Diego I. Meza1
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  • 1 Faculty of Social Sciences, Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Rome
Administrating Displaced People in Colombia through Humanitarian Government
Resilience and the Language of Compassion
in Journal of Humanitarian Affairs

Internal forced displacement is a current social problem in Colombia. Although this phenomenon has been studied extensively, the purpose of this article is to analyse the administration of this crisis under the grille interprétative of humanitarian government during the presidential term of Juan Manuel Santos (2010–18). My argument is that humanitarian government functions as a biopolitical assembly that amalgamates two elements: resilience – a fundamental element of psychosocial attention to the displaced – and the language of compassion used publicly by President Santos. Finally, I will try to underline that this logic operates as a condition of possibility to normalise this phenomenon and hide the functioning of the violence that unequally distributes the compassion between lives considered valuable and those whose lives and problems simply appear to be not valuable at all.

Introduction

The Colombian government has been engaged in processes of regulating internally displaced persons (IDPs). So, how can we understand the Colombian government’s responses to internal displacement? More specifically, what discourses and practices have been used to regulate this vulnerable population? What are the consequences? To understand the logic of this power apparatus, I focus on psychosocial assistance and on the speeches of President Juan Manuel Santos, using testimonies to show the implementation of humanitarianism, not as an intervention by international organisations in this field, but rather through the laws and institutions that regulate the crisis of IDPs in Colombia.

IDPs in Colombia represent the largest group of internal conflict victims – a conflict that has been going on for more than fifty years. The Colombian government has recognised 8.1 million people as IDPs (UARIV, 2021). Therefore, Colombia has overtaken other war-torn countries, such as Syria (6.3 million displaced) and Iraq (3 million displaced) (IDMC, 2017). Although the highest rates of displacement occurred in 1999 and 2002 (Unidad de Víctimas, 2013), despite the signing of the peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas in 2016, displacement persists (El Tiempo, 2021; UARIV, 2021).

The Colombian government has tried to manage this humanitarian crisis in recent decades. It signed Law 387 in 1997 and, consecutively, Law 1448 in 2011. Under Law 387 the Unified Register of Displaced Population (Registro Único de Población Desplazada, RUPD) was set up and the National System of Integral Attention to People Displaced by Violence (Sistema Nacional de Atención Integral a la Población Desplazada por la Violencia, SNAIPD), which sought to provide aid and assistance and to protect victims based on the principles of subsidiarity, complementarity, decentralisation and concurrence, was created. Furthermore, Law 1448 stipulated the integral reparation of the victims of internal armed conflict. With the creation of the administrative Unit for Attention and Integral Reparation to the Victims (Unidad para la Atención y Reparación Integral a las Víctimas (UARIV)), the government tried to care for and aid the victims of the internal conflict in general, including those of forced displacement. In sum, the Colombian government made great efforts to guarantee the rights of the displaced; however, these efforts have raised many dilemmas.1

The literature on the Colombian government’s response to the phenomenon of internal displacement has focused on the effectiveness of comprehensive reparation measures. In this regard, several authors have pointed out the great difficulties state institutions face to alleviate the poverty of the displaced and to meet the needs of all people who have suffered this tragedy (Ibáñez and Moya, 2010; Lemaitre and Sandvik, 2015). Others have evaluated some of the government programmes, such as the land restitution programme – that enables IDPs to regain their rights to property lost or abandoned in the conflict and facilitates their return to rural areas – and the free housing programmes (Sliwa and Wiig, 2016; Gilbert, 2014). Similarly, some research has studied the control devices that the government uses to discipline members of this population and strip them of their citizenship – for example, the Single Record of Victims (Registro Único de Víctimas, RUV) and self-entrepreneurship projects (Aparicio, 2012). In addition, research indicates how waiting for government responses can lead to passivity and resignation or to forms of resistance (Meza and Ciurlo, 2019; Schouw Iversen, 2021). However, little has been said about the standardisation of these practices. In this direction, I want to contribute to the debate by examining the intersection of these devices through the rhetoric of humanitarianism, particularly by proposing the case of psychosocial assistance to the displaced being based on the concept of resilience and discourses of compassion that legitimise the suffering of these people. The former highlights the innate capacity of the displaced to cope with their tragedies: the latter emphasises the value of the victims’ suffering. This approach could show how, in the case of care and reparation for displaced Colombians, some forms of violence coalesce with the promise of care.

