The Crisis of Forced Internal Displacement and the Struggle over the Right to Citizenship in Medellin

Workshop Panel: The Challenges of Access to Citizenship Rights, Latin American Studies Association Conference (LASA)

by Elizabeth Kerr, 2010


The human cost of Colombia’s ongoing violent conflict is most dramatically expressed through the forced displacement of nearly a tenth of the Colombian population. The phenomenon of forced displacement in Colombia demonstrates that despite the formal establishment of citizenship rights enshrined in the 1991 Colombian Constitution, full citizenship is an ideal far from being realised whilst up to four million people who are denied their basic social, political and economic rights. Referring to recent fieldwork, this paper reflects on the claims for access to citizenship rights made by those directly affected by displacement who have organised themselves in Medellin.


Forced internal displacement, understood as the act of having to flee a place of residence due to conflict, threats to safety and well-being, or human rights abuses, denies its victims the most basic of material preconditions to be able to live and participate as equal citizens within a modern-nation state.[1] In Colombia, over 4.3 million people have been internally displaced since 1985. [2] In a country of 45 million these figures are of grave concern (UNDP World Report, 2006). Whilst forced migration is not a new phenomenon in Colombia, in the 2000s the extent of it has increased despite the fact claims by the Colombian State that the conflict is over.[3] The majority of those affected by forced displacement already come from the most socio-economically marginalised sectors of the nation-state – the rural poor (with a high proportion of them Indians or Black).[4] This sector of the population has been both historically, and in current times, frequently denied their citizenship rights – understood as socio-political, economic and cultural rights[5] – due to socio-economic inequalities in society, the absence of the State, and an exclusionary patron-client political culture. Upon displacement those who have had to flee their homes continue to suffer the loss or absence of these rights, as they have inadequate access to food, shelter, health, education as well as protection and freedom from coercion by others. (Bellamy 2008) Therefore, thousands live in a situation whereby whilst still living within the country’s boundaries and formally maintaining membership to the State; they are effectively perceived as outside of the State by being denied their basic rights. (Pécaut 2000; Uribe de Hincapie 2000)

In this way, forced migration – both historical and current – has contributed to the growth of urban centres in Colombia (Naranjo Giraldo 1998). From the mid-1990s the phenomenon of ‘forced migration’ in Colombia began for the first time to be acknowledged at a national level due to the increasing numbers of people displaced by violence arriving to the cities, in many cases joining the ‘historical poor’ in the poverty belts of the cities. Finding their basic needs unmet a part of the displaced population began to organize and claim for municipal authorities and the State to attend to their needs, thereby making visible their plight. As such, some NGOs and academics argue that the displaced population has been involved in a struggle for recognition of their “right to the city” (Naranjo Giraldo 1998). Or, as Dagnino (1994) has argued elsewhere the struggle for a physical place has also become a struggle for citizenship.

The city of Medellin receives the largest percentage of those who are forced to uproot who come from within the department of Antioquia and from other areas of the country. It is estimated that out of a population of 2.4 million, at least 6.6% of the population have been forcibly displaced. (Naranjo Giraldo 2009:30-31) Drawing on fieldwork carried out between 2008 and 2009 in the department of Antioquia, with specific focus on the city of Medellin, this paper explores the perceptions of some of those displaced by Colombia’s ongoing conflict who are involved in the struggle to access citizenship rights in the city. As such, it will seek to examine the nature of responses to displacement in Medellin by displaced people’s organisations; the awareness of rights and the nature of claim-making; as well as the perceptions of the State’s responses to forced displacement at a local and national level. The final part of the paper will analyse these responses with a view to exploring what the case of forced displacement reveals in terms of obstacles to attempting to gain access to citizenship rights.


This paper is based on semi-structured interviews, and non-participant observation of displaced men and women active in displaced people’s organisations in Medellin over a six month period in 2009 as part of a PhD project on forced displacement and citizenship construction in Colombia.  Identification of the study’s subjects was made through theoretical sampling: firstly, aided by key non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Medellin working with internally displaced people in the city; and, secondly, through observation of meetings facilitated by the Instituto de Estudios Politicos (Institute of Political Studies) at the University of Antioquia who facilitated public meetings between members of OPDs, NGOs and municipal state authorities as part of the Plan Integral Único (the Unified Integrated Plan feeds into the Municipal Plan for Development).[6]  In addition to semi-structured interviews the author observed meetings and trainings of displaced people held by the Asociación Campesina de Antioquia, and a protest march attended by various displaced peoples’ organisations in July 2009. The paper also refers to studies taken by local state and university-led projects aimed at assessing and characterising organizational processes within the city.[7]

The city of Medellin was chosen due to the fact that it receives the principal receptor of internally displaced people (14% of the IDP population) and there is a recognised process of organisation by displaced people within the city (Ibáñez and Velasquez 2008). In addition, the city’s municipality has been seen to be one of the more progressive urban centres in its attitude to creating local public policy to attend to the needs of the displaced population, and as such has aimed to influence at a national level.[8]

The majority of those interviewed were chosen as they were prominent leaders of the organisations they represented. Observation of how those who had been displaced by Colombia’s on-going violent conflict respond to their situation during this period was very interesting given the national context which was evaluating the effectiveness of the responses of the Colombian government following the 2004 Constitutional Court ruling.

Displacement and Citizenship Rights

What does forced displacement reveal about citizenship, and what issues concerning accessing citizenship rights are brought up by the responses of the displaced in claim-making? If we are to take a simple understanding of citizenship, we see that it comprises of three basic components “… membership of a democratic political community, the collective benefits and rights associated with membership, and participation in the community’s political, economic, and social processes…” (Bellamy 2008). As such, citizenship is defined by the relationship between a given individual or set of people with the State. Yet, the work of Mehta and Napier (2008) on displacement and global citizenship points out how, forced migration, be it due to economic development or conflict, poses challenges to the concept of citizenship in its formal sense of belonging, or not belonging to the State.[9] Indeed, Mehta and Napier argue that “Many internally and internationally displaced people are denied […] conventional, formal citizenship, as they are seen as not belonging – a perception that is often both a cause and outcome of their displacement.” (Mehta and Napier Moore 2008:1) Consequently, the phenomenon of forced displacement demonstrates that ‘equal citizenship’ has been made impossible by the fact that thousands have lost their homes and the conditions to participate in enjoying their citizenship rights.

