Colombia's Drug Trafficking Subculture: Its Literary Representation in la Virgen De Los Sicarios and Rosario Tijeras

Article excerpt

Introduction

VIOLENCE SEEMS TO FORM a central part of Latin American and Caribbean history. In fact, Latin America has not only suffered from colonial violence, which has condemned it to its peripheral position, but it has also experienced the violence inherent in the very constitution of the state and social order. In addition, the current era of globalisation has intensified this phenomenon, as it has deepened the state of dependency and the inequality which exist within and beyond national territories.

The focus on Colombian violence and its literary representation may seem limiting, as this is a social problem that has spread throughout the continent, and the Caribbean.1 However, the increasing use of the term "colombianisation" within national and international borders to define a situation of extreme violence, illustrates the cultural and political significance this country has assumed on the global stage, in relation to violence. Indeed, Colombia has been subjected to multiple forms of violence, and this multiplicity has been completely infiltrated by the submerged economy of drug trafficking organisations.2

Over the last twenty-five years this widespread violence has ceased to be a rural phenomenon and has taken on many urban features. This is due to the fact that the war between drug barons, guerrilla and paramilitary groups, and the high levels of unemployment in the countryside have forced people to abandon rural areas in large numbers. Thus, Colombian cities have experienced an uncontrolled expansion of outlying areas called comunas, labyrinthine territories excluded from the benefits of the city and which consequently do not abide by the rules established for the rest of the metropolis. Using the term coined by Carlos Monsiváis,3 these cities have become 'rituals of chaos' where fear, as a common denominator, permeates social interactions, leading to the existence of multiple subcultures through which frustrations and conflicts affecting many social sectors are expressed. Although this situation has increased the fragmentation of the city and implied a dramatic rupture in the social order, it has not manifested itself as a catastrophe because it offers a variety of opportunities. Violence, far from being an ephemeral product, has turned into the financial base of many Colombian citizens,4 and the professionalisation of 'the violent' has become a part of the country's informal economy, giving rise to a society dominated by terror. This is what Susana Rotker has defined as 'the citizenship of fear',5 a market tendency in which the lack of trust between one citizen and another intensifies, marking the shift from citizen to potential victim.

Bearing in mind the weakness of the state,6 membership in the criminal Colombian underworld seems to be a unique way out - often perceived as a magical solution - an escape not only from economic problems but also from social invisibility. In this context, the emergence of the drug trafficking subculture, while establishing a strong criticism of capitalism, suggests a criminal way out that constitutes a modus operandi in the anomic sectors. Indeed, drug trafficking offers an exhilarating route to enrichment and social recognition. In the analysis of any subculture it becomes difficult to determine if such a culture operates within or against the base of the hegemonic one, which, in this case, may be seen as a paradoxical linkage. The drug trafficking subculture, whilst implying a notion of difference from the dominant culture, imposing itself against the institutional juridical order and installing a set of special values, symbols and merchandising, is in fact, within certain parameters, constituted by this same hegemony, as fashion and consumerism.

Youngsters inhabiting the marginal areas of the city, the comunas or urban ghettos, are the most vulnerable group within this world of crime and murder linked to drug trafficking. They have been trapped in a global system and a society that is existing within one of the strictest paradigms of neo-liberalism and capitalism operating during the last decades of the twentieth century. …