The aim therefore is to approach humanitarian government as an innovative and valuable lens to critically understand and address the Colombian government’s responses to the massive internal displacement of people, and to identify the strategies used to regulate and depoliticise the huge exodus of people. To this end, I think this perspective presents a convenient way to view the legitimation of the ineffectiveness of some reparation measures for the displaced population as a product of a governmental rationality based on the emotional care of the victims. Based on secondary data, this paper offers an analytical view of how humanitarianism in Colombia has become dominant in the governance of displaced people, especially in the promotion of resilience and the language of compassion. Finally, I analyse the ambivalence of this rhetoric that, in my research, works as a condition of possibility of the normalisation of the internal displacement in the life of Colombians.

Theoretical Background: What Is Humanitarianism?

Michael Barnett (2011) has created one of the main genealogies of humanitarianism. In his book Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism, he traces the main stages of this new governmental practice: an imperial humanitarianism from the early nineteenth century through World War II, a neo-humanitarianism from World War II through the end of the Cold War and a liberal humanitarianism from the end of the Cold War to the present. In this vein, other authors have explored different expressions of humanitarianism during the same period (Hoffman and Weiss, 2006; Kahn and Cunningham, 2013). Volha Piotukh (2015), in addition to following the above classification, delves into the nature and implications of this ‘“new” humanitarianism’. Specifically, she proposes to analyse the multiplication of rationalities and technologies of power that are the root of the evolution of humanitarianism. From this point of view, humanitarianism could be seen as a biopolitical regime that combines, depending on the context, various technologies of power, some forms of violence and discourses of human rights, suffering and charity.

Traditionally, humanitarianism has been playing a leading role in the proliferation of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Its various functions have been the rescue of wounded civilians in war, assistance to refugees and displaced persons and the transmission of information against governments considered authoritarian, in addition to providing aid and support in the various peace processes. Humanitarianism has been characterised by the preaching of ‘impartiality, neutrality and independence’ (Ferris, 2011: 11). These maxims are based on the idea that ‘politics is a moral polluter’ (Barnett and Weiss, 2008: 4). However, the fact that the funding, profile and structure of these institutions come from the Global North is seen as ‘a mutation of colonial power and an extension of religious missionary activity in a new form’ (Benthall and Bellion-Jourdan, 2003: 58). In this sense, the dynamics of power within north-south cooperation in humanitarian interventions could be seen to mirror the approach of the Colombian government towards vulnerable populations. In other words, behind the rhetoric of compassion could lie hidden the intent of domination.

With respect to the new type of humanitarianism, scholars have identified two main characteristics. First, the new humanitarianism not only works within the NGOs, but also within each State as an apparatus of government (Fassin, 2012). Second, humanitarianism has been seen as ‘a historical invention and a tool of capitalism to reinvent itself and solve its problems’ (Barnett and Weiss, 2008: 16) and as a ‘liberal diagnostic, a recursive moral practice that helps constitute liberal politics as much as it projects that politics onto other people and places’ (Reid-Henry, 2014: 418). These two features are relevant in this work. On the one hand, they examine humanitarianism as a rationale for the Colombian government’s power, while on the other hand, the response to internal displacement does not address its causes, but rather couples this phenomenon to the neoliberal model which is at the roots of the problem. Humanitarianism currently appears as a ‘symptom’ of the global political and economic crisis, as a device of government and an instrument of neoliberal solution born within the same system (Sözer, 2019: 2). In consequence, ‘new’ humanitarianism represents ‘a project of neoliberal governmentality, reliant on sovereignty, discipline and biopolitics’ (Piotukh, 2015: 11).

