Historians Amidst Violence

Christopher Abel on the often dangerous work of academics in Colombia

Readers of the daily press will know that in the struggle to consolidate a democratic order in Colombia numerous judges, journalists, soldiers and police have been killed in conflicts with the drugs cartels and their paramilitary allies, with the guerrillas, and with ordinary gangs of criminals. Other professionals too have been assassinated, among them doctors, nurses and dentists, who have led community health campaigns in the suburbs of Medellin against narcotics addiction among local youth and have been killed for their pains by local-level mafias. I remember well the deflated atmosphere of a secondary school in Medellin that I visited in 1988, where schoolteachers were doing their best to maintain a semblance of normality, but where the rector, a Catholic priest, had been murdered two weeks before in his office while the children were in class. The murder had occurred because the priest had tried to expel drugs-dealers from the school playground; and was clearly part of a campaign to intimidate head-teachers, many of whom are laymen and women with their own children to consider.

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