Within the context of Colombia, many of those who have been displaced in the political and social violence come from a section of the population which has traditionally never really had full citizenship, in the sense of possessing rights and holding duties incorporated in a social relationship with the state (Uribe de Hincapie 2001; Pécaut 2008).[10] It is interesting to note that at the same time that the citizenship question was being pushed in the 1980s and 1990s as part of a struggle for further political and social inclusion, a right wing paramilitary project emerged to counter-arrest this process which it saw as a project of left-wing insurgents. [11] This brought about the first major wave of forced displacement as peasant activists, trade unionists, and leftwing political activists who had been calling for more political inclusion were directly targeted in what has been described as ‘political cleansing’ (Deng 1995). This has resulted in a perverse scenario whereby Colombia has succeeded in adopting a progressive Constitution based on individual and collective rights, yet violence has persisted thereby obstructing the exercise of citizenship, and severely limiting the organizational capacities of civil society. In addition, clientelism has persisted. All of this has created a situation, where whilst competitive elections are held, there is still a failure to reach a democratic threshold due to the continuation of authoritarian enclaves maintained through the use of clientelism and violence, particularly in rural areas of the country (Fox 1994).

Thus, it may be helpful to view the actions of the displaced in claim-making in a similar lens to that which academic Evangelina Dagnino has used to view the struggles of social movements in Brazil. Dagnino suggests that in Latin America, the significance of citizenship has broadened and means more than the formal-legal acquisition of a set of rights (Dagnino 2005: 7). Consequently, Dagnino argues that the notion of citizenship has become a ‘crucial weapon’ for social movements, and academics alike, against social and economic exclusion and inequality (Ibid). Since the 1990s this struggle has in large part centred on the notion of the ‘right to have rights’.  Within the context of claim-making processes made by those displaced, or those acting on their behalf, on the State, Mehta and Napier (2008) argue for the importance of examining the actions of displaced people in attempting to participate in associational life or hew out a ‘political space’ stating that:

Though their rights are denied, many displaced people are claiming them, subjectively… […]Some are informally making rights real locally; others are protesting to international bodies when the state in which they reside fails to protect rights. ” (Mehta and Napier Moore 2008:1)

Nevertheless, the relationship between ‘claim-making’ and ‘citizenship’ is not necessarily straightforward. Jonathan Fox (2005) questions the agency-based approach to citizenship by distinguishing between claiming rights and actually gaining rights, stating that “…in practice, rights are constituted by being exercised, but only some attempts actually win respect for rights.” (Fox 2005:176) Secondly, the notion of ‘participation’ also comes into question through the associational practices of those making claims. On the one hand, as Dagnino states these have become an object of dispute “… appropriated and re-signified by dominant sectors and the state to include a variety of meanings.” (Dagnino 2005:3) Whilst, on the other hand, within the context of Latin America, and Colombia in particular, clientelistic practices often permeate these spaces and thereby run counter to acquiring true democratic citizenship (Fox 1994). Therefore, as García Sánchez (2003) suggests, in the new millennia, a tension exists between the opening of participatory spaces and their co-option by political clientelist networks, particularly at the local level:

“… surge una forma de ciudadanía avergonzada, que se debate entre la condena a los políticos y la aceptación silenciosa de sus condiciones, entre la certeza del poder del ciudadano y de los nuevos mecanismos de representación y el convencimiento de las bondades del clientelismo.” (Garcia Sanchez 2003:2-3)

This paper will, now, explore the actions of displaced people in Medellin considering the issues raised above. As such, it will reflect upon the struggle to access citizenship rights in the city within the context of prolonged violence.

The Struggle for Recognition of the Displaced in the City of Medellin

To a large extent the growth of Medellin has stemmed from the influx of migrants. Following the partisan violence of Colombia’s civil war in the 1950s and 1960s, campesinos fled to the city establishing settlements on the perimeter of the city; populating the valley slopes which would expand with subsequent arrivals of economic migrants in the 1970s and 1980s, and the new wave of forced migrants which has arrived since the mid-1980s (Naranjo Giraldo, Hurtado Galeano et al. 2003). Those who fled their homes have done so for a number of reasons including political persecution; witnessing atrocities, such as massacres and extra-judicial killings committed by paramilitaries or the guerrilla; the disappearance of relatives; fear of forced recruitment by illegal armed groups; drug-violence; or being forced off their lands for economic reasons. As such, since the end of 1990s the capital city of the department of Antioquia has been recognised as one of the principal cities in Colombia which receives people fleeing displacement who come from within the department and other areas of the country. Whilst the exact figure for displaced people living in the city is unknown, it is estimated to be between 123,000 and 350,000. [12]

Although initial victims of displacement arrived in Medellin following the expansion of right wing paramilitaries in the area of Magdelana Medio and the political violence in the northeast of Antioquia and Urabá; forced displacement as a phenomenon did not attract serious attention from the municipal government until the end of the 1990s. Initially the departmental government of Antioquia treated the issue in the same way as the national government, as a ‘natural disaster’, claiming that it did not have the financial resources to attend to the ‘emergency’ (IPC 1995:24).[13] As such, it appears that municipal authorities saw it as an ‘outside problem’ which needed to be addressed in the regions (Granada Vahos and Gonzalez Diaz 2009). Whilst at the level of the barrios (neighbourhoods) internally displaced people were removed from the land they had settled on, and coercive measures were employed against those displaced who dared raise their voice (ACA 2003; Naranjo Giraldo 2004).[14] Even when at a local and national level, forced displacement began to be acknowledged as an issue of concern through the passing of Law 387 which established a mechanism aimed at addressing and preventing displacement; in practice, the displaced population continued to be largely ignored and excluded in Medellin (Naranjo Giraldo 2004).

Eventually, attention to the issue of forced migration was given due to pressure asserted, on the one hand, from local NGOs and the Universities who had since the early 1990s shown concern for the population arriving in the city; and, on the other hand, from the displaced population themselves who had struggled through a series of collective actions including demonstrations and ‘tomas’ (take-overs) of public buildings, to make visible their plight (Granada Vahos and Gonzalez Diaz 2009). Consequently, since 2001 the plight of the displaced began to be taken seriously by the municipality through a serious of actions including: the formal recognition of the Comité Municipal de Desplazados (a Municipal Committee of the displaced) formed in 1998; commissioning a study on the state of the displaced in the city in 2003; and, establishing local public policy to address the humanitarian needs of the population. Therefore, the municipal government had begun a process of embarking on negotiation instead of ignoring the population, although some incidences of dislodging of displaced people’s settlements continued (Naranjo Giraldo 2004:9).

In the meantime, claim making by the internally displaced became prominent from around 1997 when displaced people began to form organisations. Initially the displaced who formed organisations, with the assistance of local human rights organisations, and a national organisation of displaced people, ANDAS (the National Association of Solidarity Support)  who attempted to mobilise a social movement of displaced people. Whilst it was not possible to form an overall social movement, a large number of displaced people in eastern neighbourhoods of the city did form the Social Movement of Displaced People (MOSDA).[15] Following the inaction of both the regional governor and the mayor many of the displaced decided to take part in ‘tomas’ and demonstrations which were to go on through until 2002. However, this attempt at building a grass-roots social movement ultimately failed in 2003 after the police arrested 75 members of MOSDA in a military operation, claiming that members were operating under the command of the guerrilla – a claim denied by NGO workers who worked alongside the movement. (Interviews with NGOs in Medellin March-April 2009; and Interview with Displaced Leader 04/03/09).[16] These actions against the displaced leaders were to bring about fear and mistrust amongst those who had participated in collective action, leading to a dramatic decrease in demonstrations and ‘tomas’(Granada Vahos and Gonzalez Diaz 2009).