Therefore, ‘humanitarianism cannot only be seen as an alternative to expand the participation of certain agencies in the market’ (Smillie and Minear, 2004: 11), but also as a form of state transformation and political survival. By way of explanation, the use of the notion of resilience and compassion applied to IDPs shows a moral shift in the government of President Santos from a denial of the existence of displacement by his predecessor to an embrace of contemporary humanitarianism under neoliberalism. This humanitarianism has elaborated these two notions and incorporated them into institutions and programmes that seek to assess, monitor and address the suffering of IDPs. Many of these interventions are activated so as not to undermine the government and economic model linked to this crisis. Other indicators of this change could be invoked; for example, the continual references to vulnerability, compassion, suffering, pity and charity indicates a moral shift in contemporary humanitarianism under neoliberalism. Likewise, the hegemony of ‘celebrity humanitarianism’ (Chouliaraki, 2012; Kapoor, 2012) and ‘digital humanitarianism’ (Duffield, 2016); implicit in both cases ‘is [the] conception of the theater as moral education, a space of performance that produces exemplary dispositions of emotion and action on distant others for publics to identify with’ (Chouliaraki, 2012: 3). Instrumental in this pedagogical practice of new humanitarianism are the discourses of civil servants, politicians and celebrities, used not only to embody the humanity of the institutions that they represent, but also to codify the suffering of people into neoliberal categories (Sözer, 2019: 15).

Contemporary humanitarianism does, however, aim to alleviate the suffering of the vulnerable and increase their resilience. In some cases, these political and economic interventions could be labelled as ‘resilience humanitarianism’ (Ilcan and Rygiel, 2015). According to this approach, people are pedagogically educated to face their tragedies individually. This reduces the humanitarian mission and increases the techniques to enhance resilience (Joseph, 2013). The resilience logic and compassionate performances concretise the false promise of individual power as a force of social change – the illusion of a single person fighting against the structures of injustice (Chouliaraki, 2012: 4). In this line, academics should delve deeper into research and analysis of these new pedagogical ways of increasing resilience in vulnerable environments, and their relationship to each context, given humanitarianism could give the ‘appearance of success no matter what’ (Sözer, 2019: 15).

Methods

This research is based on the qualitative paradigm from a hermeneutical perspective since it tries to explain a phenomenon from existing or emerging concepts (Gray, 2004: 9) and also because it has allowed me to flexibly use various data sources. Thus, this case study is based on the analysis of secondary sources. Basically, two data extracts have been formed: the first is made up of national and international reports and registries and academic studies on displacement; the second is made up of seventeen presidential speeches and five other speeches made by cabinet ministers. This way of working has allowed the combining and comparing of various points of view and a way of exploring the relationship between the Colombian state and the displaced population, which in many cases may be ‘ambiguous or uncertain’ (Gray, 2004: 123). However, the limitations inherent in the use of secondary data must be taken into account regarding the analysis and conclusions of this paper.

The Psychosocial Assistance of the Displaced: The Clinic of Resilience

For some decades now, ‘violence in Colombia [has been] considered a public health problem’ (Rivas, 2000: 340). One of the reasons is that ‘mental health is one of the inner sounding boards of violence suffered directly or indirectly’ (Franco, 1997: 100). From this perspective, María Helena Restrepo (2015) has traced a genealogy of this relationship. She analyzed public health in the displaced population in Colombia, using specialized knowledge and technique, and concluded that these types of interventions have medicalised the social and political conflict and sanitised social life. However, this conclusion should be viewed with some caution; psychosocial interventions have recently been incorporated into state programmes that serve victims of the internal Colombian conflict. For example, sentence T-025/2004 of the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional the absence of psychological and psychiatric help to IDPs in the national health system. In other words, the medicalisation of the conflict and Colombian social life may not necessarily have the repercussions that Restrepo outlines (Corte Constitucional de Colombia, 2004).

