A Century of Violence in a Red City

Popular Struggle, Counterinsurgency, and Human Rights in Colombia

A Century of Violence in a Red City

Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: 8 illustrations Published: February 2016

Author: Lesley Gill

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Globalization and Neoliberalism, Latin American Studies > Andes

In A Century of Violence in a Red City Lesley Gill provides insights into broad trends of global capitalist development, class disenfranchisement and dispossession, and the decline of progressive politics. Gill traces the rise and fall of the strong labor unions, neighborhood organizations, and working class of Barrancabermeja, Colombia, from their origins in the 1920s to their effective activism for agrarian reforms, labor rights, and social programs in the 1960s and 1970s. Like much of Colombia, Barrancabermeja came to be dominated by alliances of right-wing politicians, drug traffickers, foreign corporations, and paramilitary groups. These alliances reshaped the geography of power and gave rise to a pernicious form of armed neoliberalism. Their violent incursion into Barrancabermeja's civil society beginning in the 1980s decimated the city's social networks, destabilized life for its residents, and destroyed its working-class organizations. As a result, community leaders are now left clinging to the toothless discourse of human rights, which cannot effectively challenge the status quo. In this stark book, Gill captures the grim reality and precarious future of Barrancabermeja and other places ravaged by neoliberalism and violence.


"Gill weaves together the historical development of the city’s power struggles and the devastation and suffering of the city, and boldly looks into the future. She presents a hauntingly honest assessment of past struggles and future opportunities. An invaluable addition to understanding Colombia and its social, political, and class struggles, as well as those of the region and the larger world. . . . Essential. All public and academic levels/libraries." — A. E. Leykam, Choice

"Gill’s book will be a fundamental text for anyone interested in violence, politics, and the state in contemporary Latin America and for those seeking a model for doing and writing historical anthropology at its very finest." — Daniel M. Goldstein, American Ethnologist

"Lesley Gill never loses sight of her focus on class as her principal analytical category. This is the book’s greatest contribution....She stresses the agency and resistance of trade unionists, activists, and city councilors despite relentless and violent political persecution." — María Clemencia Ramírez, American Anthropologist

"Through ethnographic research and oral histories, Gill offers a nuanced portrait of right-wing paramilitary occupation of the city, highlighting divergent experiences and contradictory memories.... As an urban history spanning nearly a hundred years, A Century of Violence in a Red City thus illustrates how urban space is produced and configured through struggles over resources and power." — Emma Shaw Crane, NACLA Report on the Americas

"A Century of Violence in a Red City is deceptively rich in theoretical insight and provocation, mainly because Gill wears this acuity so lightly, and grounds theoretical claims so irrevocably in historical and anthropological detail." — Jeffery R. Webber, Journal of Latin American Studies

"Gill has made an incredibly complicated story accessible, interesting, and useful to anyone interested in understanding how the violent suppression of class and labour remains central to contemporary projects of rule. The story is as well told as it is tragic." — Teo Ballvé, Bulletin of Latin American Research

"Gill’s book contributes importantly to a literature in both English and Spanish, in the United States and in Colombia, that queries the complex nature of the relationships between the legitimate state and the parastate, between the army and the paramilitaries, all in the context of a neoliberal economy in which illicit drug production and trafficking play a central role. She skillfully elaborates a great deal about what is going on all over Colombia through the lens of one particular city." — Les Field, Journal of Anthropological Research

"Lesley Gill’s powerful ethnography of the rise and fall of workers’ movements in the oil enclave of Barrancabermeja advances. . . provocative, interconnected arguments that make compelling contributions to those studying Colombia in the wake of the 2016 Peace Agreement signed between the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia." — Gwen Burnyeat, A Contracorriente

"A Century of Violence in a Red City achieves its historically informed anthropology through Gill’s long-time engagement with the city’s activists and her deep knowledge of Latin American history. . . . Gill’s book helps us understand contemporary Colombia and is essential reading for anyone seeking to comprehend popular struggle in Latin America and its relation to broader patterns of capital accumulation." — Johanna Pérez Gómez, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"Lesley Gill's A Century of Violence in a Red City reads like a nonfiction version of One Hundred Years of Solitude. Compelling in analysis, empathetic in interpretation, Gill's sweeping narrative of political struggle, social solidarity, and public-private repression in the Colombian city of Barrancabermeja is required reading for anyone hoping to understand Latin America's twentieth- and early twenty-first-century history."  — Greg Grandin, author of Kissinger's Shadow: The Long Reach of America's Most Controversial Statesman

"Lesley Gill's extraordinarily original scholarship and use of interviews and firsthand accounts gives a vivid view of Colombia's contemporary scene. Beautifully written, this book makes a very important contribution to the literature on Colombia and on class and social movements throughout Latin America. There is virtually nothing like A Century of Violence in a Red City." — Aviva Chomsky, author of Linked Labor Histories: New England, Colombia, and the Making of a Global Working Class


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Price: $27.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Lesley Gill is Professor of Anthropology at Vanderbilt University and the author of The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Acronyms  ix

Acknowledgments  xiii

Introduction  1

1. Black Gold, Militant Labor  29

2. Cold War Crucible  61

3. Terror and Impunity  95

4. Unraveling  123

5. Fragmented Sovereignty  152

6. Narrowing Political Options and Human Rights  183

7. The Aftermath of Counterinsurgency  216

Conclusion  237

Notes  249

References  263

Index  275
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

2016 Choice Outstanding Academic Title (Choice Magazine)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6060-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6029-2
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