Horror, absolute horror, is perhaps the most suitable description of the level and intensity of violence at large presently in Colombian society. Violence, certainly for the powerful and those in the margins of Colombian society, has become a way of life; where, after eight and a half decades of brutal social and political upheaval, for many, human life and dignity has been devalued to the point of worthlessness. Alvaro Tirado Mejía, in the readings we were introduced to today, comments that Colombia no longer talks of La Violencia; the decade long civil war beginning in 1946 (or 1948 depending on one’s interpretation), but las violencias. What had begun as a peasant rising in the hinterlands against the resurgence of the fascistic Conservative Party from 1930 – with the proliferation of Socialist and Communist guerrilla movements after the success of the revolution in Cuba – spiralled out of control into a bloody tit for tat between the opposing forces. US anti-Communist intervention and the appearance of the drugs cartels compounded an already dire situation until violence and murder became a national constant. By the 1990s savagery had become so much a part of life in Colombia that it seeped into and polluted the lives of the urban poor, creating a culture of death and lawlessness which has had catastrophic social consequences.
In las barriadas – the shanty towns of the large cities – young men and women have been so infected with a sense of hopelessness and the worthlessness of human life that they have embraced la vida facil offered to them by the easy money of criminality. No longer are the turmoil of La Violencia and its socio-political result of endemic political violence the principle explanation of homicide in the country, that trophy goes now to street crime in the barrios. Besides the guerrillas recruiting, and the autodefensas – right-wing paramilitaries – training assassins and murder squads in these areas, the alternative economies of gangland drug dealing and trafficking, prostitution, child prostitution and people trafficking have ensured that street crime results in more death than the rural stalemate between the various warring factions. With a homicide rate of seventy-seven point five in a thousand Colombia is almost ten times more dangerous than the United States. Whole generations of Colombians – especially poor Colombians – have grown up in a nightmare where no one, not even the state with its police, army, and murder squads, shows the slightest concern for human life. Violence has been sown in the heart of the nation and – like the coca plant – it has produced a hellish fruit.