The national government of Colombia formalised the Protocol of comprehensive health care with a psychosocial approach in July 2013 (MinSalud, 2013). The aim was to offer psychosocial assistance ‘as a strategy of reparation that is parallel to compensations’ (Mora-Gámez, 2016: 117). In this way, the service ‘became evident during the medical assistance to applicants under previous regulations, and the constant tutelas requesting psychiatric and psychological assistance’ (Mora-Gámez, 2016: 117, emphasis in original).2 The territorial entities were in charge of implementing this protocol and had to coordinate its mechanisms with the Health Benefits Plan Administration Companies (Plan de Beneficios en Salud, PBS) and the Health Promoting Entities (Entidades Promotoras de Salud, EPS). This procedure follows the guidelines for the provision of an ordinary health service: users must make an appointment for a general medical consultation, then they can receive specialised assistance and finally some medical treatments. In respect to psychosocial assistance, many IDPs participate in meetings and group therapies where Emotional Recovery Strategy (Estrategia de Recuperación Emocional, ERE) is used. For example, the Presidency’s report to Congress in 2015 states that ‘82,000 victims of the armed conflict were assisted by the Program of Integral Health and Psychosocial Assistance in its modes: individual, family, and community. During the same period, 57,000 victims were assisted through the Emotional Recovery Strategy’ (cited in Mora-Gámez, 2016: 123).

Regarding the psychosocial assistance of the displaced people in particular and of the victims of the internal conflict in general, several studies in Colombia have evaluated its effectiveness. The results show that the support processes are conditioned in their design and implementation by the institutions that execute them (Arango, 2021) and have a structure which is excessively technical (Villa et al., 2017), legalistic (Castro and Olano, 2018) and bureaucratic (Meza and Ciurlo, 2019), and in many cases the role of the affected communities (Aguilera, 2013) and the intervention contexts (Villa et al., 2017) are unknown due to their marked individualistic accent (Arango, 2021). Nonetheless, these studies also recognise their contribution to the emergence of new political actors and spaces (Villa, 2014).

According to Manuel Alejandro Moreno and Maria Elena Díaz (2016: 196), the guiding principles of the psychosocial assistance of the displaced are the ‘recognition of agency and the depathologization of suffering’. For these authors, one of the main elements of this protocol has to do with the recognition of the resources of the displaced themselves; that is to say, they are not only suffering beings, but they are people who have the capacity to assume the risks to which they are exposed. Resilience is a key concept that adequately expresses this dimension.

According to the concept of resilience, individuals react under the imperative of taking care of themselves in situations of lack or vulnerability. Filippa Lentzos and Nikolas Rose (2009: 243) explain that resilience is ‘something natural, but that it can also be taught or transmitted by a network of experts which include not only systems and organizations, but also in nations and people’. Resilience appears as the natural ability to recover from a previous state of well-being – that is, having the ability to overcome difficult circumstances and restore balance. If this is not possible, a certain power allows us to move forward towards a better situation. In other words, resilience ‘refers to a changing attitude towards uncertainty’ (Bonß, 2016: 21). This is what President Santos said in a speech to the displaced: ‘In our life, when we fall, we have to stop and move forward. That is what the victims in the country must do’ (El Tiempo, 2014). In other words, displaced people have a personal duty to recover from their tragedies. This is evident in the following speech by a UARIV psychologist:

Today our session is going to be full of emotions; we are going to start tuning it up and besides remembering things, we are going to think of the ways we have managed to recover from what violence left in our lives, because you have been tough people, almost like heroines. Please note that you have not had psychosocial assistance so far, during this entire time you have survived without anybody’s help, you are experts in handling these situations and that is what I mean by tough and heroines. We are not going to tell you how to recover, you don’t need us to do that, that is why we are simply going to make a suggestion that can help (Mora-Gámez, 2016: 125–6).3

Both psychosocial care practices and national government discourses have built the idea that all displaced people have the capacity to recover and cooperate to overcome their suffering. Accordingly, the displaced must take care of themselves or regulate themselves in the context of a dangerous world (biopolitical idea) and re-establish themselves when this dangerous environment overtakes them. These two devices complement the biopolitical apparatus that other authors have described.4 It is not only about controlling the biological life of the entire population, but in this case, also the emotional life of a group at risk. In claims like this, practices and discourses are assembled to form resilient subjects, capable of overcoming or adapting to the shocks of the neoliberal economic order – or to justify a certain political order. Namely, many forms of reparations and compensations ‘translated into forms of governance and investments that recruit already registered employees into profitable activities and numeric indicators’ (Mora-Gámez, 2016: 116).