Nevertheless, displaced people did not necessarily give up the struggle to make their voices heard. However, the nature of claim making restrained itself primarily to a more formal space, namely the Mesa de Organizaciones de Población Desplazada. Given the fact that the municipal authorities appeared to give more credence to this arena it appeared that a space was opening for negotiation rather than contestation. This second phase of organisation on the part of the displaced in the 2000s, has been shaped by national developments as well as regional developments. In particular, the Colombian State has been forced by the Constitutional Court (ruling T-025) to been seen to do more to involve the participation of the displaced population given the ruling in 2004 that the government’s response to the problems faced by internally displaced people was “unconstitutional”. [17] In response to the Constitutional Court ruling, the State has sought to facilitate the creation of new displaced peoples’ organisations (OPDs). Consequently, the number of OPDs in Colombia, and in Medellin in particular has grown significantly (Utec/Acción Social, 2008). Therefore, in the context of Medellin a new wave of displaced leaders representing these OPDs has emerged to take part in the Mesa, creating a new dynamic in the arena of claim-making on the part of the displaced population. This new generation of leaders contrasts in their relative inexperience in social activism to former MOSDA related activists.[18]

Claiming Rights to the City: Displaced People’s Organisations in Medellin

(i)     Displaced People’s Organisations (OPDs) in Medellin

In many respects the representatives of the displaced people’s organisations (OPDs) in Medellin demonstrated the heterogeneous nature of the population displaced by Colombia’s prolonged violent conflict. The nature of the organisations varies from organisations representing the African Colombian population displaced, to women’s organisations, to mixed organisations and neighbourhood based organisations such as the Juntas de Acción Comunal (Communal Action Committees). ‘Campesinos’ make up around one third of the organisations, whilst African Colombian Organisations make up around 10% of the organisations, with 61% of members of organisations being of African-Colombian descent. Sectors of the displaced population which are less represented include young people and indigenous groups. The majority of those taking on a prominent leadership role appeared to be men aged above 30 years, despite the fact that more than 20% of the organisations are women’s organisations and women are predominant in all organisations (Granada Vahos 2008).[19]

Whilst the number of registered OPDs is significant (110 organisations), the perception of leaders of displaced peoples organisations, NGOs and state functionaries interviewed was that the actual number of organisations effectively functioning was far less (UTec 2009).[20] Certainly, the organisations who are represented in a political forum where they interact directly with State institutions at a municipal level rather than at a neighbourhood level are far fewer. For example, it is estimated that the number of organisations which participate in the Mesa Municipal are estimated to be around 45 (UTec 2009). Many of the OPDs operate at a more basic level in the ‘comunas’ (‘neighbourhoods’), and are organised around a small group of families who club together to try and meet their subsistence needs. Typically there is substantial fluctuation within the OPDs, some appearing for a short time and then disappearing (particularly once they have obtained housing).

Whilst displaced people have been making claims for recognition and inclusion for over ten years the experience of leadership amongst the organisations currently active varies. The majority of the displaced leaders belong to the ‘second generation’, in that they came to the city in the 2000s and started to form organisations from that time onwards. Many of the leaders had previous organisational experience, particularly through the ‘juntas de acción comunal’ or as local councillors (‘concejales’) in their places of origin. As such, they were often tied-in to local political relationships which depended, in large part, upon patron- client relationships to regional and national government institutions. Only a small minority of leaders, mainly those who were either linked to ANDAS who has had a branch in Medellin since 1996, or to the Asociación Campesina de Antioquia (ACA) [21], had a militant background of having been involved with trade unions or the Peasant Movement. Indeed, many of the leaders stated that they had become more politically aware and questioned the political system due to their experience of displacement. It appears that through contact with local NGOs the displaced population has gained much more knowledge and awareness of their rights.

Their previous political experience, and the political awareness, gained since displacement has influenced the nature of claims made by the different organisations. Amongst the claims made by the displaced population in public meetings are the right to housing (‘vivienda’), jobs, and, income-generating projects (‘proyectos productivos’). These claims indicate that the displaced, by and large, do not see themselves returning to their lands, but rather are calling for the means to integrate and re-establish themselves in the city. Nevertheless, the way that displaced leaders frame the claims they are making differs, from making claims for a localised group or organisation to linking their claims to wider structural issues such as the restitution of rights for the displaced or reparation for what they have lost. On the whole, it appears that only a minority of the leaders refer to broader structural problems.

(ii)   Awareness of Rights and Claim-making

One of the successes cited in interviewees with NGOs and some local state employees working on displacement noted was that the leaders of displaced people’s organisations have been able to acknowledge and integrate a discourse that they have rights. They have also been able to interact with State institutions in public spaces such as the Mesa Municipal and the meetings for the Plan Integral Unico (PIU). Indeed in many of the public meetings which formed part of the PIU process displaced leaders demonstrated an awareness of their rights in terms of the legal mechanisms established to attend the needs of the displaced population.  As such, the language employed by the leaders reflected official laws and decrees, often centring on technical issues, demonstrating that many of the displaced have adopted the humanitarian discourse used by the state. As one displaced leader stated:

“Ah, in the end we’ve had to memorize all of the law in order for them [sic. state institutions] to be able to say you have a right to this or that. In the end it’s a tool we have to use…” (Interview with displaced leader, Maria, 07/07/09)[22]

This awareness of rights has been gained firstly, from real-life practical experience of trying to make sense of the complex bureaucratic system which is meant to provide material aid to the displaced population; and, secondly from having attended workshops on rights facilitated by local NGOs and the national NGO Codhes, and more recently by the State Institution, Acción Social. The training that the leaders have obtained has differed between capacity building offered by State institutions in order to understand and use the legal mechanisms established for the displaced, such as filing complaints and demands from the State (‘derechos de petición’); to human rights training offered by local NGOs. As one displaced leader states:

“… yes DEPARD, of course with the help of Acción Social … they have trained as a lot, they did capacity building in human rights with around 47 representatives of the displaced population and that was how I learned how to prepare all these writs… appeals.” (Interview with displaced leader José, 06/07/09)[23]

Therefore, we can see how the appropriation of the category of ‘displaced’ has taken place as an instrumental tool in attempting to access rights. For example, one of the displaced leaders from ANDAS who had been involved for over ten years in the struggle to make the plight of the displaced visible, claimed that it had been a huge achievement for the population affected by displacement to be given differential status; and, therefore treated as a category apart:

