LAW IN A LAWLESS LAND: Diary of a Limpieza

Michael T. Taussig, Author . New Press $25.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-56584-863-4

In books like The Nervous System (1992) and The Magic of the State (1996), Columbia University anthropologist Taussing has revealed the spasms of state-sponsored murder, economic devastation and persistent belief in magic lurking beneath the supposed new world order. His latest recounts two week-long forays into several small towns in Columbia to witness the phenomenon of "limpieza ," an outgrowth of a seemingly endless civil war between various guerrilla insurgents and the country's fragmented government. Limpieza , or "cleansing," is carried out town by town and involves the seemingly random killing of those who may or may not be contributing to the persistent disorder and violence, and may or may not be sympathetic to the FARC, ELN or M-19 guerrillas. The murders are carried out, frighteningly, by militias on motorbikes with laptops, called, variously and confusingly, paras (for paramilitary), autodefensas and pistoleros , in towns that often welcome their arrival. Taussig brilliantly recounts his own bewilderment in trying to understand, day by day, what is happening around him, and the ways in which the people there experience and talk about it. Taussig's forays take place in May 2001, and he notes in an afterword that the year's totals included 4,000 political murders and untold numbers of kidnappings, with two million people of the 43 million population displaced overall. With cocaine, sugar conglomerates and other First World interests participating indirectly, as Taussig shows, this is a horrifying and immediate first-person look at globalism's dark side, done with humor, despair and sympathy. (Dec.)

Reviewed on: 11/10/2003
Release date: 11/01/2003
Paperback - 222 pages - 978-0-226-79014-5
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