For many people violence and Colombia are synonymous. Colom
(map ), after all, produces the bulk of the coca processed into coca
and shipped to the world’s largest consumer of drugs, the United Stat
and suffers the crime and corruption that result from this illicit tra
Colombia is also home to the oldest guerrilla insurgency in the Weste
Hemisphere; the country that accounted for half of the world’s kidn
pings in ; the place where paramilitaries inscribe bloody messa
on the bodies of their largely peasant victims; a land the U.S. media li
to refer to as ‘‘twice the size of France’’; a land over which the central st
exerts little authority; and a formal democracy where a handful of e
families are thought to monopolize control of the media, politics, a
the nation’s (licit) economy. Until recently, the Colombian city cons
ered to represent the apex of lawlessness was Medellín, the capital of
northwestern province of Antioquia and, for the better part of two
cades, the financial center of a global narcotics enterprise known as
‘‘Medellín cartel.’’1
This book is not directly about narcotics or Colombia’s contempor
crisis. Instead, it examines the experience of the department of Antioq
(see map ) during the first seven years (–) of a civil war that w
spurred by a struggle for power between members of the Conservat
and Liberal parties and that has come to be known simply as laViolen
or ‘‘the Violence.’’2 Initially, I did not intend to draw parallels betwe
the period of la Violencia and contemporary Colombia, but I came
see that recent and past periods of violence are inextricably intertwin
I can pinpoint the day I ceased to regard la Violencia as something
tirely distinct from current, daily, lived Colombian reality. I was sitt
in my office preparing the last lecture of the spring semester for my s
vey course on modern Latin America. In a moment of procrastinatio
checked my email. There was a message from a friend in Bogotá—a f
low violentólogo at the National University3—telling me that a colleag
from the University of Antioquia in Medellín had just been assassina
at point-blank range by three hooded individuals who carried guns w
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