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Something Different About Colombia,
This review is from: Evil Hour in Colombia (Paperback)
As someone who lives in Colombia, I've spent countless conversations with friends and colleagues talking about this country's civil war. The conversation often turns to whether there will ever be a peaceful end to this nightmare of the longest running civil war in the Western Hemisphere. In trying to find an "out," the intellectual exercise inevitably evolves into a discussion about the "true" origins of the war. Why this war? Why this country?
With this excellent book, I feel like I've come as close as possible to "definitive" answers. The epigraph to Chapter 3, quoting Eric Hobsbawm, briefly sums part of the argument convincingly laid out by Hylton, as to the sources of the war: "I discovered a country (Colombia) in which the failure to make a social revolution had made violence the constant, universal, and omnipresent core of public life." The other part of Hylton's argument explains why "social revolution" in Colombia stumbled, or rather (to continue the metaphor) he describes that it didn't stumble as much as it was tripped.
The author skillfully traces how this caused a violent pendulum swing in Colombian history. In the Introduction, Hylton writes, "One effect of the long-term use of political terror in Colombia and elsewhere has been to erase the memory of the political alternatives to which terror responded." Indeed, one of the most compelling elements of the book is that it rescues from oblivion the recurring moments in the country's history marked by radical-popular mobilization and the consequent--if, sometimes limited--reforms. These impressive steps forward were violently crushed by reactionary forces, including large landowners, bankers, the Church, security forces, paramilitaries and conservatives in politics to name a few, taking the country several steps back.
Hylton also highlights the emergence of the country's guerrilla groups, and what he calls the "progressive hypertrophy of armed Left insurgencies." While examining the evolution of these groups to their now deteriorated political legitimacy, he does not shy away from the treacherous role they continue to play in the conflict. His characterization of today's armed Left is certainly not a romantic one.
Without leaving the reader pinballing to and fro throughout history, Hylton successfully manages to show how the current form of the conflict bears uncanny resemblance to those of the past. For instance, if the coffee boom fueled a conservative offensive to accumulate land, power and wealth in the past; today, the cocaine explosion serves a similar purpose, with similarly tragic results.
-Teo Ballvé is an editor at the North Ameriacn Congress on Latin America (NACLA), publisher of the most widely read English-language publication on Latin American affairs.