferent, term. At some point in the late-1990s, the Atrato ‘peace communities’ stopped
using that name, though community peace initiatives have continued under dierent
forms, such as Humanitarian Zones (Burnyeat 2013).
San José de Apartadó is the only community in Colombia still calling itself a
‘Peace Community’, and was the rst. I argue elsewhere that the reason they persisted
is due to their strong organisational process, with roots going back to the Balsamar
cooperative and the UP, and a cultural change in which ‘neutrality’ as a temporary
protection option became a philosophy and a way of life (Burnyeat forthcoming 2018).
On 23 March 1997, a public declaration was made in the presence of Colombian
and international organisations, ocially founding the Peace Community of San José
de Apartadó. is declaration stated their demand that armed actors respect the civil-
ian population, and their commitment not to participate directly or indirectly in the
conict: not to bear arms or store munitions; not to give logistical or other kinds of
support to the actors in the conict actors; not to resort to the armed actors to solve
their problems; and their commitment to stand up against injustice and impunity.
B. explained the everyday experience of becoming ‘neutral’:
A guerrilla ghter passes by and asks you for water, and you give him water. A
soldier passes by and asks for water and you give him water. We would always
give water or food; and those roles had to change. Even though we knew that they
were the sons of campesinos, we had to change our custom, and say no to all the
armed actors (interview January 2015).
On the ground, neutrality was not an abstract idea: it involved analysing a
deeply-rooted logic of quotidian life –the campesino hospitality of giving food and
water to whoever needs it– and changing it to survive. However, this brought new
problems. G. said, “if we said no to the guerrilla, the guerrilla said we were on the
side of the paramilitaries. If we said no to the paras, they said we were on the side
of the guerrilla” (interview January 2015). It became an ethical struggle to demand
their right as civilians not to be involved, because, “those were our principles […]
even if we had to give our lives for it” (B. interview January 2015). e persecution
of San José due to its associations with the UP and Balsamar began to be directed
specically against the Community itself, as they denounced human rights viola-
tions in public communiqués. ‘Neutrality’, to them, did not mean being silent –it
meant championing their position and rejecting any attempt by the conict actors to
involve them in their confrontation.
12 e other two accounted for by Sanford probably include San José de Apartadó and/or other community
peace initiatives like Community of Autonomy, Life and Dignity (CAVIDA) on the Atrato, which has
never called itself a peace community, though there are similarities.
Antipod. Rev. Antropol. Arqueol. No. 29 · Bogotá, septiembre-diciembre 2017 · ISSN 1900-5407 · e-ISSN 2011-4273 · pp. 17-40
Another person was also talking about neutrality and looking towards
Urabá: Álvaro Uribe. en Governor of Antioquia, Uribe proposed creating neu-
tral municipalities by decree, using “a conception of neutrality which promoted
non-cooperation with illegal armed actors, and cooperation with the armed forces
of the state” (Valenzuela 2009, 15). Uribe attended a meeting in Apartadó in 1996
with various communities who were considering becoming ‘neutral communities’,
including San José, and “proposed they all adopt his concept and program of ‘active
neutrality’, which consisted of a rupture with the guerrillas, mediated by an alliance
between the civilian population and the army”. Apparently, the “forceful reaction of
all the participants made the Governor leave the meeting with a concentrated ha-
tred” (Giraldo 2007, 53). Given this contamination of the concept of neutrality, the
name was changed to ‘Peace Community’.
e idea of ‘neutrality’ caused friction among state institutions. San José was
already stigmatised in public discourse because of its perceived associations with the
UP and Balsamar: a counter-narrative began to circulate, saying ‘e Peace Com-
munity are guerrilleros. For the Community, ‘neutrality’ meant asking armed actors
not to enter their territory, including the state forces, and this provoked another
counter-narrative, a notion that because the Community did not want the army to
enter their spaces, they wanted an ‘independent republic.13 e army saw the request
to not enter their territory as a threat to the core tenet of statehood: sovereignty. In
2000, the Ministries of Defence and the Interior responded to a call from the High
Command of the Military Forces to clarify the “ocial position” about “peace com-
munities” –specically, whether the army could enter them or not– by saying that
with the exception of the demilitarised zone in San Vicente del Caguán during the failed
peace process of 1998-2002 (granted to the FARC as a condition for negotiating and
establishing that region as the seat of the peace talks), “there is no forbidden territory
for the Armed Forces.14 ese counter-narratives continue to circulate today, as I
have witnessed in mediation scenarios. e Community’s defensiveness to count-
er-narratives such as this contributed to the hardening of their position.
e Genealogy of the ‘Rupture
Aer the foundation of the Peace Community in 1997, CIJP facilitated various
institutional relationships. e NGOs work included publishing communiqués on
the human rights situation, which they sent to government institutions and to their
13 e term ‘independent republic’ was rst used at the beginning of the armed conict by Conservative
senator Álvaro Gómez Hurtado, referring to the existence of autonomous territories controlled by the
FARC. Gómez took the term from one originally used by the Spanish military dictator Primo de Rivera
to refer to Cataluña in the Spanish Civil War. Gómez used it in the context of what was called ‘Operation
Sovereignty’, a military oensive in 1964 to try to regain control of these areas (Molano 2016, 13). Ever
since, the term has been recycled in dierent stages of the Colombian conict to pejoratively refer to areas
of the country controlled by FARC, where the state is unable to enter.
