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Violent settlements: strategic villages and clandestine burial sites in Latin America

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - StrategicVillages (Violent settlements: strategic villages and clandestine burial sites in Latin America)

Okres sprawozdawczy: 2018-02-01 do 2019-01-31

Since the beginning of the Cold War, counterinsurgency policies have aimed not only to destroy guerrilla movements, but also to “win the hearts and minds” of the population. Among the different techniques used to pursue this goal, I explored one that has been used for almost seven decades: the forced displacement of rural populations to villages created ex nihilo, and therefore considered as “strategic”. Although these programs have received different nominations around the world, I therefore proposed to bring them together under the unique concept of “strategic villages”. These “strategic villages” were indeed built up by the military in order to cut the links between the population and the guerrilla movements through the displacement and forced regrouping of rural zone’s inhabitants into these newly created villages. The military tried thus to use forced urbanization as a counterinsurgency measure to better control the inhabitants of these villages, to gain control over disputed territories and to expand (or to consolidate) state power over them.
This type of programs has been applied in decolonization wars in Africa and Asia (1950-1960) but also under authoritarian regimes in Latin America (1970-1980). My study has aimed at analysing for the first time the application of the strategic village’s programs in Latin America. Based on qualitative fieldwork undertaken in Argentina (Tucumán and Chaco) and in Peru (Ayacucho and Lima) and framed within social anthropology, sociology and human geography, this research had produced a seminal in-depth study of the daily life among the strategic villages in Latin America, by analysing the experience of the displaced population that was forced to inhabit in there. Moreover, my research has explored the way in which this program was conceived by the military and how it circulated in Latin America during the 70s and 80s.
Despite the various applications of this policy throughout the world, I showed that the construction of strategic villages regularly involves the support of foreign governments, the creation of militias, the destruction of old rural living spaces, the introduction of new infrastructure, and the production of profound changes in the surrounding communities and territories (Colombo 2018). In some cases, like in Argentina, these villages still exist and people who have been forcibly displaced continue to live there. Based on qualitative fieldwork, my study analysed the connection between mass violence and the so-called “military civic action programs”.
"My analysis was focused on two case studies, the Argentinian (1976-1983) and the Peruvian (1980-2000) one. To conduct this research, I used an multidisciplinary approach based on different methodology strategies (such as archive analysis, interviews with state actors, and ethnographic work conducted within the villages). During the first year of the MSCA program, I studied the construction and the present life of strategic villages in the province of Tucumán and Chaco (Argentina). The second year of the MSCA, 2017, was devoted to fieldwork conducted in Peru (Lima and Ayacucho). The third year of the MSCA, 2018, was devoted to the analysis of the collected data and focused on publishing and disseminating the main results of this research. Along the three years of the MSCA, I was able to create and consolidate different research networks, mostly in Argentina, Peru, Canada and France, through the organization of collective publications, workshops, and public activities (like the coorganzation of an exhibition).

Here a summary of the main results of the Strategic Villages program:
1. Strategic villages worldwide: Thanks to the MSCA research, I was able to demonstrate that some states (when facing the loss of state control over territories, especially with the emergence of guerrilla movements) will end up adopting very similar policies to control the population (Colombo 2018a).
2. The circulation of the Strategic Village program in Latin America: I was able to identify five Latin American countries in which the program of strategic villages has been implemented as a military policy: Brazil, Argentina, Guatemala, Peru, and Salvador. With this MSCA program, I was able to begin an analysis on the implementation and circulation of this military program in Latin America.
3. Ethnography and long-lasting effects of counterinsurgency policies: few enquiries have been conducted to study the lived experience of people that were forced to inhabit the strategic villages in Latin America so far. I was thus among the first scholars to conduct an ethnographic research inside the strategic villages in Argentina. This has allowed me, from one side, to reconstruct the way in which the program was applied in this country and, from the other side, to comprehend how the strategic village program was perceived and lived by the displaced population. I paid great attention to the long-term effects of this forced rural development policy, used by the military as a way to control the population and the territory at the same time (Colombo 2016).
4. Security and development: I exposed that the strategic villages program had a function not only of counterinsurgency but also of reconfiguration of society and territory under the cover of “development” policies (Colombo 2018b).

I published a total of 18 publications related to the MSCA program. Here, a summary of some of the publications:
• Colombo, P. (2019). ""Muertes fundadoras: pueblos estratégicos y militares ‘mártires’"", Hispanic Issue Online, no9, 2019. Pp75-92.
• Colombo, P. (2018a). ""Réaménagements territoriaux, contrôle des populations2028et stratégies contre-insurrectionnelles"", Critique International, No79, avril-juin 2018. pp.9- 24.
• Colombo, P. (2018b). ""Construire (dans) les marges de l’État, entre politiques2028de 'développement' et stratégies de contre-insurrection 2028(Chaco, Argentine, 1976-1980)"", Critique International, No79, avril-juin 2018, pp.87-110.
• Colombo, P. (2018c). ""Les villages stratégiques : politiques contre-insurrectionnelles et regroupements de populations2028"". Critique Internationale. No79, avril-juin 2018.
• Colombo, P. (2016). ""L’urbanisation forcée comme politique contre-insurrectionnelle. La vie au sein des villages stratégiques construits en Argentine (1976-1978)"", Cultures et Conflits, No 103-104, automne-hiver 2016. pp. 91-110."
The Marie Curie research program on “Strategic Villages” gave me an excellent opportunity to work on a topic almost unexplored until now: the construction of villages ex nihilo as a counterinsurgency strategy used by authoritarian regimes in Latin America (1970-1980). These years working on this topic led me to contribute to the state of the art with the following results:
1. I studied and systematize the general elements that constituted the strategic villages program (Colombo 2018a);
2. I published the first edited volume on the worldwide application of strategic villages (Colombo 2018c);
3. I demonstrated that it existed a national plan of construction of strategic villages in Argentina, which included the province of Tucumán and Chaco (Colombo 208b);
4. I published the first ethnographic pieces about the everyday life inside the strategic villages in Argentina (Colombo 2016, 2018b, 2019).
Poster workshop L'urbanisation comme instrument de guerre
Photos from the exhibition Violence in space (Buenos Aires, 2019)
Exposition Violence in space (Rosario, 2018)
Poster workshop Ciudad y dictadura
Interview for Critique Internationale 2018
Interview in Radio Canada
Photos from the exhibition Violence in space (Buenos Aires, 2019)
Book Espacios de desaparicion
Exhibition Violence in Space (Buenos Aires, 2019)
Poster workshop Development policies, space and violence in Latin America