At the beginning of July 2008 it was world news:

the Colombian Army rescue operation - based on trickery - that set free 15 hostages from their captivity by the guerrilla organization FARC. One of them was Ingrid Betancourt, imprisoned since 2002. In her public appearances after her miraculous liberation Betancourt always points at all those captives left behind. The numbers mentioned in the news and the campaigns around Betancourt were confusing (some campaign posters had the number of 3000 hostages, but that seems to refer to the total number of hostage at the peak of the kidnapping around the year 2000, while the actual number of hostages now according to other sources is to be counted in the hundreds). This made me wonder: "How many kidnapped captives were there, during how many years; how many do remain in captivity; who is imprisoning them for what reasons; what will be their fate in the light of Urbide government policies?" There are plenty of statistics about violence in Colombia that can be found on the Internet, each one of them differing in scope, perspective, and quantities. Colombia has the sad honour to be one of the world champions in the amount of available violence-statistics and that fact has a historical reason. Since the country became an independent state in the early 19th century, at least half a million deathly victims of man-made violence can be counted. The continuous strife and fratricide between 'Liberals' and 'Conservatives' of the upper and middle classes - being often equal in power - produced most of the victims, especially under the rest of the populations caught in their crossfire. A history with decades of civil wars, guerrilla, military and para-military actions plus lots of common crime (Colombia has one of the highest homicide rates in the world). My prelimirary search on the Internet expanded into an extensive research on the representation in statistics and maps of violence in Colombia (set in the context and compared with violence in other countries of the Americas). Beginning with the actual kidnappings and sequestrations a panorama of violence-statistics enfolds - horror cloaked in numbers - that may help to get to an understanding of scale and causes. Such an understanding may point at the whereabouts of the escape exit from the endless spiral of violence in Colombia. Still, violent behaviour seems to be so deeply embedded in Colombian society that the way out might not be found, then... only the embezzled revolutionary slogan of the Latin American continent is fitting - but let me change the last exclamation mark into a question mark, because hope for a better future must remain:


Colombia: ! HASTA LA VIOLENCIA SIEMPRE ? is a work made for the now defunct web-gallery OOG (eye) of the Dutch daily newspaper De Volkskrant - curated by Babette Wagenvoort - first published on August 26 2008. It it a work in progress, a continuing re/seaarch in ways to "map human violence", the fourth in a series of such visualization explorations: "MetaMap Saddam Hussein 1937-2007" ; "Meta-Statistics of Violence in the Middle East 1894-2007" ; "The Holiday War: Palestine, Lebanon, Israel - summer 2006". A manifesto on the idea of "mapping human violence" made for a seminar at the Piet Zwart Academy in 2004 can be found elseweher on this site.
! Unitil the Final Violence ?) derives from
(can be translated as: "Forever Until Victory" or "Until the the Final Victory") I have supplanted the word 'victory' with the word 'violence', mocking the ubiquitous slogan of Che Guevarra and his romantic devotees..

One of the bloodiest periods of Colombian history is simply called "La Violencia" and lasted from 1948 to 1958 with an aftermath dragging out untill 1964. The death toll was 200.000 (some sources say 300.000). It originated in the intra-class struggle between the elites of the Liberal and the Conservative parties, but also triggered inter-class struggles by laborers and peasants seeking political and economic change, and coincided with rural banditry (that has existed in Colombia since colonial times). Arson, rape, plunder and gruesome ways of killings have been committed by all sides during these years. A massive exodus from unsafe rural areas to the urban centres occured. It destabilized and fragmented Colombian society and the growing frustration with the inability of the government to garantee safety - especially in rural areas - led to the creation of all kind of self defense groups. Some of these groups joined forces with Communist Party organizations, hoping to create another model beyond years of bi-party fratricide. The success of the Cuban Revolution of 1959 became also a source of inspiration, from the radical catholic priest Camilo Torres Restrepo who joined the guerrilla group Ejército de Liberación Naciona, (ELN) in the early sixties to Jacobo Arenas - who is said to have taken Che Guevarra as his role model - and has been one of the founding fathers of the “Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia” (FARC) together with Manual Marulanda. [ref. Scheine/Latin America's Wars vol. 2; 2003; p.194-95.  & and Pearce/Colombia inside the Labirynth; 1990; p.52-66]