By introducing resilience into the psychosocial intervention, the displaced appear to have a positive potential that overshadows the negative idea of suffering. According to this approach, poverty, injustice and the various forms of violence experienced by this population could be overcome by the power of recovery they possess as individuals. Therefore, some displaced people reinterpret the violence suffered as occasions to learn a life lesson:

When we arrived at the Retoños corporation, they taught us to use a computer … before the displacement, one ignores many things … One goes to claim our rights from the government … and the civil clerk begins to ask us for a photocopy of the ID, the photocopy of the right of petition and at the end one does not know anything. Little by little, we were trained and now we know how to submit the right petition, well supported with photocopies and everything requested from us. That displacement left us many lessons (CNMH, 2015a: 217).5

The above testimony not only shows the problems that some victims have with government entities, but also the reinterpretation that they make of their displacement and its consequences – a euphemistic interpretation of their suffering. ‘This means that resilience upholds to the structuring of action contexts or, better, to the framing of the physical, social, spatial, and political aspects of reality’ (d’Albergo and Moini, 2017: 387). I am not claiming that resilience as discourse and practice is the immediate cause of the mishaps of the psychosocial assistance programmes for the displaced people; I assume that this concept plays an important role in the construction of the reality in which they live. Resilience is only an edge that contributes to the configuration of emotions and ‘imaginaries’ (Sum and Jessop, 2013: 166).

The speeches of President Santos inviting the victims to turn the page, and some of the testimonies of the displaced, assuming the consequences of their tragedy as a moment of learning, advocate a depoliticised reading of their stories of dispossession. As such, depoliticisation may appear as a ‘political strategy’ (Jessop, 2014) designed to regulate vulnerable populations, make fiscal adjustments and undermine the political potential of certain social conflicts that are often labelled as ideological, communist or inoperable. Therefore, and from a biopolitical perspective, the psychosocial assistance system for IDPs in Colombia tends to generate subjects that tolerate their social drama and assume it as a pedagogical moment. However, not all displaced people have the same resilience and self-improvement potentialities or react in the same way to the offers of the national government. As some reports depict, there are displaced people who manage to become political actors or carry out various social self-entrepreneurship projects.6 Conversely, there are displaced people who continue to be re-victimised or whose future remains uncertain.

Thereby, from the point of view of resilience as a governance device, we could say the political function of the psychosocial care protocol is showing that the State is doing something for the displaced and that they, using their own abilities, can move on. Certainly, this process is not automatic. The growth in the number of organisations created by the displaced to claim and defend their rights still contrasts with the continuity of internal displacement in Colombia and with the large number of people who have not organised to demand sanctions against those responsible for their exile and the return of their lands. Perhaps because of this strategy and other instruments of appeasement, the hatred and pain felt by displaced people in Colombia manifests as agenesis, followed by resignation, before finding resilience.

The Language of Compassion

This psychosocial intervention has been reinforced by the humanitarian language. The Colombian government and the various international agencies have promoted different strategies to put war victims at the centre of the debates: marches for the victims, a national day of the displaced and of the victims, a visit of the victims to the Congress of the Republic and the promotion of a period of reconciliation. The protection of the victims was one of the emblems of the government of President Santos. The invocation of the suffering of those who have endured the horror of war and displacement has always been one of his priorities. In one of his speeches, made on 10 June 2011, he stated: ‘We will not be the same after this pain … If we have had victims, if there are still victims, we will locate ourselves and stand on the shore that corresponds to us: next to them, on their side, embracing and understanding their suffering’ (Peña, 2011). And preparing the way for the peace agreement with the FARC, Santos expressed himself by referencing the testimony of a displaced person on the day of commemoration of the victims: ‘Don Cristóbal, your testimony moves me, your enthusiasm also gives me the strength to move forward … A victim who was displaced … but [who] is remaking his life with pride, with his eyes looking up again, feeling happy and willing to forgive’ (Presidencia de la República, 2016).

