Nobody tells an ethnographer beginning fieldwork that when their work is published it will already be a part of history. Aldo Civico conducted interviews with the foot soldiers and leaders of paramilitary groups in Colombia between 2003 and 2008; the University of California Press published The Para-State: An Ethnography of Death Squads in Colombia in 2016. His book is a history of the recent past, when Colombian paramilitaries were at the apex of their power, their demobilization process with the central government was ongoing, and the 2016 peace agreement between the government and the guerrilla in Havana seemed fantastical. The Para-State treads a careful path through this labyrinthine history of death squads intertwined with the Colombian state and its elites. The result makes for excellent, if disturbing, reading. Excellent and disturbing precisely because Civico takes a path less traveled by observers of Colombia’s conflict. Civico builds on life histories as told by paramilitaries themselves; the focus is not the victim, but the victimizer: the paramilitary supporter, commander, and now dead-eyed young men dressed in new clothes and shiny sneakers who perpetrated killings, conducted massacres, and sowed terror in the name of order.
I research economic and environmental anthropology and resource extraction in Colombia and New Brunswick. This is my personal blog.