14 Letter from the Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of Defence to the High Command of the Military
Forces, date unclear on copy, possibly November 2000, JGA, 2000/518.
‘Rupture’ and the State: the ‘Radical Narrative’ of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
Gwen Burnyeat
international network. is form of documenting events is a strategy the Community
continues to use, although CIJP stopped its accompaniment to the Community in
2002. CIJP arranged meetings between Community members and state authorities
which initially led to relationships with multiple entities.
e rst relationship to break down was with the military, because when the
Community denounced violations by soldiers, they were summoned to military in-
stallations to present their testimonies, which they feared would expose them to re-
prisals because they say perpetrators and prosecutors as part of the same institution.
e Community ended its relations with military authorities in 2000.
On 8 July 2000, paramilitaries stormed the Community’s settlement in La
Unión, killed six campesinos, and ordered the inhabitants to abandon their homes.
According to CIJP, the army was complicit in this attack.15 e violence of this en-
counter with state and para-state armed forces was subsequently compounded by
the treatment they received from bureaucratic state agencies: according to B., o-
cials loaded two of the corpses into a helicopter but once they were in the air, threw
them out because they could not stand the smell, which profoundly oended their
relatives (eld-notes December 2014).
Aer this massacre, the Community called on the Vice-Presidency (then in
charge of human rights) to create an Investigation Commission into the abuses
they had suered, claiming that “all actions of exemplary justice against perpetra-
tors would lead to the creation of preventive measures.16 ey saw justice as a pre-
requisite for protection. is Commission made some visits, took y testimonies,
but quickly began to disappoint the Community, since it made promises it did not
keep and questioned agreements made in previous visits, so the Community felt that
things were going backwards. Increasingly they suspected that the Commission’s in-
eciency was a deliberate strategy.
Herzfeld (1993) sees the bureaucratic world as a machine for the “social produc-
tion of indierence. Gupta claims “indierence” is too uniform a concept, claiming
that “bureaucratic action repeatedly and systematically produces arbitrary outcomes
in its provision of care” (2012, 6). Both de-construct the notion of intent –popular
discourse oen portrays cynical, corrupt bureaucrats who act for hidden personal
interests; or a state that secretly commands bureaucrats not to act. e Community’s
social experience in state-society encounters gave them good reason to mistrust the
state, because they saw that the soldiers who permitted the massacre belonged to the
same structure as the ocials who broke their promises –the ‘aggregation’ of dispa-
rate institutions into the reied ‘state-idea. I do not dispute the possibility of corrupt
ocials on their case, but my archive review revealed frequent changeovers of o-
cials, state documents which misconstrue the historical context of San José and the
15 CIJP communiqué, 8 July 2015, JGA 2000/300-304.
16 Community, “Un Caminar en Dignidad: Documento entregado al Señor Vicepresidente de la República
de Colombia, en reunión del día 23 September 2002”, JGA 2002/268-275.
Antipod. Rev. Antropol. Arqueol. No. 29 · Bogotá, septiembre-diciembre 2017 · ISSN 1900-5407 · e-ISSN 2011-4273 · pp. 17-40
Community’s narratives, and other factors which point to bureaucratic ineciency
as well as potential corruption.
While central authorities condemned abuses and promised to help the Commu-
nity, the army continued to collaborate with paramilitaries in new violations, adding
to the Community’s perception that civilian authorities’ promises were ‘lies. Aer two
years of worsening relations with this Investigation Commission, and assassinations
of witnesses who gave testimony, the Community decided to ‘break’ (romper) with the
justice system, on the grounds that it was corrupt. A public communiqué in Novem-
ber 2003 declared a ‘rupture’ which was “a conscientious objection which opposes the
structural injustice. In practice, this meant not defending themselves in judicial pro-
ceedings, having legal representation or testifying in court. ey would simply publish
communiqués, for “history” and “humanity” to judge.17 ey continued to appeal to
the international community and international tribunals, a common discourse among
human rights organisations in Colombia, which casts the international as superior to
and more trustworthy than national courts and authorities (see Tate 2007).
