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  • Blood and Capital: The Paramilitarization of Colombia
  • Nazih Richani
Blood and Capital: The Paramilitarization of Colombia. By Jasmin Hristov. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2009. Pp. xii, 268. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $28.00 paper.

Jasmin Hristov's book presents an analysis of the intrinsic relationship between the state and violence, and the role of violence in facilitating capital accumulation Colombia. This work stands among few others that challenge the mainstream scholarship describing the Colombian conflict as one between guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries, portraying the state as either a neutral force or too weak to make much of a difference. In contrast, Hristov's narrative describes the organic bond that ties the state with right-wing paramilitaries and the dominant classes. She contends that the "last twenty-five years have not weakened the bond between capital accumulation and violence" (p. 7).

The author describes Colombia's political system as a "democratatorship" (democradura), a term coined by Eduardo Galeano to denote an electoral democracy that "assimilates features of dictatorship including that the national security doctrine" (p. 27). However, the author does not provide the socio-economic and historical conditions that led to democratatorship. For example, the book overlooks the pact that ended the military dictatorship in 1958, which ushered in the National Front Regime (1958-1974). This pact is praised for terminating the civil war between the dominant Conservative and Liberal parties. More importantly, it may have paved the way for the democratatorship because it offered the military significant latitude vis-à-vis civilian authority in managing the country's national security. This consequently facilitated its role in devising a counterinsurgency strategy that included the creation and fomentation of the paramilitary death squads.

In chapter 3, the "Paraextension of the State's Coercive Apparatus," the author argues that there were two waves of paramilitarism: "the first was the state with the help of the United States; and in the second a leading role was taken by Colombia's economically dominant groups" (p. 60). But this chapter and the following ones do not assess the wider implications of the changing character of paramilitaries from total dependency (the first wave) on the state to a formidable military force with its own independent financial resources (narcotrafficking and extortions) on the paths of construction of the democratatorship. This shift in the historical trajectory of paramilitarism is critical to understand because it captures [End Page 140] some of the complexities that have characterized the construction of hegemony in Colombia and the differentiated role played by social classes (and/or factions of classes) and groups spearheading this process such as cattle ranchers and the narco-bourgeoisie.

Hristov argues that the main characteristic of the parastatal model that was formed in Colombia is neither a traditional centralized authoritarian regime, such as those that existed in Argentina, Chile, and Brazil, nor merely a collection of autonomous bands like those dispersed in rural Mexico. Instead, we see in Colombia a mutated State Coercive Apparatus (SCA). In fact, it is not that the security apparatus mutated, but rather a "critical class mass" reconfiguration and realignment started taking shape during the 1990s, spearheaded by the narco-bourgeoisie with their paramilitaries in alliance with large cattle ranchers, large landowners, sectors of the urban bourgeoisie, conservative political forces, and the military. This "reactionary class configuration," borrowing Barrington Moore's phrase, triumphed with Alvaro Uribe's ascendance to power in 2002. This triumph was boosted by increasing U.S. intervention in the Colombian conflict, enhancing the state's hegemonic capacities in the Gramscian sense. Nonetheless, Hristov's rich description of the Colombian conflict with information based on the author's fieldwork presents a valuable addition to the literature and presents an analysis that has become rare in the age of neoliberal ideological hegemony.

Nazih Richani
Kean University
Union, New Jersey


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