“… yes, a great achievement, we succeeded that the displaced population should remain apart from the poor or vulnerable population of Medellin, as a chapter apart; because they were saying here in the administration that we were eating up the money of the poor people of Medellin. […] we also managed to stay with a separate budget from the ‘reinsertados’ (reintegrated illegal armed actors), so that we wouldn’t fight with the victimizers…” (Interview with displaced leader, Lucho 04/03/09)[24]

However, the awareness of rights which displaced leaders hold contrasts to the general awareness of rights within the displaced population. It also appears that by and large it is only really the leaders who are aware of their rights, and they are therefore responsible for disseminating this information to members of their organizations. It is not always certain the extent to which leaders do this. When some of the leaders were asked to what extent they thought people who came to the city as displaced understood their rights most said that they thought most people were not aware of their rights. As one leader described:

“It scares one to see that people don’t know even how to go to the Alpujarra [the town hall]. They don’t know what a ‘tutela’ is. You say to them go this place, ‘But where is that?’, ‘But how? And what?’’ Where do we get food?’, and this is what they say to you, and you explain to them, you explain to them and they don’t understand, and they might know or not know how to read or write… They don’t know their rights, nothing, nothing.” (Interview with displaced leader, José 06/07/09)[25]

As another displaced leader states the burden on those arriving to the city is multiple as not only do they have to find somewhere to live, and a job, get around a large city; but they also have to get their heads around the complex legal framework established to address the issue of internal displacement.

Consequently, most displaced leaders have an instrumental knowledge of their rights as displaced people. However, only a minority are able to look beyond the technical application of their rights to wider structural issues, thereby framing the struggle for rights as more than claiming for assistance from the state:

“…the work is serious… The problem is not just about ‘mercados’ (commodities), but it’s a political work for the dignity of the displaced. We want the state to respond to us, to give us the truth, justice, reparation, that the problem isn’t just simply about ‘mercaditos’, but it’s about an integral problem that the State should respond in a serious way for housing, education, healthcare…  It’s a political problem, not ‘politiquero’ (‘politicking’) not about commodities. […] the problem is that we have to have a vision which goes beyond, is an integral problem. We have to start with the self-sufficiency of the displaced population, work here in the city …” (Interview with displaced leader, Lucho 04/03/09)[26]

Influential in having a broader perspective are the links between local OPDs and national level networks such as the Coordinadora Nacional de Desplazados (CND, National Coordination of Displaced People), ANDAS and the Asociación Nacional de Desplazados de Colombia (ANDESCOL, the National Association of Displaced People of Colombia). Whereas those organisations who tend to have more of a localised perspective often have closer ties to the state, owing their formation to Acción Social, who facilitated their establishment in order to be able to distribute material assistance.[27]

Unfortunately, many of the leaders of displaced peoples’ organizations fail to see beyond short term material needs. In addition, some of the leaders have also become embroiled in traditional patron-client relationships with state employees in order to gain access to material needs for themselves or for their members (their clientele). Interviews with displaced leaders and a municipal employee working with the displaced also suggested that some of the leaders had been provided assistance through the workings of one of the City Councillors in return for their political support. This situation in turn has led to tension and conflict within spaces such as the Mesa Municipal between displaced leaders. Much of this has to do with ideological differences, the level of political awareness within those displaced, and the mistrust and polarization which the on-going conflict in Colombia generates.[28] It also reveals the fragmented nature of the organisations which seems to make the possibility of forming a social movement of displaced people highly unlikely. Indeed at the time of carrying out fieldwork in Medellin the Mesa Municipal had split into two groups – A and B  – with those from group ‘B’ having a broader political approach to the problem of displacement. One of the displaced leaders spoke of the divisions between the displaced in the following terms:

“… recently there are certain leaders, that call themselves leaders, that are negotiating – and since in this city things are managed through ‘politicking’ – with certain state employees, from these institutions that attend to the displaced, UAO (the Unit of Attention and Orientation of Displaced People). Many are ‘politiqueros’ [lit. Political intriguer], that play the leaders along, and so they give them some ‘mercadito’ (‘goods’), things. They negotiate underneath the table.” (Interview with displaced leader, Lucho 04/03/09)[29]

Another displaced leader also remarked on how local state authorities played upon the divisions amongst the displaced organisations, taking advantage of the fractions within the displaced population so as to divert attention from having to meet the demands of the displaced. (Interview with displaced leader, Maria, 07/07/09)

(iii)  Perceptions of the State as Limiting the Possibility of Gaining Access to Rights

Therefore, whilst spaces such as the Mesa Municipal can be seen as successful instances of interaction, they are also imbued with complex dynamics between the displaced population, and between the State and the displaced. As such, the complex relationship that the displaced population has with State institutions is revealed. Nevertheless, despite the divisions amongst the displaced people’s organisations it appears that there is a general discontent and frustration with the state institutions which are meant to provide assistance and support to the displaced population. As one displaced leader complains:

“… all this work is like… each morsel that we ask for. […] We are made to become beggars. We don’t have access to what is ours by right” (Interview with displaced leader, Maria 07/07/09)[30]

Yet, there are often differences between how frustration is expressed. On the hand, some leaders strongly blame and target specific local state employees. For example, criticisms were made of one state employee in particular who worked with Acción Social who it was suggested was corrupt and favoured some displaced over others. Whilst others are able to see that the problem relates to structural issues. These structural issues lie at the heart of the Colombian political system, namely a weak decentralised system which limits the possibilities for attending to regional and local issues as the government maintains political control at the centre; and corrupt clientelistic practices (Vidal Lopez 2007; Ibáñez and Velasquez 2008).  As one displaced leader stated the problem was not necessarily just a local issue:

“… if the national government doesn’t send the resources, Acción Social can’t do anything at a regional level, because everything depends on what the national government sends. […] Acción Social at a regional level are pen-pushers. […] They gather a series of information, certainly. I have seen here in Antioquia, Accion Social, or rather certain employees… sit down and talk with the representatives of the displaced, but in other regions, in other departments employees from Acción Social don’t attend to you… At least in Antioquia they sit down with you and they say ‘we can help up to here’, or ‘I’ll have a look and see what I can do, but this depends on Bogota’, and that’s how it is…” (Interview with displaced leader, Lucho 04/03/09)[31]

Therefore, one of the biggest obstacles to gaining access to rights for the displaced population is the short-term vision of the State in addressing the needs of the displaced, and the unwillingness to see the issue as a phenomenon as more than an humanitarian emergency. As the Asociación Campesina de Antioquia states:

