In 2000, the U.S. passed a major aid package that was going to help Colombia do it all: cut drug trafficking, defeat leftist guerrillas, support peace and build democracy. More than 80% of the assistance, however, was military aid, at a time when the Colombian security forces were linked to abusive, drug-trafficking paramilitary forces. Despite calls for international funding for development throughout the country, the southern state of Putumayo became Plan Colombia’s initial focus during the “Push into Southern Colombia.” Transnational drug policy and land management strategies within Colombia contributed to escalating coca cultivation in the region – more than 50% of the world’s total – which funded the expansion of Colombia’s largest and oldest guerrilla group. The U.S. began funding aerial fumigation and army battalions, and the region became an intense combat zone as right-wing paramilitary groups steadily gained control of small towns. U.S. and Colombian officials described Putumayo residents as criminals and guerrilla supporters who were only transformed into citizens through U.S. intervention. Based on ethnographic and archival research in Washington and southern Colombia, I explore the multiple ways in which Putumayense elected officials and local residents resisted such labels and attempted to present policy alternatives, through association with non-governmental organizations, protests, and formal lobbying.
Professor Tate is an authority on human rights and activism in the military conflict in Colombia. Her first book, Counting the Dead: The Culture and Politics of Human Rights Activism in Colombia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007) was a study of human rights discourses and institutions in the Colombian context.