Meetings with central authorities continued in one scenario: negotiations about
the protection measures ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
(IACHR). e Inter-American System followed the Community’s risk situation from its
foundation in 1997, thanks to CIJP’s advocacy. Multiple resolutions ordered the Colom-
bian State to adopt protective measures.18 In 2003, the scenarios began to get confused:
the issues discussed in the Investigation Commission and the scenarios of discussion of the
IACHR measures overlapped, a situation compounded by the fact that both scenarios
included the same institutions, and the lack of continuity of ocials.
A polarisation of narratives developed around the concept of ‘protection. e
Community emphasised exemplary justice as a mechanism for preventing new vio-
lations. e state saw protection as technical –the deployment of the Armed Forces,
and concrete measures like the allocation of mobile phones and bullet-proof vests. is
17 Community, “No tenemos otra opción más que ser coherentes: Constancia pública de rompimiento de
Justicia de la Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadó”, 19 November 2003, JGA 2003/98-103.
18 e Inter-American Commission on Human Rights requested the adoption of precautionary measures in
favour of the members of the Peace Community on 17 December 1997 (1997 measures: http://www.cidh.
org/medidas/1997.sp.htm); the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the Colombian State to
adopt interim measures for the members of the Peace Community in the President of the Inter-American
Court of Human Rights’ Resolution of 9 October 2000 (
do_se_01.pdf); the Inter-American Court of Human Rights Resolution of 18 June 20002 (http://www.; of 18 November 2004 (
docs/medidas/apartado_se_04.pdf); of 15 March 2005 (
tado_se_05.pdf); of 2 February 2006 (; of
17 December 2007 (; of 6 February 2008
(, and of 30 August 2010 (http://www. e Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
also requested the adoption of precautionary measures for the campesino Buenaventura Hoyos Hernán-
dez, inhabitant of San José, not a member of the Community but a civilian on whose behalf the Commu-
nity and Javier Giraldo advocated when he was forcibly disappeared (Resolution 4/2013, Precautionary
measure 301-13, 4 October 2013,
4-13esp.pdf). [All accessed 25 July 2015]
‘Rupture’ and the State: the ‘Radical Narrative’ of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
Gwen Burnyeat
convinced the Community that the state lacked the political will to prosecute the per-
petrators. e state institutions proposed building a police station in San José to protect
the Community. G. explained, “the history we had was that the military and the para-
militaries went around together, so it was dicult for us to accept the Armed Forces
within our settlements. So we proposed that […] the Armed Forces should be midway
on the road [between San José and Apartadó]” (public event, London, July 2015).
In these meetings, the Community also proposed the creation of humanitarian
zones, by which they meant concrete buildings in non-Peace Community settlements
where civilians could take refuge during armed combat.19 Finally, they demanded an
evaluation of the failed Investigation Commission. ey no longer believed in the
justice system, but they wanted to ‘prove’ the structural impunity. ey proposed
a review of “why the Investigation Commission did not work”, to analyse “whether
it is true that the Community has not collaborated in this search for justice” and
demonstrate why justice has not been done.20 ey felt criticised for being ‘radi-
cal’, and their narrative became defensive. Meanwhile, said G., the state was track-
ing the whereabouts of their leaders, tapping their cell phones and investigating the
Community’s bank accounts (public event, London, July 2015). e Community
was one of many targets of the wire-tapping (chuzadas) done by the Administrative
Department of Security (DAS)21, a major political scandal. e contrast between the
cordial treatment they received in meetings in Bogotá, and the reality on the ground,
increased their perception that the state was hypocritical.
is last remaining scenario for a state-Community dialogue about the protec-
tive measures proposed by the IACHR ended aer the 2005 massacre, a cornerstone
event in the Community’s collective memory. Luis Eduardo Guerra, a Community
leader, said in January 2005:
[O]ur project is to continue resisting and defending our rights. We don’t know
until when, because what we have learned from all we’ve lived through is that
today we are talking, tomorrow we could be dead. […] Our resistance is against
the state, let us be clear, but an unarmed resistance, a civil resistance. By even de-
fending our Constitution. By saying to the state: “It is you who are violating the
Constitution, what we are doing is legitimising and not attacking the state.22
19 is proposal for ‘humanitarian zones’ is dierent from the current use of the term in other places in Co-
lombia, for example along the Atrato river, where Humanitarian Zones are entire settlements demarcated
with fencing and signs. See Burnyeat 2013.
20 Community, “Propuesta para la conformación de la comisión de evaluación, 27 February 2004, JGA
21 “En 2014 empezaron rastreos del DAS” (El Espectador, 11 June 2009).
22 Luis Eduardo Guerra’s last interview, 15 January 2005, with Coordinación Valenciana de Solidaridad
con Colombia, an NGO platform, and Valencian parliamentarians Ramón Cardona and Isaura Navarro., accessed 27 July 2015.
