I N T R O D U C T I O N
Riosucio:
Race, Colonization, Region,
and Community
riosucio
Most towns in the Colombian Coffee Region are laid out predictably on
the Spanish-American model of a symmetrical grid emanating from a
central square. Typically, an imposing church dominates a well-kept cen-
tral plaza. The other three sides of the plaza are lined by brightly painted
government buildings, businesses, and the balconied houses of leading
citizens. Writer Peter Osborne, in a travel essay, juxtaposes the utopic
symmetry of Colombia’s urban grids with dystopic images of violence,
isolation, and poverty. For Osborne, each town in Colombia ‘‘is dreaming
of the national capital, all towns are elements in a dreaming of national
unity.’’ This yearning for unity is common, he suggests, ‘‘in a Latin Amer-
ica haunted by interior and exterior distance and marked by the terror of
social disintegration.’’∞
The town of Riosucio, however, has an unusual layout. Rather than the
usual central plaza, there are two plazas of equal importance, an upper and
a lower, each with its own equally imposing church. The town sits on the
verdant eastern slopes of Colombia’s western Andes at about 1,800 meters
above sea level, surrounded by coffee groves and jagged rocky peaks. It is
the seat (cabecera) of a township or district (municipio) of the same name
that extends westward up to the mountain ridges and eastward down to
the Cauca River. The outlying areas of the rural district are inhabited
by poor country people (campesinos), the majority of whom refer to them-
selves as indigenous (indígenas). Riosucio’s indigenous population and
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