“…the issues which are proposed to the displaced population are only assistential, or rather what is needed for living day to day, and never allow for a debate on what a structural relevant exit to the problem. Or, rather they never talk about the truth. The problem is because they were thrown off their land, so they never talk about resettlement.  They never talk about the possibility of agrarian reform.  They never talk about income generating projects for those who are settled in the city, because we have to acknowledge the fact that the population has already lost its vocation as ‘campesinos’, and they don’t want to go back to the countryside. But they don’t talk to them about how they could be integrated into the city, be true citizens.  They don’t talk about any of these issues, they only use, manipulate the displaced population in order to legitimize these committees, called municipal or departmental…” (Interview with ACA, 02/03/09)[32]

Despite, the dire situation of the displaced, however, many still belief in the State, or rather the ‘Estado de derecho’ (‘State of law’) in specific, the ideal enshrined in the 1991 Constitution. As such, many of the displaced use the mechanisms of the Constitutional Court, particularly the ‘tutela’ in order to claim their rights.  One displaced leader commented:

“… the court has supported as a lot, a lot has been done, because at the beginning we were 68 families, we’ve managed to get 66 houses, minus mine which was still waiting on and that of another compatriot.” (Interview with displaced leader, José 06/07/09)

Due to the recognition that the Colombian Constitution gave them rights many of the leaders argued they had to fight to gain access to them. For this reason some of the leaders interviewed stated that they participated in political spaces such as the PIU process.

Unfortunately, this situation means that the displaced receive ad hoc support, and that meeting their needs and being guaranteed their rights is dependent on the will of the government. Consequently, some of the displaced are critical of the government. Frustration at the government is expressed in varying tones. From statements such as “The government is more overloaded than ever so guarantees less”; to more overtly political statements such as “… the President of Colombia talks… about the terrorism of the guerrilla, of terrorism, so I ask myself how can he call it, if the guerrilla is terrorism, how can he call this situation that they are doing to the people.” Indeed through the experience of displacement some of those displaced interviewed described how their political opinions had changed, and had radicalized.

As such, the comments of the displaced leaders contrast to the official discourse that things are improving in Colombia or the security advancements heralded by the two most recent mayors of Medellin. As one displaced leader states:

“…they say in the country with the Law 387 of 97, that is very pretty […] you look it at and you say it’s very nice, so why are the displaced complaining so much? Why are they crying so much? If here you give them cars, a house and study grant with Law 387… […] or rather it’s the ignorance and disregard of the State in its attention to the displaced.” (Interview with displaced leader, Lucho 04/03/09)[33]

Another displaced leader criticises the mayors of Medellin:

“… in these five or six years, they did wrong, in this ‘in Medellin nothing is going on’, ‘in Medellin everything is great’ as they said before. … ‘It’s all gossip, slander from the opposition’, as if one was a masochist for inventing something that wasn’t happening. So, this perspective, and with this the government, municipal and regional departments responded… […] The same at departmental level, for example, those killings that happened last year, those that have taken place this year, municipal employees present them as vendettas between drug traffickers, between demobilised […] but it’s not true, not all of these killings are of drug traffickers, social leaders, communal leaders are being killed…” (Interview with displaced leader, anonymous)[34]

Indeed, this was evident during the period of fieldwork. For example, during one of the PIU meetings fighting in one of the neighbourhoods broke out forcing several families to displace within the city. The Human Rights Ombudsman and Human Rights NGOs in the city also noted increased conflict within Medellin and the targeting of grassroots leaders, particularly since 2008.[35]

The situation of continuing conflict acts a serious obstacle which displaced leaders face, claiming rights in the midst of violence.  In addition, there appears to be a grave lack of protection for the leaders who work in a scenario where society remains polarised, and opposition to the predominant economic and political interests at both a local and national level is still difficult and at times risky. This situation reveals the difficulties of forming organisational processes in the context of on-going conflict. Despite having fled violence or the threat of violence and moving to the city many of the leaders remarked how they were still threatened. Many of them move from place to place due to the threats they have received. One of the leaders I interviewed had been displaced at least three times: once from his farm in Sincelejo, once from Cartagena where he had fled to due to threats he received as a displaced leader, and once from Medellin to Bogota due to continued threats (although he returned to Medellin).  There is no guaranteed protection for these leaders. Whilst the leaders reported these threats to the Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría), the leaders were often quite fatalistic in their attitude towards the threats. As one of the leaders remarked[36]:

“Yes, it is quite risky. […] Hey, someone like me, with the years that I’ve already lived, you can take risks. I’ve lived what I was going to live.” (Interview with displaced leader, José 06/07/09)[37]

However, it was also acknowledged that the first grouping of displaced people to challenge their situation of marginalisation, MOSDA, had been broken by state repression and paramilitary activity. Several leaders of this organisation were killed.

Obstacles to Claiming Citizenship Rights: Issues raised by the Actions of Displaced People in Medellin

Tilly (1990) defines the relationship between citizens and the state within the context of nation-state formation as a process of “struggle and bargaining with different classes in the subject population” (Tilly 1990:26). As such, contested spaces between citizens and the state mean that the formation of citizenship is in constant process, and therefore, open to expansion or reduction according to a given national or international context at a particular time (Holston 2008). The expansion or reduction of citizenship is contingent to numerous factors, including in the case of Colombia, prolonged political and social violence. The context of forced displacement serves as a tragic illustration of the notion of a reduction of citizenship or a closing of a political space. Yet, the struggle to gain access to rights by the displaced is also acted out within a scenario of opening and closing of political spaces where political and social violence continue to serve as the backdrop. Therefore, it is one thing to argue as Mehta and Napier (2008) that claiming rights is an experience of de-facto lived citizenship, and, another to be participating in claim-making amidst the threat of reprisals from armed actors or state repression as is the context in Colombia. A situation where between 2007 and 2009, 33 displaced leaders and community have been killed (CODHES 2010).[38] As such, we see that spaces for mobilization around rights in the city have been vulnerable to the dynamics created by of a prolonged violent conflict (Hurtado and Zapata 2006: 89-90).

In the meantime, the displaced population focuses its attention on attempting to integrate within the city. In order to do this, the displaced have through the formation of organisations, gained certain spaces in becoming visible as a collective, all be it a heterogeneous collective, thus claiming a space for the ‘right to have rights’. As such, they have had the opportunity to be present in political spaces which have opened up in the municipality such as the Mesa Municipal and the PIU. Observations of interactions with state and non-state entities, and interviews with some of the displaced leaders reveal that they have by and large appropriated the category of ‘internally displaced’ in order to differentiate their struggle to that of others in the city. However, in differentiating themselves from other victims of the conflict, or indeed others socio-economically marginalised, it as if they become a ‘separate category of citizen’, rather than an ‘equal citizen’. Rather the concern is that, whilst displaced leaders obtain an awareness of their rights, this remains limited to a particular humanitarian framework which makes them dependent on the State, separate from other members of society. Therefore, this means that broader issues such as seeking justice, and socio-economic equality, remain unquestioned.[39] Consequently, it is questionable to what extent the struggle for rights is always indicative of citizenship construction.