Antipod. Rev. Antropol. Arqueol. No. 29 · Bogotá, septiembre-diciembre 2017 · ISSN 1900-5407 · e-ISSN 2011-4273 · pp. 17-40
is quote reveals the heart of the ‘radical narrative’: the ethical repudiation of
what they perceive as the illegitimacy of the state. It was a death foretold: “Tomorrow
we could be dead”. On 21 February, Guerra, his partner Bellanira Areiza and son
Deiner Andrés Guerra, were murdered in the hamlet of Mulatos by a mixed troop of
soldiers and paramilitaries, who then went on to the adjacent hamlet of La Resbalosa
and killed Alfonso Bolívar, his wife Sandra Milena Muñoz, their six year old daugh-
ter Natalia Andrea Tuberquia, their eighteen-month-old son Santiago Tuberquia,
and farmhand Alejandro Pérez.
e Community organised a delegation of members who walked through
the mountains to Mulatos for seven hours to nd the bodies. ey telephoned the
Vice-Presidency, and a judicial commission was sent to examine and remove the
corpses. In La Resbalosa, the Community found ve bodies in communal graves, “com-
pletely dismembered, the head and limbs separated from the body; each body part also
chopped into two or three pieces.23 ese were removed by helicopter, but the corpses
of the other three found near the Mulatos River –Luis Eduardo, Bellanira and Deiner
(the child’s head severed from his body)– were not collected by the judicial commission,
despite multiple promises, and the Community carried them down the mountains
themselves before they decomposed in the tropical heat.24 Again, broken promises and
ineciency exacerbated the state-society encounter of intentional violence.
e 2005 massacre had national echoes, as the Community publicly de-
nounced the army’s responsibility.25 is unleashed a national debate about the
legitimacy of the Community, and the legitimacy of the state. Uribe, who had
criticised the Community’s position of neutrality when he was Governor and was
now President, publicly slandered the Community in 2004, calling for “the nish-
ing o that FARC channel through San José de Apartadó.26 Aer the massacre, he
declared: “In this community of San José there are good people, but some of their
leaders, patrons and defenders are seriously accused by people who have lived
there of collaborating with the FARC and wanting to use the community to protect
that terrorist organisation.27
e governments initial version was that Guerra was a guerrillero killed by
the FARC because he wanted to demobilise.28 e army claimed there were no
troops in that area during the events, and therefore could not have been involved
(an argument later refuted by judicial proceedings which proved that the army had
23 Community communiqué, 1 March 2005, “El Camino del Terror” JGA 2005A/20-23.
24 Community communiqué, 1 March 2005, “El Camino del Terror”, JGA 2005A/20-23.
25 Community communiqué, 24 March 2005, JGA 2005A/10-11.
26 Transcription of Uribe’s speech, 27 May 2004, JGA 2005C/202-206.
27 Letter from the Presidential program for human rights and IHL to Javier Giraldo, 28 June 2005, JGA
28 is argument is found for example in the army manual, “Comunidades de Paz”, Ministry of Defence; JGA
2005A/251-73 (see below).
‘Rupture’ and the State: the ‘Radical Narrative’ of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
Gwen Burnyeat
participated29). en Vice-President Francisco Santos said that the Community’s ac-
cusations against the army were “a bald-faced lie”. Cynical headlines circulated like
“Only God saw how they were killed”, “Denouncement, the only clue in the massa-
cre” (Anrup and Español 2011, 160). Fernando Londoño, Minister of the Interior
2002-2004 and right-wing journalist, wrote:
Why can the Community not accept the state, but they can the Farc? And why
are they allowed to slander the army with impunity? And why is a portion of
sovereign national land allocated to them, and authorised to be immune to the
army’s authority? San José de Apartadó is a nerve centre of the political war
against Colombia. With others of its kind, we would be lost.30
e army’s counter-narrative became more combative aer the massacre. A De-
fence Ministry manual about peace communities, intended for troops, included subtitles
like “Perverse Neutrality: Cultivating Violence and Poverty in the Peace Communities”
and “Massacre in San José: Unfounded Accusations, claiming the Community was in
permanent contact with the FARC, that the FARC was using the Community as a refuge
for criminal activities, and that the Community’s “neutrality” was used to “justify the
absence of the state, leading to an increase in the activities of terrorist organisations.31
e states ocial position under Uribe was that there was no internal armed
conict, which would validate the application of IHL, but rather a ‘terrorist threat.32
e idea of ‘neutrality’ became more visible in the aermath of the massacre, pro-
voking a concern among state ocials about the tension between international and
domestic law, and the applicability of IHL in the Colombian context. e army
manual said that speaking of neutrality in the context of ghting between “a terrorist
organisation and a legitimately-constituted democratic state” meant “rejecting the
democratic system, and:
Although IHL urges the state to minimise harm to the civilian population, Co-
lombia has acquired an even greater commitment, which is to respect, enforce re-
spect of and protect the civilian population from the constant threat and violent
action of the terrorist organisations.
