Paramilitaries and Discourses of Culpability in Colombia and Washington, D.C.

March 23, 2011 · The New School, New York, United States

Associate Professor at the Graduate Program in International Affairs of The New School, Chris London opened the talk, saying that "Biography and lived experience of engaged people is how policy is committed into action. This is often imperfect, but by showing us how policy is actually practiced, we can see the flaws and how they can be bettered,"" saying that the work of Assistant Professor Tate does exactly that.

Assistant Professor Tate began by describing the manner in which narratives of paramilitary forces are incorporated into policy and work, both in Colombia as well as in the US. The narratives discussed are from, "Middle class frustration with non-functioning democracy and government incompetence. The paramilitaries are in this way legitimizing their violence. Positioning themselves as autonomous forces for the Washington, DC offices." Tate asks, "What political work were these narratives doing?"

Plan Colombia

Tate found that the alliances and the policy actors taking part in actions, such as Plan Colombia, were preparing the political terrain that naturalizes certain policy outcomes, doing so through these discourses. Tate continued by describing the circle through which the paramilitary groups became viable actors in Colombian politics through demobilization and peace-keeping means.

These links between narratives and policy are seen in the daily lives of people in Southern Colombia of the Putumayo region. Tate says that these Colombians are experiencing the violence in two ways, "One is the classic push for legal redress that is similar to those of human rights groups. 'We want justice for these events that have happened to our family.' Second is the Faustian bargain where coca is the cursed leaf. By participating in the economy of the paramilitaries, there is a diffuse sense of culpability."

Through these examples, Tate showed the links between the Colombian government, the paramilitaries, US policy-makers, and finally through Colombians themselves particularly in the Putumayo region. These links have been created, Tate explained in many cases through the discourses and narratives created and used by each of the actors about themselves and others.

Janet Roitman, Associate Professor of Anthropology at The New School commented on Assistant Professor Tate’s talk. While Roitman?s regional focus is in Africa, her discussion added to a stronger analysis of issues in the Third World across regions. In his reasoning for inviting Roitman to comment, Chris London said, "There is a failure to look elsewhere when doing your studies." By conducting a comparison between disparate locations researchers can find new ways to look at their subjects and find new places for collaboration in academia as well as in the field, which were unknown previously.


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