In addition, the focus of many of the leaders remains localised, focussed on the city, or indeed on what benefits their own organisation can obtain. The issue of claiming a ‘right to the city’ and equating it to a citizenship struggle raises concerns here, for the danger is that ‘citizenship’ is confined to the ‘city’, and, thereby issues relating to rural areas such as the return or resettlement of campesinos or investing in the countryside which has typically been worse hit by the conflict are ignored.

Access to citizenship rights is in great part facilitated by the establishment of autonomous associational spaces, which as Fox (1994) argues should mean that citizens are able to “… organise in defence of their own interests and identities without fear of external intervention or punishment.” (Fox 1994:151) The comments in the above section point to the difficulties in creating autonomous associations in Medellin. These difficulties centre on the persistence of clientelist practices both within the organisations, and external to the organisations as clientelistic relationships and alliances between different state and non-state actors are made which endanger their autonomy. This situation is of course also related to the persistent dynamics created by prolonged conflict – such as some leaders allying themselves with demobilised paramilitaries. However, it is true that some organisations do appear to demonstrate autonomous associations which are willing to contest and negotiate with the State. Nevertheless, the complex inter-relations and dynamics of displaced peoples organisations in Medellin serve as a warning not to either ‘romanticize’ about OPDs or displaced leaders or to ‘villainize’ them.

Rather, the dynamics of the OPDs are reflective of a wider scenario within Colombia, where academics have suggested that citizenship claims made by civil society continue to be dispersed, fragmented and restricted to particular issues (Bolívar 2001; Uribe de Hincapie 2001). So, that on the one hand, claims deriving from different types of exclusion and social and political inequality remain isolated in specific spaces, in terms of their relationship with the State and wider society. As such, frequently social actors propose making pacts with the state in order to achieve their own agendas rather than exploring or articulating democratic alternatives to the political regime. (Uribe de Hincapie 2001: 210-211)

 Here it is also important to reflect upon the gender practices of the OPDs which appear, in the case of Medellin to have largely sidelined women in political spaces. In terms of claiming full and equal citizenship rights until the organisations address the issue of increasing the participation of women in leadership positions in spaces such as the Mesa Municipal there is still some way to go.

Finally, as mentioned at the beginning of this paper citizenship, and, therefore, access to citizenship, is defined by the relationship between individuals and the State. Here lies perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to accessing citizenship rights in the case of those internally displaced in Colombia. For as long as the State denies addressing the issue of forced displacement as a serious political issue which goes beyond the immediate humanitarian issue and, indeed concerns how the nation-state is constructed, a substantial sector of the population will remain marginalised and excluded as they have done historically.  As the comments of the displaced suggest, gaining access to their citizenship rights is largely dependent on the political will of the government given the centralised nature of the Colombian State.  Here it is interesting to note the appropriateness of Fox’s comment that “… as long as authoritarian elites remain united, there is little room for the construction of citizenship rights.” (1994:156) Given the fact that the Colombian government continues to function primarily for the economic elite and the middle class the struggles such as that of the displaced remain sidelined. This then creates a ‘stalemate’ situation whereby the displaced resort to seeking the support of the Constitutional Court, which in turn criticises the government and repeatedly states that the state of addressing the problem of internal displacement in Colombia is ‘unconstitutional’.


This paper has sought to examine the responses to forced displacement in Medellin with a view to exploring what the case of forced displacement reveals in terms of accessing citizenship rights. In particular it has been interested in how displaced people have organised themselves into organisations of displaced people (OPD), and how the leaders of these organisations have participated in claim-making on behalf of the displaced population. By exploring the responses of the displaced through a ‘citizenship lens’, it has revealed the complexities of attempts to gain access to citizenship rights.

Through observation of political spaces between the displaced and state institutions, as well as trainings of displaced people and semi-structured interviews with leaders, NGOs and state employees; this research was able to uncover the diverse aspects of claim-making by displaced people in Medellin. On the one hand, this research revealed that only a minority of the leaders saw beyond the immediate humanitarian or material needs, and could identify claim-making with broader societal issues. It also showed that at times tensions between displaced organisations existed, demonstrating how the displaced population can at times be fragmented and divisive. On the other hand, the fieldwork revealed that the displaced leaders had an awareness of their rights, gained largely because of their displacement. As such, they are often able to use this knowledge instrumentally to argue for their rights. Nevertheless, the fieldwork also uncovered an extensive feeling of frustration, discontent and abandonment on the part of the State as it fell short repeatedly of meeting their needs. However, the displaced population demonstrate differing understandings of the problem. Some criticise local state employees without realising that there are wider structural issues at hand, and that these relate to Colombia’s political system, and the unwillingness of the government to pay attention politically to the issue of forced displacement in the country.

Finally, the struggle of displaced people in Medellin to claim access to their rights demonstrates the challenges around the notion of citizenship as well as claim-making. The experience of displaced leaders and displaced people’s organisations reveals a struggle for claiming rights that is not without contention. Their struggle demonstrates obstacles that face claim-making, such as: prolonged political and social violence; the sometimes contentious and not necessarily straightforward ‘right to have rights’ which exposes the issue of for what ends are these rights; a localised and particularistic view of claim-making and rights; division and conflict within associational spaces which weaken collective action; and, the restrictive nature of a State which discounts the plight of thousands of displaced people. Therefore, in sum, forced displacement exposes the disjuncture between an ‘ideal’ of citizenship – understood as membership of a democratic political community, collective benefits and rights and the freedom to participate – and, the lived reality of thousands of people in Colombia for whom this ideal is just that an ‘ideal’.