At stake here was not what a few campesinos in a remote corner of the country
said, but implications for the states legitimacy, sovereignty and monopoly of force
29 “Ejército participó en masacre de San José de Apartadó” (El Tiempo, 16 August 2016). http://www.eltiem-
30 Fernando Londoño Hoyos, “San José de Apartadó” (El Tiempo, 14 March 2005). http://www.eltiempo.
31 “Comunidades de Paz”, Ministry of Defence; undated, probably 2005. It is reasonable to believe that it was
due to public attention on the massacre that the Ministry of Defence decided to train soldiers to maintain
an ocial position. I have personally witnessed how these counter-narratives continued to circulate in the
military up to the time I did my research. JGA 2005A/251-273.
32 “A prueba, neutralidad de ocho comunidades de paz en el Urabá” (El Tiempo, 9 March 2005). http://www.
Antipod. Rev. Antropol. Arqueol. No. 29 · Bogotá, septiembre-diciembre 2017 · ISSN 1900-5407 · e-ISSN 2011-4273 · pp. 17-40
over national territory, and a discursive battle over how to categorise the violence
in the country. A memorandum was sent to ambassadors and diplomats, instructing
them to “align” their language, telling them to avoid the terms “armed conict”,
“non-state actors”, “peace community”, “observation of the humanitarian situation,
or “humanitarian region or camp, because these “cause ambiguity” and “legitimise
the illegal armed groups”, leading to confusions, “such as those caused with the peace
community of San José de Apartadó.33 ese counter-narratives undoubtedly in-
creased the Community’s perception that the state was against them.
Uribe used the claim that the FARC had perpetrated the massacre, and the ‘in-
dependent republic’ counter-narrative, to justify building a police station in the middle
of the town of San José, going against the previous negotiations with the Community
about its location. He said, “We cannot permit in this country the existence of plac-
es where the state is not allowed to be present.34 e Community, refusing to live
alongside the police, abandoned the town and built a new settlement nearby, San
Josecito, sticking to their principles of not living alongside armed actors.
Aer the police station was installed, the Community announced the full ‘rup-
ture’: “Now we will keep silent with the state entities.35 It was not an abstract
rupture, but specically related to the dialogue about IACHR protection measures.
ey announced the four conditions for resuming discussions with the govern-
ment: a retraction by the President of the stigmatising comments; respect for the
‘humanitarian zones’; the relocation of the police station; and a Commission for Eval-
uating the Justice System. Seen in historical context, the formulation of these four
points now has clear internal logic. e rupture became more abstract: with ‘the
state-idea. It crystallised into an ethical principle: non-participation, not interacting
with any institution until the four points are fullled.
In 2010, Juan Manuel Santos replaced Uribe, and the ocial discourse about
human rights started to change. In 2011, the new government expressed its desire to
resume its dialogue with the Community,36 but refused to discuss the four points.37 e
Community perceived Santos as being the same as Uribe, but with a “prettier” human
rights discourse –a conception common among the le: Santos had been Uribe’s De-
fence Minister, Uribe endorsed him in the 2010 elections, and he comes from a family
of establishment statesmen. Santos began to distance himself from Uribes government
by ocially recognising the existence of an internal armed conict in Colombia, which
meant IHL was applicable, and began peace negotiations with the FARC in 2012. It
took time before sectors of the le began to engage pragmatically with the govern-
33 Bibiana Mercado Rivera, “Gobierno busca alinear lenguaje diplomático” (El Tiempo. 13 June 2005). http://
34 “Si llega la policía habrá un desplazamiento en San José” (El Colombiano, 9 March 2005), JGA 2005B/44.
35 Community communiqué, 1 April 2005, ‘Hemos empezado a desplazarnos ante la presencia de la policía,
JGA 2005A/82.
36 Reply from the Presidency to Javier Giraldo’s derecho de petición, 26 January 2011, JGA 2011/58.
37 Community communiqué, 14 June 2011. [accessed 1 June 2014].
‘Rupture’ and the State: the ‘Radical Narrative’ of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
Gwen Burnyeat
ment’s peace policies, though remaining critical, but some of the more hard-line le,
including the Peace Community, felt the changes were “cosmetic”.
e Constitutional Court ordered the state to implement the four points in
Ruling T-1025/2007, reiterated in Order 164/2012. One order was for an “ocial
presentation of the retraction […] and the denition of a procedure to prevent fu-
ture stigmatisations” such as “the establishment of a single communications channel
which reduces risks of stigmatisation and contributes to the reconstruction of trust.38
In an event at the Presidential Palace on 10 December 2013, International Hu-
man Rights Day, Santos apologised to the Community for Uribe’s stigmatisations.
