Between Guerrillas and the State

Between the Guerrillas and the State: The Cocalero Movement, Citizenship and Identity in the Colombian Amazon
María Clemencia Ramírez
2011, Duke University Press
311 pages

IT IS REFRESHING to read accounts of grassroots resistance to the bullying of national governments that regard citizens as obstacles, especially in the case of Colombia where the state’s mistreatment of the poor and marginal sectors of society over generations has to amount to one of the great crimes of modernity. María Clemencia Ramírez, one of the country’s most prominent anthropologists, provides a fascinating and uplifting acount of how small-scale coca producers and harvest workers responded to the Colombian state’s aerial fumigation strategy against illicit drug cultuivation in the western Amazon region. It is a notorious tale of environmental self-harm by a Latin American country – largely on behalf of the US in its mendacious and hypocritical “War on Drugs” – in which the rights and health of local people were completely subordinated to the priorities of geopolitical ingratiation. The author examines an uprising against the strategy by 200,000 campesinos who marched to protest against the threat to their livelihoods then looks at the social movement that emerged. She focuses on the development of the cocalero movement in the department of Putumayo which has long been fought over by rival factions in the country’s interminable civil war. The Colombian state responded with predictable disdain and contempt, portraying the cocaleros as little more than criminals populating a lawless state. The cocaleros, by contrast, developed a sophisticated campaign demanding full citizenship rights, basic services and proper help for them to make the transition to sustainable – and acceptable – forms of cultivation. This compelling book makes a valuable contribution to the study of social movements while providing a nuanced understanding of what is really at stake when politicians in countries such as Colombia uncritically accept the narratives and agenda mouthed incessantly by their northern paymasters.- EC