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[1] This paper employs the term ‘forced internal displacement’ or ‘forced displacement’ (terminology widely used in Colombia). ‘Forced displacement’ here is understood as “conflict-induced displacement”, used by the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM). Someone who has been ‘displaced’ has been obliged to flee their home or place of residence due to armed conflict, generalised violence and/or persecution on the grounds of nationality, race, religion, political opinion or social group.
[2] A further 3.7 million Colombians have sought refuge externally, mainly in Latin America and North America, due to the on-going conflict United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Statistical Online Population Database, (Accessed 24/01/10)
[3] The Adviser to the President, José Obdulio Gaviría has claimed that there is no internal armed conflict in Colombia, and that there are no displaced people, but rather there are ‘migrants. See: El País Según José Obdulio, Cambio, 2/11/08  (Accessed on 31/08/10)The Colombian NGO who monitors forced migration (the Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento, Codhes) has registered over 2.8 million displacements since 2000. Between 2007 – 2009 there were over 970,000 displacements. See:
[4] The Departamento Nacional de Planeación (the National Planning Department) estimated in 2008 that 92% of the displaced population have been displaced from rural areas, and, 8% from urban environments (cited in IDMC, October 2008: 10).  African-Colombians make up around 16.6% of the population of those internally displaced, whilst their representation in the general population is 11%. Indigenous people make up 6.5% of those internally displaced, whilst they only make up 2% of the overall population. (IDMC Colombia report, July 09. )
[5] Marshall, T. H. (1950). Citizenship and Social Class, and other essays, pp. 154. University Press: Cambridge.
[6] Unified Integrated Plans (PIUs) were established to allow for the participation of the displaced population in formulating, developing and monitoring the National Development Plan for 2006-10 at a municipal, regional and national level, following a ruling by the Colombian Constitutional Court which criticised the State for its failure to include the participation of the displaced population. (Ministerio del Interior y de Justicia, Decreto 250 de 2005, Bogotá: 3-4)
[7] Key projects have been carried out by the Unidad Tecníca Conjunta (UTC) of Acción Social and the University of Antioquia’s Political Studies Institute (IEP).
[8] Interview with Marcela Lopera, Acción Social (June 09); and conversation with Jorge Rojas, Codhes (March 09)
[9] Mehta and Napier (2008) examine three types of displacement in Palestine, Sri Lanka and Africa: development induced displacement (DID), refugees and internal displacement.
[10] Indeed, many have been historically excluded either due to their geographic isolation, or their economic and social marginalization, including, in particular, indigenous groups, African-Colombians, the peasantry, the urban poor and women.
[11] This arose from a growing deception with the clientelistic practices of the State, and protest against the infamous ‘estado de sitio’ (‘state of emergency’) commonly applied, as part of the counterinsurgency struggle Giraldo, J. (1992). Introduccion: El Desplazamiento Forzado en Colombia. Guerra Sucia y Desplazamiento: El desplazamiento interno en Colombia : Seminario-Foro Nacional, Chinauta-Fusagasugâa, 2 a 5 de noviembre de 1991Bogota, Instituto Latinoamericano de Servicios Legales Alternativos,Comision Intercongregacional de Justicia y Paz.,Inter-American Institute of Human Rights.: p.p.17-22, Costello, P. (1996). Colombia: The Silent Crisis of Internal Displacement. Writenet, Archila Neiva, M. (2006). Los Movimientos Sociales en la Encrucijada de Comienzos del Siglo XXI. En la Encrucijada : Colombia en el Siglo XXI. F. Leal Buitrago. Bogotá, Grupo Editorial Norma: p.p.261-289, Restrepo, L. A. (2006). Hacia el Reino de los “Cuadillos Illustrados”? Los Gobiernos Colombianos como Actores Politicos. En la encrucijada : Colombia en el siglo XXI. F. Leal Buitrago. Bogotá, Grupo Editorial Norma: p.p.27-48.Social movements such as the civic movement, the women’s movement, the peasant movement, students, indigenous groups and trade unions  were all involved in calling for political inclusion and the expansion of rights Hurtado Galeano, D. (2006). “La Formacion de ciudadanias en contextos conflictivos.” Estudios Politicos, Medellin 29(julio-diciembre): p.p.81-96. & Zapata.
[12] Officially the main state institution addressing internal displacement, Acción Social, states that there are 94,000 people displaced people in Medellin; the municipal government claims there are over 123,000 people displaced in the city; and unofficial estimates argue that the figure is closer to 350,000, which includes people who arrived prior to the setting up of the official registry and those who the State does not consider as displaced.  The State does not include the following as displaced: people displaced by paramilitaries, since it considers that they demobilised in 2004; those who have displaced from coca growing areas due to fumigation; and, those forced to displace within the city due to conflict in the city – ‘desplazamiento interurbano. See: CODHES, Boletín informativo de la consultoría para los derechos humanos y el desplazamiento, número 74, Bogotá 25 de septiembre de 2008.The Municipality’s Human Rights Ombudsman, the Personería has on numerous occasions criticised Acción Social in Medellin for failing to register people as displaced. (Personería de Medellin Press Release 03/04/20009; Interview with Personería de Medellin 22/04/09)
[13] Attention to displaced families was channelled through the Regional Committee for the Attention and Prevention of Disasters. (IPC 1995: 23)
[14] Interviews with Asociación Campesina de Antioquia 02/03/09 and Leader of Displaced Peoples’ Organisation, ANDAS (04/03/09).
[15] Interview with Displaced Leader 04/03/09; and, Interviews with local NGOs in Medellin between March and April 09
[16] The military operation ‘Operación Estrella VI’ in La Honda has been criticised for the involvement of paramilitary forces. See: Gonzalez Diaz, S. M. (2008). Campesinos desplazados en la ciudad : estrategias de participacion y accion colectiva : estudio de caso asentamiento La Honda, Medellin. Sociology, Department of Social Sciences and Humanities. Medellin, University of Antioquia. Undergraduate.
[17] This Court ruling came about as a consequence of the petitioning of hundreds of people internally displaced, who alleged that their constitutionally guaranteed rights were being violated through deficient or absent state action the Court proceeded to undertake a comprehensive revision of government policy.See: Constitutional Court decree, 177 of 2005, (Accessed 06/08/10)
[18] Those involved in MOSDA often had prior political activity in the Communist Party or the left-wing Unión Patriotica (UP), which had led to their displacement in the first place. (Interviews with NGOs in Medellin, April – March 2009)
[19] See: Allianza PIU 2006. Caracterización de investigaciones sobre desplazamiento forzado realizadas en la ciudad de Medellín. Medellín. 2005; and, Utec/Acción Social (2009) Módulo 3. Caracterización de las Formas Organizativas de la Población Afectada por el Desplazamiento en Medellín y Antioquia (unpublished).
[20]  Ibid (Utec 2009: 11)