He said, in the rst person, “I ask for forgiveness. He recognised the Community’s
“brave struggle” to “achieve peace for the country”. Various interests undoubtedly
converged for Santos, including the upcoming 2014 presidential elections, in which
Santos sought re-election. But the Community was not informed of nor invited to the
ceremony. ey replied with a communiqué, saying they “valued positively the terms
of the presidential gesture”, but considered that it only partly complied with the judi-
cial Order, in that it failed to deal with the second part ordering the state to “dene
a procedure to prevent future stigmatisations”. ey reiterated their perception that
they were victims of “systematic extermination, sarcastically asking, “will these sim-
ple words of apology be sucient to stop the systematic crimes against humanity
[…] without being accompanied by real and ecient measures that clarify, correct,
sanction and make reparations?”39
e Community’s perception that Santos’ government sought to change its
discourse without changing its behaviour was self-reinforcing. e apology was re-
ceived with scepticism and did not manage to change their mistrust. is was ex-
acerbated by the local army commander´s repeated stigmatisation of them on local
radio, and hostile encounters with soldiers, heightening the Community’s sense of
the hypocrisy of the central government in the face of their everyday reality.40
During the ve years I worked with the Community, their communiqués were
full of denouncements of hostile treatment by soldiers; threats that the paramilitaries
were “going to exterminate that son-of-a-bitch Peace Community in alliance with
the army”; and damages done to their crops by soldiers. is ongoing behaviour
(re-)conrms their perception of the state as perpetrator. ey interpret all the ar-
my’s behaviour as further proof of the states extermination campaign. G. thought
the army was hypocritical, because “they are supposed to be there to provide secu-
rity to the civilian population, but their presence has caused many deaths, both in
crossre and in selective assassinations by them and paramilitaries (eld-notes May
2015). A. claimed the apology was completely useless, because the army continued
38 [accessed 1 June 2014].
39 Community communiqué, 16 December 2013. [accessed 16
December 2013].
40 E.g. Community communiqué, 27 October 2014. [accessed 5
January 2017].
Antipod. Rev. Antropol. Arqueol. No. 29 · Bogotá, septiembre-diciembre 2017 · ISSN 1900-5407 · e-ISSN 2011-4273 · pp. 17-40
to violate human rights: “What good is it for Santos to apologise if the State contin-
ues to do the same?” (eld-notes May 2015)
Within these polarised narratives is a dichotomy between history and the fu-
ture, and between Santos’ dierentiation from his predecessor in terms of state links
with paramilitarism. Aer the demobilisation of the AUC, ocial state discourse
labelled the groups that continued in paramilitary-type activity as “criminal bands
or “bacrim, which provoked the criticism of human rights collectives who claimed
this language masked the fact that the demobilisation process was a farce. It would
be too simplistic to say that in all areas of the country, all of the “bacrim” are exactly
the same as the structures of the AUC and that the connection with the army is as
systematic as before, but this is the dominant current of thought in the Communi-
ty’s narrative, partly due to the use of the term on the ground in Urabá, where the
emic category “paramilitaries” consciously does not dierentiate between the pre-
2005 AUC and the current armed structures.
e Community’s ‘radical narrative’ has emerged over time, via state-society en-
counters with both state violence and seemingly benign but inecient bureaucracy,
situations which pre-date its foundation in 1997. Its narrative has been inuenced
by the political and cultural antecedents of the UP and Balsamar, and the leitmotifs
of autonomy and organisation. It has grown through interaction with sympathetic
outsiders, like human rights organisations, which have contributed to the Commu-
nity crystallising certain features of its narrative, such as an appeal to international
human rights discourse. It has hardened via interaction with counter-narratives, no-
tably from Uribe and the army. It interprets ‘the state’ as a homogenous actor, con-
verging with the paramilitary project and certain economic interests.41
My intention is not to analyse the government’s motives, nor assess the truth
of one or another version of events, but to explain the Community’s interpretation of
the states actions. is ‘radical narrative’ is a culturally- and historically-constituted
interpretative scheme, a framework according to which the Community perceives
all actions of the state. erefore, every action of the state they observe and every
para/military violation of their rights on the ground re-conrms this interpretation,
and at the same time, rearms their collective identity.
e idea that the Community’s agenda with the state is strictly limited to the
four points is not completely true. Many of its members go to hospitals in Apar-
tadó, some settlements receive state electricity, and the Community is registered
in the Chamber of Commerce as a non-prot organisation. ese services would
not be possible without the state. I have heard criticisms that this weakens their
41 is article has not dealt with multinationals, though it has referred to the economic dimension of the
conict in Urabá. Elsewhere, I argue that the ‘radical narrative’ is inextricable from an ‘organic narrative
which articulates the Community’s vision of their economic solidarity and organic farming in contrast
with the ‘bad’ multinationals in Colombia which violate human rights (Burnyeat forthcoming 2018).
