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Hunting Indians: Globally Circulating Ideas and Frontier Practices in the Colombian Llanos

  • Carwil Bjork-James (a1)

In the mid-twentieth century, renewed colonization of the Llanos region of Colombia brought escalated violence to the closely related Guahibo and Cuiva peoples. This violence was made public by two dramatic episodes that became international scandals: a December 1967 massacre of sixteen Cuivas at La Rubiera Ranch, and a 1970 military crackdown on an uprising by members of a Guahibo agricultural cooperative in Planas. The scandals exposed both particular human rights abuses and the regional tradition of literally hunting indigenous people, and provoked widespread outrage. While contemporaries treated these events as aberrations, they can best be explained as the consequence of policies that organize and manage frontiers. Both events took place in a region undergoing rapid settlement by migrants, affected by cattle and oil interests, missionaries, the Colombian military, and U.S. counterinsurgency trainers. This paper draws on archival research to trace the events involved and explains their relation to globally circulating policies, practices, and ideas of frontier making. It illustrates how Colombians eager to expand their frontier in the Llanos emulated and adapted ideas of human inequality, moral geographies that make violence acceptable in frontier areas, economic policies that dispossess native peoples, and strategies of counterinsurgency warfare from distant sources. Ironically, their quest for modernity through frontier expansion licensed new deployments of “archaic” violence. The Llanos frontier was thus enmeshed in an interchange of frontier-making techniques that crisscrosses the world, but particularly unites Latin America and the United States.

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