INTRODUCTION
You don’t do wrong to the person who feeds you . . . it makes me mad
whenever anyone does anything against Coltejer. I want all the best for
Coltejer, all the best, because if it fails, I fail.—Ana Palacios de Montoya
I pray for Fabricato every day, because one was so poor and now one has this
little house, because of the factory. Fabricato was very good and I pray to
God every day for Fabricato, that it will succeed more and more and more.
—Celina Báez Amado
Colombia’s first industrial experiment is over. As retired textile
worker Enrique López put it, commenting on a rumor that Rosellón, the mill
where he worked for forty years, might be gutted and converted into middle-
class apartments: ‘‘That’s the end of that.’’ The end of protective tariffs
and governmental intervention to guarantee the profitability of nationally
owned firms likely will not prove the end of Latin America’s industrial
dream, but the region has definitively abandoned import substitution as a
model.∞ For the women and men who spent their working lives in the facto-
ries of Colombia’s Aburrá Valley, located in central Antioquia and domi-
nated by the city of Medellín, it is the end of an era.
In 1990–91, when I conducted the bulk of the research for this book,
an illusory sense of permanence still clung to Medellín’s big textile firms.
Their company names—Fabricato, Tejicondor, and especially Coltejer, which
owned Rosellón—had been household words throughout Colombia for more
than seventy-five years. Retired workers pointed to the firms’ expansion, and
managerial personnel easily discussed plans to continue upgrading plant ma-
chinery. From a historian’s perspective, the companies’ sense of their own
past was especially impressive. I found well-maintained collections of histor-
ical records, some of which had been transferred to microfilm, as well as
carefully preserved antique looms, lists of ‘‘founding workers,’’ and photo-
graphic displays documenting each company’s early years.
By 1998 the illusion had been stripped away. At Fabricato, at the opposite
end of the Aburrá Valley from Rosellón, I had spent months working with
company records housed at the Patronato, which had been built as the ‘‘golden
dream’’ of the firm’s founder, Jorge Echavarría. Designed as a company-run
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