‘Rupture’ and the State: the ‘Radical Narrative’ of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
Gwen Burnyeat
political stance of ‘rupture’ or shows inner contradictions. However, given the sui
generis signication of ‘rupture’ employed by the Community, I do not agree. ey
do not live in a fully autonomous ‘independent republic’, though they do use some
self-sustainable farming methods. eir ‘rupture’ is about repudiating a system they
believe to be corrupt, a conscientious objection; just as their ‘neutrality’ is a refusal
to allow the spatializing practices of the conict actors to turn their lands into a
geography of war. is article has dissected the meanings the Community gives to
these two terms, not the implications of the Community as a case study for the two
concepts. e aim of my ethnographic endeavour has been to understand the Com-
munity in its own terms –not to argue in favour or against the ‘radical narrative’, but
to comprehend their internal logic construction.
is article illustrates the failures that occur when public ocials fail to take
into account historically-formed perceptions of the state –President Santos’ grandi-
ose gesture had little eect on the Community’s state-idea, and actions by troops on
the ground are construed as never-ending proof of a shadowy extermination cam-
paign. Well-meaning ocials unknowingly contribute to the reproduction of the
‘radical narrative’ when they fail to apply a self-critical lens to the past actions of state
representatives, such as the collaboration of soldiers in massacres.
As emphasised by Mitchell (2006), the state is culturally constituted both mate-
rially and imaginatively. e material eects of the state in ‘marginal’ areas like San
José de Apartadó have been violence and an inecient bureaucracy –intentional or
otherwise. e Community’s imagination of the state is a social reality in itself. Say-
ing sorry is not enough. If actions taken by the state to redress harm and build trust
are not comprehensive and context-sensitive, they will fail to alter the constant (re-)
production of the state in marginal areas such as San José de Apartadó, as a material
and discursive reality based on the ‘radical narrative’.
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... Many anthropologists have unveiled the contradictory emotions about the state among different sectors of Colombians (Ramírez, 2011;Ocampo, 2014;Burnyeat, 2017), even among those who embody the state (Forero Angel, 2017; Pellegrino Velasquéz, 2017). These ethnographies show how different groups, from rural communities to Colombian soldiers and bureaucrats, simultaneously want the state to be present and to deliver its promises of human rights and citizenship, and are angry with it for its abandonment and violence. ...
... The generalised trope of state abandonment, shared by multiple sectors of society, interlinks with specific, localised stories. For example, in my previous research with the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó (Burnyeat, 2017(Burnyeat, , 2018 I charted the genealogy of this rural community's perception of the state. From direct violence, including massacres by the Colombian army, public stigmatisation by high-ranking state officials (including Uribe), and inefficient bureaucracy, a historically-constituted interpretative framework was created in the Community's identity narratives, according to which all actions of the state are perceived as simultaneously reconfirming the validity of the framework. ...
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... For Bercovitch, Diehl, and Goertz (1997, 767), 'political shocks', in the form of 'dramatic changes within a state' may prompt conflicting parties to pursue conflict resolution or conflict management. Others have deployed the notion of rupture or how communities break with the state and its notions of legitimacy and acceptable forms of violence (Burnyeat 2017). This is not unrelated to literature on peace zones (Mitchell and Allen Nan 1997) and extraordinary friendships (Gopin 2012) whereby individuals or communities engage in actions that are transgressive to conflictual norms. ...
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Este artículo reflexiona sobre las opciones por parte de civiles de resistir pacíficamente en conflictos armados. Los argumentos desarrollados aquí se basan en una investigación de campo en la Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadó, Colombia. El marco analítico y teórico por medio del cual se delimita en este artículo la aplicación del término ‘resistencia’, se basa en las consideraciones conceptuales de Hollander y Einwohner (2004) y en el concepto teórico de ‘resistencia legítima’ de O’Brien (1996). Después de un breve análisis del conflicto, describiremos los procesos socio-históricos de la zona de Apartadó, y las experiencias auto-organizativas de sus habitantes, las cuales favorecieron la conformación de esta iniciativa de paz. El análisis de las dimensiones y de los objetivos de la resistencia de la Comunidad de Paz permite reconceptualizar la idea de ‘resistencia legítima’ de O’Brien.
