Colombia - not so unusual after all : a case study on the transnational making of the boundary between 'defence' and 'public security'

Viana, Manuela Trindade (2020)

CITATION: Viana, M. T. 2020. Colombia - not so unusual after all : a case study on the transnational making of the boundary between 'defence' and 'public security', in Liebenberg, I., Kruijt, D. & Paranjpe, S. (eds) 2020. Defence diplomacy & national security strategy : views from the global south. Stellenbosch: SUN PReSS, doi:10.18820/9781928480556/03.

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Chapters in Books

Colombia is often mentioned as an anomaly within the expected framing of defence and public security, an anomaly that arises from a faulty division of labour between the police and the military. In this chapter, I offer a different interpretation: I use Colombia as an entry point to analyse the processes through which the boundary distinguishing ‘defence’ and ‘public security’ has historically been built. The argument unfolds in two parts. Firstly, I analyse how counterinsurgency was raised to a privileged position in the Colombian military doctrine in the second half of the 20th century. The second analytical move looks at the dynamic between the United States and Colombia in the making of a counterinsurgency a la colombiana and inscribes this dynamic in the hemispheric circulation of military savoirs. By dissecting the main direction of transmission in this circuit, I show how defining Colombia as a ‘malfunction’ in the division of labour between police and military is misleading, as it does not account for the transnational impact on what has come to constitute ‘defence’ in Colombia. Moreover, the framing of Colombia as an anomaly avoids questioning the assumptions upon which disputes of anomaly/normality rest. I argue that, by focusing on the circulation of military savoirs, it becomes apparent that the domains of public security and defence are not only constitutively merged, but also transnationally so. This claim is important, given that the boundary separating these domains came to characterise a central part of our institutional imaginaries of democracy since the 20th century, and perhaps more strongly since the late 1980s in Latin America.

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