[21] ACA differentiates itself from the NGOs in Medellin, in that its origins were as a membership association led by ‘campesinos’ (small farmers), due to the political repression against the peasant movement from the mid-1980s and increased displacement of their constituency to Medellin in the 1990s its governance structure changed to become an NGO. However, they continue to have campesino membership and hope to revert to becoming an association in the near future. Yet the majority of their employees are not campesinos as yet. (Interview with ACA 02/03/09 and non-participant observation March 09 – Aug 09)
[22] “Ah, finalmente hemos tenido que memorizar toda la ley para que… ellos nos decir tu tienes derecho a eso y eso. Es una herramienta que tenemos que utilizar.”
[23] “Sí, y el Dapard, claro ayudado por Acción Social, empujado, pero nos han capacitado mucho, capacitaron como a cuarenta y siete representantes de población desplazada en derechos humanos y ahí fue donde yo aprendí a elaborar todas estas cosas de derechos de petición… apelaciones.”
[24] “… si, un gran logro, logramos que la población desplazada, quedara aparte de la población pobre o vulnerable de Medellín, como un capítulo aparte, porque es que decía aquí en la administración, no lo que pasa es que los desplazados se le están comiendo la plata a los pobres de Medellín, en esa pelea, ponían a la gente pobre de Medellín, aparte de la población vulnerable, de los pobres históricos de Medellín, aparte de los reinsertados, o sea también logramos que quedara con presupuesto aparte de los reinsertados, para que no nos pusieran a pelear con los victimarios…”
[25] “… se queda aterrado de ver como no saben ni siquiera ir a la Alpujarra, no saben que es una tutela, les dice uno vea vaya allá a tal parte, ‘pero dónde queda eso?’ ‘pero cómo?’ y ‘qué se hace con esto?’ ‘con qué se come?’ y esto que le dicen a uno, y uno explíqueles, explíqueles y no entienden, y unos saben leer y escribir y otros no…”
[26] “… el trabajo es serio… El problema no es solo de ‘mercados’ sino que es un trabajo político por la dignidad de los desplazados, que queremos que el Estado nos responda por la verdad, por la justicia, por la reparación, que no es el problema simple de mercaditos, sino que es un problema integral, que nos responda por la vivienda, por la educación, por la salud, de una forma seria, un problema político no politiquero ni de mercado entonces el problema es político, una pelea grande con el Estado, no solamente con el funcionario de turno que tiene Acción Social, es un problema político de una salida integral para los desplazados, el problema que hay que tener una visión de más allá, un problema integral, tiene que empezar por el auto sostenimiento de la población desplazada, el quehacer aquí en la ciudad, mientras el Estado, o sea buscarle el quehacer, como cambiar la forma de trabajo”
[27] These organisations include ‘Familías en Acción’.
[28] For example, several displaced leaders from the Mesa Municipal claimed that other leaders had allied themselves with demobilised paramilitaries in order to gain access to government aid programmes. Indeed at least one leader was thrown off the mesa for his connections with demobilised paramilitaries, after other leaders were able to demonstrate the risks posed to the group.
[29] “… hay ciertos líderes, que se hacen llamar líderes, últimamente, que están negociando con esas – y como en la ciudad se maneja de una forma politiquera – ciertos funcionarios, de esas entidades que atienden a los desplazados, de la UAO (la Unidad de Atención y Orientación al Desplazado). Muchos son politiqueros, le hacen el juego a estos líderes y ahí les dan mercadito, cositas, negocian por debajo de la mesa…”
[30] “… todo ese trabajo es como […] cada bocadito les pedimos. […] Nos hacemos lismonear. No tenemos acceso a lo que es nuestro derecho.”
[31] “… si el gobierno nacional no envía los recursos, Acción Social no tiene nada que hacer a nivel regional, porque todo depende de lo que mande el gobierno nacional. […] Acción Social a nivel regional son unos tramitadores. […]…. va a ser el mismo problema, no te soluciona nada, porque aquí el nivel regional no tiene plata, si el nivel nacional no te la manda. Ellos recopilan aquí una serie de información, cierto, por ejemplo he visto que aquí en Antioquia Acción Social, si quiera ciertos funcionarios […] se sientan hablar con los representantes de los desplazados, pero hay otras regiones, otros departamentos que los funcionarios de Acción Social no te atienden, no se sientan hablar con usted, porque a ellos no les da la gana, en cambio aquí en Antioquia, hay como eso, se sientan con usted, aquí en Antioquia siquiera se sientan con usted y le dicen nosotros podemos hasta aquí o yo miro que puedo hacer, pero esto depende de Bogotá y es así.”
[32] “…los temas que se le proponen a la población desplazada es solamente temas asistenciales. O sea como para el diario vivir. Y nunca se permiten dar debates para la salida estructural y coyuntural del verdadero problema. O sea nunca hablamos de verdad, de que es el problema – es porque les fueron despojados de sus tierras. Entonces, nunca se habla de retornos. O nunca se habla de reubicación. Nunca se habla de posible reforma agraria. Nunca se habla de proyectos productivos para aquellos que se sienten de ciudad, porque hay que reconocer también que hay población que ya perdió esa vocación campesina y no desean volver al campo, pero no se les habla de cómo pueden ellos insertarse a la ciudad y ser verdaderos ciudadanos. No se hablan ninguno de esos temas. Solamente utilizan, manipulan la presencia de la población desplazada en aras de legitimar estos comités, llámese municipal o departamental…”
[33] “… dicen en el país con la ley 387 del 97, que es muy bonita, yo creo que usted la ha leído cierto, usted la ve y dice muy bonita, los desplazados por qué se quejan tanto, por qué están llorando tanto, si aquí les dan carro, casa y beca con la ley 387. […] o sea es el desconocimiento del mismo Estado para la atención a los desplazados.”
[34] “… esa ha sido una negativa de los últimos alcaldes, de estos dos periodos, en estos cinco o seis años, hacia la negativa esa de que en Medellín no pasa nada, que en Medellín está todo chévere, como se decía anteriormente, que eso es todo chisme, calumnia de la oposición, o sea como si uno fuera masoquista de inventarse algo que no está sucediendo, entonces esa es la visión y con eso responden los secretarios de gobierno, del municipio, del departamento que la fuerza pública está en todos los sectores de Medellín. Lo mismo a nivel departamental, por ejemplo los muertos que hubieron el año pasado y los que han ocurrido este, los presentan los funcionarios municipales como vendetta entre narcos, entre desmovilizados […] Entonces los asesinatos que ha habido el año pasado y este, la administración los presenta como vendettas entre narcos, entre desmovilizados… […] Pero no es cierto, no todos los asesinatos son de narcos, dirigentes sociales, dirigentes comunales vienen siendo asesinados…”
[35] See: ‘Informe de Derechos Humanos 2008’ Personería de Medellin. (Accessed on 30/08/10)
[36] Although, he did also comment in the interview that his son who he had been living with had decided to move away as he thought his father’s activities were too dangerous.
[37] “Sí es bastante arriesgado. […] Ya, uno como estoy yo, los años que tengo ya, uno se arriesga. Ya vivó lo que iba a vivir….”
[38] See: CODHES (2010). Boletin Informativo de la Consultoria para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento. Codhes Informa. Bogota, Codhes.
[39] It is interesting to reflect here on parallels with Peru as raised by Stepputat and Sørensen. Stepputat, F. and N. Sørensen (2001). “The Rise and Fall of ‘Internally Displaced People’ in the Central Peruvian Andes.” Development and Change 32: 769-791.

One thought on “The Crisis of Forced Internal Displacement and the Struggle over the Right to Citizenship in Medellin

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