Los imaginarios geográficos sobre la región del Urabá han profundizado la guerra y motivado el conflicto entre las diversas territorialidades. Han quedado cicatrices que muestran la huella del Estado en la manera de ordenar los territorios y dar respuesta al conflicto social y armado. Es decir, se produce sufrimiento social en la aplicación de modelos de seguridad, imponiendo el modelo hegemónico capitalista. Quedan resonando preguntas en este artículo desde la territorialidad vivida por las comunidades, como respuesta a la ruptura de procesos sociales y políticos que han vivido: ¿qué son territorios de seguridad y qué son territorios de paz con dignidad?, ¿cómo se pueden construir los territorios de paz con justicia?, ¿cómo protegerlos?, ¿qué valores hay que asegurar o proteger?, ¿para quién es la seguridad? Sigue abierto un llamado a la conciencia ética del país, a los planificadores del “desarrollo”, a los “ordenadores” del territorio. Se evidencian geografías que demandan respeto al derecho a la memoria, a la vida, a la justicia espacial, a vivir en armonía con la naturaleza, que requieren relacionar a diversas escalas las acciones de las comunidades que han renunciado al olvido y hacen de la memoria potencia política para defender los territorios, como procesos que se viven en medio del conflicto.
Colombia, a partir del año 1991, consagró un nuevo concepto de Estado, cuya filosofía es la esencia humana. En ese sentido, conceptos como dignidad humana y justicia se constituyen en pilares fundamentales, cuyo reconocimientoy efectiva materialización garantiza la existencia de este tipo de Estado. En armonía con esto, el presente trabajo tiene como fin dar a conocer el distanciamiento que se evidencia entre la praxis de la institucionalidad y lo plasmado en la Carta de 1991, frente al deber de respetar, observar y garantizar derechos de los ciudadanos, lo cual se afirma en atención al análisis realizado a la postura política denominada Ruptura con el Sistema Judicial apropiada por la Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadó en el año 2003,como respuesta de resistencia ante la sistemática vulneración de sus derechos, propuesta que consideramos encuentra respaldo en la Constitución y el derecho internacional de los derechos humanos, con base en los postulados teleológicosque persigue esta clase de Estados.
This book examines the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, in the conflict zone of Urabá, Colombia, from the perspective of critical, post-modern politics and anthropology. Telling the story of an emblematic grassroots social movement, it reveals hitherto unseen socio-economic dimensions to national political struggles. Proposing a methodology of ethnographic con-textualisation, the book reveals two narratives which co-exist in the Community’s collective identity: a ‘radical narrative’ constituted via their ‘rupture’ with the state, creating an internal logic through which they interpret politics; and an ‘organic narrative’ shaped by their relationship to the environment and their organisational processes, associated with a concept of ‘alternative’ community. This study, centred on cacao and the Community’s socio-economic project, offers an innovative way of looking at victim organisations and grassroots social movements. It will become essential reading not only to Latin American ethnographers and historians, but to all interested in conflict resolution and transitional justice. Gwen Burnyeat is a Wolfson PhD Scholar reading Anthropology at University College London, UK. She has worked in Colombia for seven years, has a Masters from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia where she also lectured in Political Anthropology, and her prize-winning ethnographic documentary ‘Chocolate of Peace’ was released in 2016 (
Scholars have shown how memory is an embodied and spatial practice that potentially generates more just possible futures, and that peace is a politicized and contextually specific process, but how does place-based memory performance actually contribute to social movements’ construction of peace? This article explores massacre commemoration pilgrimages and stones painted with victims’ names in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, a group of small-scale farmers living in the war-torn region of Urabá, Colombia. Based on 15 months of ethnographic research in Colombia from 2011 to 2014, including participant observation and 49 interviews, I explore the relationship between these spatially embodied practices and the community’s resistance to forced displacement and peace-building project. I argue that these forms of memorialization cultivate key elements for an autonomist ‘other politics’, including solidarity with allies; mobilizing bodies across space to defend life and land; and ongoing reflection, education and strategic planning that strengthen community cohesion and organization. Integrating scholarship on memory performance, peace geographies, and social movements, I illustrate how the San José de Apartadó Peace Community’s massacre commemorations and stones reject vindictive violence and instead build an alternative, transformative and emancipatory politics through internal and external solidarity.
At a time when a global consensus on human rights standards seems to be emerging, this rich study steps back to explore how the idea of human rights is actually employed by activists and human rights professionals. Winifred Tate, an anthropologist and activist with extensive experience in Colombia, finds that radically different ideas about human rights have shaped three groups of human rights professionals working there--nongovernmental activists, state representatives, and military officers. Drawing from the life stories of high-profile activists, pioneering interviews with military officials, and research at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Counting the Dead underscores the importance of analyzing and understanding human rights discourses, methodologies, and institutions within the context of broader cultural and political debates.