Blood and Fire

La Violencia in Antioquia, Colombia, 1946-1953

Blood and Fire

Latin America Otherwise

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Book Pages: 416 Illustrations: 14 tables, 18 figures, 6 b&w photos Published: June 2002

Author: Mary Roldán

History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Andes, Politics > Political Science

Between 1946 and 1966a surge of violence in Colombia left 200,000 dead in one of the worst conflicts the western hemisphere has ever experienced. the first seven years of this little-studied period of terror, known as la Violencia, is the subject of Blood and Fire. Scholars have traditionally assumed that partisan politics drove La Violencia, but Mary Roldán challenges earlier assessments by providing a nuanced account of the political and cultural motives behind the fratricide. Although the author acknowledges that partisan animosities played an important role in the disintegration of peaceful discourse into violence, she argues that conventional political conflicts were intensified by other concerns.
Through an analysis of the evolution of violence in Antioquia, which at the time was the wealthiest and most economically diverse region of Colombia, Roldán demonstrates how tensions between regional politicians and the weak central state, diverse forms of social prejudice, and processes of economic development combined to make violence a preferred mode of political action. Privatization of state violence into paramilitary units and the emergence of armed resistance movements exacted a horrible cost on Colombian civic life, and these processes continue to plague the country.
Roldan’s reading of the historical events suggests that Antioquia’s experience of la Violencia was the culmination of a brand of internal colonialism in which regional identity formation based on assumptions of cultural superiority was used to justify violence against racial or ethnic "others" and as a pretext to seize land and natural resources. Blood and Fire demonstrates that, far from being a peculiarity of the Colombians, la Violencia was a logical product of capitalist development and state formation in the modern world.
This is the first study to analyze intersections of ethnicity, geography, and class to explore the genesis of Colombian violence, and it has implications for the study of repression in many other nations.


“[Roldán] brilliantly describes the complex historical context behind the violence . . . .” — Foreign Affairs

“One of all too few efforts to build a regional account of how the violence played out [in Antioquia, Columbia]. . . . Roldan’s book is highly valuable in the context of President Uribe’s attempt to reposition an account of Colombia’s contemporary violence. . . . She sees connections [that] prove the worth of the sharper lens and depth of field.” — Jenny Pierce, Journal of Latin American Studies

"[T]he book would be of interest to a broad range of scholars, both historians and political scientists, and to those whose interest is Colombia-specific, as well as those who simply concern themselves with the politics of violence. The material is well presented and flows well and the text is well augmented with maps and data. I highly recommend this eminently readable and very informative book." — Steven L. Taylor, South Eastern Latin Americanist

"[W]hat Roldan does well is give a detailed portrait of the violence in its regional complexity, as well as connect the origins of political violence to elections and the process of 'Conservatization' of Liberal municipalities. Most importantly, she clearly demonstrates the early links between paramilitary groups and the government on the local, departmental, and national levels." — W. John Green , Latin American Research Review

"In Blood and Fire, Mary Roldán has written a well-researched and persuasively argued book that forces the reader to reconsider time-honored assumptions about la Violencia in Colombia while suggesting a need to reevaluate region as a category of analysis in Latin American history. . . . [E]ngaging. . . . [O]utstanding." — Myrna Ivonne Wallace Fuentes , Labor

"It appears that Rolda´n knows every nook and cranny of this large department, as her love for this place, its people, and their history permeates the pages of this book." — Herbert Braun , Hispanic American Historical Review

"Roldán adds new layers of depth and complexity to the historiography of this troubled country and explores the links between la Violencia and contemporary violence in Colombia. . . . Blood and Fire fits nicely with the existing literature on violence in Colombia and at the same time challenges some of the underlying assumptions that have dominated the study of la Violencia. . . . [H]er contributions are useful, and the book should be read by anyone seeking an in-depth analysis of the roots of both la Violencia and the contemporary civil war, as well as anyone interested in understanding the causes and consequences of protracted violence in any area of the world."
— James D. Bowen , History: Reviews of New Books

"Roldán's work is thoroughly documented, insightfully argued, and clearly written. . . . This is a major academic contribution that will be indispensable for graduate and upper division undergraduate courses on Latin American history, required reading in surveys of Colombian history, and also excellent material for social science courses in fields concerned with modern violence, ethnic relations and conflicts, and cultural geography. It is a must for any academic library, whether institutional or personal. — Victor M. Uribe-Uran, The Historian

"This insightful historical study is a substantial contribution to the understanding of Colombian regionalism and violence. . . . Readers interested in Colombia, twentieth-century Latin America, and the links between weak states and violence should read this book." — Joshua Rosenthal, Canadian Journal of History

"This is the most thoroughly researched of the several regional histories of Columbia's Violencia, the civil conflict occurring there between 1947 and 1965. . . . This regional study does a better job than any other in illustrating the essential paradox of Columbia's Violencia." — James D. Henderson, H-Net Reviews

“Mary Roldán’s enduring commitment to the history of Colombia, and to the principles of thoroughness, fairness, and accuracy, combine to make this a truly exceptional book. Colombia is perhaps the least-known or understood country in Latin America, and yet the United States’ involvement with it only continues to grow. By following the day-to-day evolution of partisan conflict in the region of Antioquia during the dreadful period of carnage remembered simply as la Violencia, Roldán makes possible a crucial understanding of the current violence in that beautiful and baffling Andean country.” — Alma Guillermoprieto, author of Looking for History: Dispatches from Latin America

“This marvelous book makes important contributions in multiple ways. Beyond her nuanced analysis of the la Violencia and of sociopolitical values and ethnic/racial attitudes in Antioquia, Roldan illuminates important features of the political system. Her work, already influential among scholars working on twentieth-century Colombia, fortunately will now be available to a wider audience.” — Frank Safford, author of Colombia: Fragmented Land, Divided Society


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Mary Roldan is Associate Professor of Latin American History at Cornell University.

Table of Contents Back to Top


1. Medellin and Core Municipalities

2. Bajo Cauca, Magdalena Medio, and the Northeast

3. Uraba and Western Antioquia

4. Urrao and the Southwest


Appendix A: Tables

Appendix B: Maps



Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, 2003 Fundacion Alejandro Angel Escobar

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2918-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2903-9
Publicity material