Between the Guerrillas and the State

The Cocalero Movement, Citizenship, and Identity in the Colombian Amazon

Between the Guerrillas and the State

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 11 photographs, 8 tables, 8 maps, 4 figures Published: July 2011

Activism, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies > Andes

Responding to pressure from the United States, the Colombian government in 1996 intensified aerial fumigation of coca plantations in the western Amazon region. This crackdown on illicit drug cultivation sparked an uprising among the region’s cocaleros, small-scale coca producers and harvest workers. More than 200,000 campesinos marched that summer to protest the heightened threat to their livelihoods. Between the Guerrillas and the State is an ethnographic analysis of the cocalero social movement that emerged from the uprising. María Clemencia Ramírez focuses on how the movement unfolded in the department (state) of Putumayo, which has long been subject to the de facto rule of guerrilla and paramilitary armies. The national government portrayed the area as uncivilized and disorderly and refused to see the coca growers as anything but criminals. Ramírez chronicles how the cocaleros demanded that the state recognize campesinos as citizens, provide basic services, and help them to transition from coca growing to legal and sustainable livelihoods.


“It is refreshing to read accounts of grassroots resistance to the bullying of national governments that regard citizens as obstacles…. 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.” — Latin American Review of Books

Between the Guerrillas and the State is...a rich and much-needed addition to our understanding of contemporary Colombia.”  — Robert Karl, Hispanic American Historical Review

Between the Guerrillas and the State constitutes an insightful reminder that the 'political world' is rich with local and cultural meanings that are usually ignored in debates about public policy.” — Ingrid Bolivar, EIAL

“In Between the Guerrillas and the State, Maria Clemencia Ramirez has written an excellent analytical description of the cocalero movement in the Putumayo province in the Colombian Amazon during the 1990s.” — Carmenza Gallo, Contemporary Sociology

Between the Guerrillas and the State is a must-read for those hoping to make sense of the Colombian quagmire. One of that country’s most prominent anthropologists, María Clemencia Ramírez, has a keen ethnographic sensibility and a deep knowledge of the social dynamics of the Colombian Amazon. Her book opens a window onto the complexities of the Colombian conflict in a way that few English-language publications have.” — Joanne Rappaport, author of Intercultural Utopias

“A meticulous account of how coca growing plays out in the labyrinth of southern Colombia, this book, by a seasoned Colombian anthropologist, illuminates the plight of the peasant no less than the double-talk promulgated by the unwinnable War on Drugs.” — Michael Taussig, Class of 1933 Professor, Columbia University

“Brimming over with ethnographic and historical insights, this outstanding book speaks to central questions about social movements, violence, democratization, and the implementation of neoliberal policies in extremely poor regions. María Clemencia Ramírez looks at a grassroots social movement brought about by unlikely actors, rural farmers known as cocaleros, who grow and process coca (the main ingredient in cocaine) in order to survive. The cocaleros clamored for attention from a nearly absent state, which dismissed them, demonizing them as criminals. The irony is unmistakable, for the cocaleros’ claims-making deployed rhetorics coming straight out of neoliberal discourses that speak of citizen responsibility, participatory democracy, and self-actualization. Between the Guerrillas and the State is a brilliant study of neocolonialism at work in a very violent part of southern Colombia.” — Jean E. Jackson, co-editor of Indigenous Movements, Self-Representation, and the State in Latin America


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

María Clemencia Ramírez is a Senior Research Associate and a former Director (2005–2007) of the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History in Bogotá.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Abbreviations xiii

Introduction 1

1. History of Colonization, Marginalization, and the State: Guerrillas, Drug Trafficking, and Paramilitarism in the Colombian Amazon 21

2. Coca and the War on Drugs in Putumayo: Illegality, Armed Conflict, and the Politics of Time and Space 54

3. Turning Civic Movements into a Social Movement: Antecedents of the Cocalero Social Movement 86

4. The Cocalero Social Movement: Stigmatization and the Politics of Recognition and Identity 110

5. Negotiations with the Central Government: Clashing Visions over the "Right to Have Rights" 134

6. Competing States or Competing Governments? An Analysis of Local State Formation in a Conflict-Ridden Zone 167

7. From Social to Political Leadership: Gaining Visibility as Civil Society in the Midst of Increased Armed Conflict 183

8. Plan Colombia and the Depoliticization of Citizenship in Putumayo 214

Epilogue 233

Appendixes 239

Notes 254

References 283

Index 297
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5015-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5000-2
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