I would not want to take away the credit from the President for having said that; my aim is to contrast his words with other discourses and highlight the contradictions between his different speeches. For example, at the beginning of the dialogues with the FARC, Santos said: ‘We are not going to negotiate or talk about fundamental aspects of national life, such as the Constitution itself, the development model, the concept of private property; all this is not in discussion, nor will it be’ (Rebollo, 2012). On the one hand, the President’s speech exalts the suffering of the victims, prioritises the defence of their rights and invites all Colombians to become aware of this pain. On the other hand, his government privileged the development models that thrive on displacement – lucrative interests that have had an exclusionary, inequitable, concentrating and discriminatory effect. In Colombia, the various armed groups that have been linked to economic projects have used forced displacement to dispossess and to appropriate productive or strategically located lands. In these places, megaprojects have been promoted, mainly related to extractive mining, agroindustry, hydrocarbons and drug trade routes (Reyes, 2009). For instance, the expansion of palm cultivation has benefited in some cases from the actions of paramilitary groups (Hurtado et al., 2017; Rey, 2013; Palacios, 2012) or from fraudulent actions, bribes or other forms of misfeasance (Shultz et al., 2014).

A discourse that evidences the suffering of the displaced and that invites reconciliation is not compatible with an economic model that ignores the causes of war. Strictly, we have to refer to the failure of the national government to identify those responsible and for the land restitution processes (CNMH, 2015a:128).7 It is also worrying that the old models of land dispossession and displacement continue to be perpetuated without the State intervening. This system, which President Santos does not want to renounce and which, according to him, is not negotiable, becomes a factor that re-victimises instead of providing a solution to the problem. It is by no means restorative of violated rights. If the Colombian government truly guarantees the right to the truth and the right to restitution of the victims of forced displacement, the IDPs could be repaired. However, if the structural causes that have caused displacement in Colombia are not eliminated, this phenomenon will continue to be perpetuated. The displacement of hundreds of Colombians in a post-conflict context and the murder of social leaders is an example of the above (IDMC, 2021)

With respect to the government’s disinterest in the systematic murder of social leaders who defend the rights of the displaced– such as the restitution of land – and justice and truth for their victimisers, the NGO Somos Defensores reveals ‘a total of 563 killings up to the first semester of 2018, 91% of which remain unresolved by the judicial system. Most of the murdered leaders were part of local community councils (33%), indigenous communities (22%), or peasant organizations (12%)’ (Prem et al., 2018: 8). For this reason, it is paradoxical that during the commemorations of the victims of the armed conflict in Colombia, some leaders were killed. On 7 April 2013, a march for the victims was organised throughout Colombia and before it started, a land restitution leader, Ever Antonio Cordero, was assassinated in Valencia, Córdoba. He was a 60-year-old peasant leader from the village of San Rafael de Pirú who had been displaced from his farm and threatened for trying to recover it. His body appeared four days later on the banks of the Sinú River. Rosa Amelia Hernández, Ever’s partner said: ‘All of us will be murdered in Córdoba. We have no protection. How many more murders does it take?’ (Bermúdez, 2013).

There are hundreds of stories like the previous one. Mario Manuel Castaño Bravo is another leader who was killed on 26 November 2017. He was shot in front of his family. Mario was displaced several times. He was one of the main leaders of the process of restitution of territorial rights in Antioquia. Mario was recognised for speaking out against injustice, for denouncing the dispossessed and for mobilising the population to denounce and demand the rights of all (Toscano, 2017). The death of Ever and Mario are not isolated events. Some reports show that ‘the killing of leaders is exacerbated in areas with a weaker state capacity in the form of an inefficient local judiciary, and in places with demands for land restitution’ (Prem et al., 2018: 23). However, Santos himself, defender of the suffering of the victims, affirmed that ‘it cannot be said at this point that there is a pattern, a systematic policy of extermination’. Even his defence minister, Luis Carlos Villegas, said that ‘the vast majority of the murders of social leaders are the result of an isolated issue, of boundary disputes, of fights for illicit rents’ (El Espectador, 2017).

A recent publication by Ricardo Aparicio shows the link between economic projects and the emergence of a new terminology that invokes suffering and invites reconciliation. This relationship is contradictory; while the government awakens compassion for the victims, it also promotes actions that harm them. For example, in the municipality of El Salado, Bolívar, scene of one of the bloodiest massacres and the displacement of the surviving population, the government inaugurated a cultural centre. This work and the reconstruction of the town has been financed by private capital and by companies with important investments in land in the region. An example of these multinational companies is Argos, which produces cement and which, today, is subject to accusations of the alleged illegality of the acquisition of lands (Aparicio, 2017: 17). In sum, these examples show that it is useless to appeal to compassion and reconciliation if the vectors that generate land dispossession, displacement and massacres of peasants and social leaders are ignored.

