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 Roldan 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, Roldan 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.