Humanitarian Government as a Normalisation Factor of Suffering

The normalisation of violence refers to the indirect violence exerted by the ‘institutions that assist them [the displaced]’ and that becomes normalised by the operation of the same government techniques (Ruíz, 2015: 59). According to Nancy Scheper-Hughes (1992: 221), in modern societies, ‘the institutions of violence generally operate more covertly’ through experts in a number of fields, in speeches, imaginaries and sentiment. The violence exerted in a concealed manner is characterised by Michel Foucault (1991) through the concept of ‘security mechanisms’ and by Didier Fassin (2012) through ‘humanitarian government’. Scheper-Hughes (1992: 221) speaks of the ‘“softer” forms of social control, the gloved hand of the state’.

Resilience and humanitarian language are techniques that hold a silencing desensitisation with respect to displaced people. As seen previously, these two elements operate as imaginary frames that help to build a certain vision of the world, of politics, and one’s own suffering. However, as Isis Giraldo (2020: 11) correctly states when speaking of the pedagogies of cruelty and the normalisation of ‘false positives’8 in Colombia, these techniques can be understood as ‘crucial elements in the propaganda machine of states, capitalism, and the global modern-colonial project’. First, because the displaced are incorporated into the rentier logic of neoliberalism. This allows the displaced not only to depend on their abilities, but also on a series of correct decisions and adequate participation within the system of support to this population. The dilemma is that such participation, protected under the form of law, is governed by the private logic of personal gain. Moreover, self-management of the consequences of displacement implies the reduction of the duties of the State. Second, because although the displaced receive some support from the national government, the apparatuses through which they are governed generate citizens of the fifth category – citizens whose lives are excluded inside the cities and who are not seen.

State interventions trap the displaced in their government assemblies. In other words, the political problem of dispossession is transformed into an administrative problem. The causes of the displacement and the interests at stake in the war are minimised by the need to obtain temporary assistance and its renewal, as well as certification in the programmes that the state offers as a good Samaritan.9 The invitation of President Santos to the displaced is to continue with their lives, imagine that nothing will bring back their previous lives and to learn the pedagogical character of their displacement and suffering. Therefore, ‘a disciplinary orientation that privileges the everyday, demonstrates how social institutions are deeply involved in two parallel modes: the production of suffering and the creation of a moral community capable of dealing with it’ (Das, 2010: 514) – and on some occasions, to tolerate it.

Displacement has entered Colombian life as a normalised phenomenon. The degree of acceptability generated by the omnipresence of the displaced in the streets, government offices, parks and churches shows not only the fatigue that has produced such a long war in the people, but the routinisation of the government and its officials in the assistance of the victims. According to Ulrich Oslender (2010: 147), ‘the displaced are included in the inhuman geographies of the ever-changing urban landscapes, and they are included in silence and without scandal in the imagined geographies shared collectively in Colombia, while at the same time they are stigmatized and discriminated’. Probably, as Arthur Kleinman affirms, the displaced ‘could speak to us of a more terrible aspect of the ontology of suffering: that the displaced can endure, survive and even adapt to the most inhuman conditions produced in their exile and with the unjust intervention of the State’ (Kleinman, 2008, cited in Das, 2010: 515).

How has this routinisation been carried out? This task is not only an epistemological operation; it has to do with power. According to Judith Butler (2009: 2), precarious lives are formed through social structuring. Therefore, the interpretive key is to identify what norms, economies, policies and cultures have been developed to reduce the lives of the displaced. These frameworks have been reproduced in Colombia through various strategies to become hegemonic: direct violence, contempt for the regions and minority groups, biopolitical government, pedagogies of cruelty, and humanitarian government. All of them ‘work to preserve existing power relations without taking into question the underlying structural root causes of vulnerability, resilience and disasters’ (Lorenz and Dittmer, 2016, cited in d’Albergo and Moini, 2017: 390). Perhaps this is the horror expressed by a columnist for the newspaper El Espectador:

Maybe phrases stating we are the country with the largest number of displaced people in the world sounds so familiar to us that we forget that these citizens travel the country like souls in pain … I do not want to say it, but the country is sick. First, those who commit crimes and murder without scruples and second, those of us who have become accustomed to seeing these events without even crossing ourselves. (Zuleta, 2013)

It is clear the columnist is alarmed by this disease. But we must recognise that the Colombian people have not been born sick, they have been infected by this illness. The acceptability of the inhumanity of the displaced has been a politically induced condition by the national government – from the origin of these human exoduses to their current administrative treatment. The production and tolerance of the conditions of vulnerability makes the displaced population defenceless against any of the actors that made them exiles. Reproduction of the conditions of exclusion have legitimised the precarious state of the displaced before the laws that seek to shake their hands. The displaced in Colombia continue to be abandoned and impoverished, because historically, they have been framed as lost lives or of no value. The violation of their rights is considered necessary to protect the lives and projects of those who are truly alive. Therefore, it is not enough to affirm that the precariousness of the displaced must be maintained against all logic; it is made mandatory to ensure that necessary conditions for their lives are sustainable.

Conclusion

Internal displacement in Colombia is a complex phenomenon. This paper does not intend to circumscribe it exclusively through the humanitarian government approach I propose here. I just want to open a new analytical vein for discussion of IDPs and their persistence in the recent history of Colombia. The Colombian government has tried to attend to this crisis through the implementation of new laws that guarantee the rights of victims. Despite all the improvements, the response of the government has not been sufficient to provide an articulated solution to avoid re-victimisation and to eliminate the causes of displacement. How can one explain the ambivalent relationship of the government of President Santos that sought to repair the displaced while at the same time maintaining the conditions that cause displacement? I propose humanitarian government as a mechanism of power that assembles resilience and the language of compassion to regulate this population. The humanitarian government, through resilience, naturalises the causes of displacement and emphasises the individual response of each person as a solution. Humanitarian language, moreover, seeks to make the drama of the victims visible while covering up the political, social and economic processes that generated it. Consequently, public policies focus on alleviating suffering and safeguarding lives, but not on eliminating the causes of displacement and poverty. I hope that this approach will serve to further analyse the relationship between the promises of care and reparation that governments offer to the displaced populations and their disinterest in ending the dynamics that cause these exoduses.

Notes

1

The restitution of lands could be one example of these dilemmas. As of December 2014, 72,623 claims had been filed, but only 25,215 were considered suitable to be processed by the Government; 9,695 claims were included in the Land Registry and 7,269 were requests for restitution of lands (CNMH, 2015b: 501).

2

The tutela is a constitutional injunction that aims to protect citizens from the violation, arbitrary use or omission of public authority with respect to their fundamental rights.

4

In fact, biopolitics has been an instrument used by many authors to examine the phenomenon of internal forced displacement in Colombia. According to them, the national government has used apparatuses of power – such as laws, the continuous intervention of technocrats, development projects, self-registration processes, among others – through which the displacement becomes a milieu of control where the risks are maintained and the displaced people are self-governing; in other words they become self-entrepreneurs (Aparicio, 2017; Restrepo, 2015; Vargas, 2012).

6

See the CNMH (2017) publication entitled Ojalá nos alcance la vida: Historias de vida de personas mayores víctimas del conflicto armado colombiano, in which various stories of the victims of the internal Colombian conflict have been collected. Several elements resonate in these stories: hopes, forgiveness, reconciliation, entrepreneurship, leadership, justice, etc.

7

In eight years of work, the results of the Land Restitution Unit have not been encouraging. Of the 120,000 victims who have requested restitution, the Land Restitution Unit has only admitted 20 per cent, and of the more than 6 million hectares of land stripped or abandoned that are estimated to exist in Colombia, the Unit has not restored even 6 per cent. See the full report: https://cerosetenta.uniandes.edu.co/la-paradoja-del-campesino-con-desplazamiento-y-sin-restitucion/.

8

Extra-judicial executions have been commonly called ‘false positives’, ‘a technical expression generally used to designate “the coldblooded and premeditated murder of innocent civilians for the sake of profit”’ (Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, cited in FIDH, 2012: 7).

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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