• Check out La Teta Asustada (The Milk of Sorrow)

  • “Beautiful Souls,” today at 11:30 in WJH 105

    For my Boston-based friends and colleagues, please join me for a discussion with author Eyal Press.  His book explores the other side of  Christopher Browning’s “ordinary men,” or Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil.” Mr. Press speaks with those who did not just go along, but somehow managed to keep their moral compass while those around them overwhelmingly did not. Who are these ordinary people who maintained their decency in extraordinary times?

  • Commentary from the International Crisis Group regarding peace negotiations in Colombia

    Homepage > Regions / Countries > Latin America & Caribbean > Andes > Colombia > Colombia: Peace at Last?

    From the International Crisis Group, 9/26/2012

    Colombia: Peace at Last?

    Latin America Report N°45 25 Sep 2012

    The executive summary is also available in Spanish. A full translation will be available shortly.


    After decades of failed negotiations and attempts to defeat the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) militarily, a political solution to the Western Hemisphere’s oldest conflict may be in sight. Following a year of secret contacts, formal peace talks with FARC are to open in Oslo in October 2012 and continue in Havana. They may be extended to the ELN. There seems a firmer willingness to reach an agreement, as the government realises military means alone cannot end the conflict and FARC appears to recognise that the armed struggle permits survival but little else. With no ceasefire in place, both sides must act with restraint on the battlefield to generate immediate humanitarian improvements. And they will need to balance the requirements of fast, discreet negotiations and those of representativeness and inclusion. The government and the guerrillas have the historic responsibility to strike a deal, but only strong social and political ownership of that deal can guarantee that it leads to the lasting peace that has been elusive for so long.

    There are many challenges, but they are, on balance, less formidable than on previous occasions. Scepticism towards the guerrillas remains widespread, and there is political opposition to the talks, most vocally and radically articulated by former President Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010). His discourse resonates strongly among large landowners and other powerful regional actors with significant stakes and a historical proclivity for using violence to defend their interests. But the large majority of Colombians back a peace process, and mainstream political forces have endorsed it, though a failure to secure quick results could breathe new life into political resistance. The security forces are better aligned with the civilian leadership than in the past and represented at the negotiation table, reducing risk of the coordination failures between political and military agendas that have marred previous peace attempts.

    Broader conflict dynamics also encourage a political settlement. With neither side likely to win by arms alone, both have a strong incentive to negotiate. FARC is weakened militarily, but an entire generation of its leaders now has possibly its last opportunity to vindicate decades of struggle in a peace deal that responds to some of the issues that spawned the insurgency and that allows the guerrillas to participate in the construction of peace as social and political actors. The government operates from a position of strength. Its military advantage, if not decisive nevertheless appears irreversible; Santos, who is more sensitive than his predecessor to victims’ rights, has started to tackle problems such as rural development that are of direct concern for the guerrillas, and his administration has acknowledged the state’s responsibility for some key human rights violations. It also still has a reasonably cohesive partner to deal with, avoiding the problems that can be envisaged if more years of heavy military pressure were to cause FARC to splinter.

    Nevertheless, the outcome depends on more than the will and negotiating skill of the parties. After 50 years of guerrilla warfare, systematic human rights violations and indifference by both to the plight of rural areas, communities in conflict regions no longer consider the guerrillas defenders of their interests and have lost faith in the state’s capacity and willingness to solve their problems. Negotiations thus need to be sustained by the active participation and endorsement of civil society, notably of rural and indigenous communities. To lay the foundations for durable peace, talks will ultimately need to lead into a wider social process aimed at tackling the problems affecting the countryside that provide the backdrop for the conflict. Lasting peace is also only possible on the basis of accountability for the many grave abuses committed by all sides in the conflict. The international community, represented during the talks primarily by Norway, Cuba, Venezuela and Chile, will need to stand by Colombia throughout, including as it takes up the challenges of a post-conflict society.

    Fears over peace talks are tactically exaggerated by their opponents. But those promoting a political settlement also need to keep expectations in check. A deal would not eliminate violence. It likely would fail to convince some FARC elements to lay down arms, notably those deeply involved in the drugs trade. There would still be significant security threats from illegal armed groups rooted in the officially demobilised paramilitaries and from other organised criminal gangs. Nor can the socio-economic problems underlying the conflict be solved overnight. But ending the conflict with the guerrillas would give Colombia the best prospect yet to come to grips with all these issues. Crisis Group will accompany the process with analysis and recommendations on the substance of the agenda.

    Ten years of intense counter-insurgency warfare have greatly weakened the combat strength of the guerrillas and pushed them into ever more remote rural hideouts, substantially reducing the impact on the major urban centres. But the conflict still costs lives on a daily basis, holds back socio-economic development and impedes the consolidation of a truly inclusive and pluralistic democracy. The road ahead will not be short or smooth, but Colombia cannot afford to muff this chance for peace.


    To mobilise broad social, political and institutional support for the peace process and minimise the potential influence of spoilers

    To the Government of Colombia:

    1.  Ensure civil society ownership and effective buy-in to the peace process, notably in conflict-affected communities, by:

    a) delivering swiftly on the reform agenda, with a priority on consolidation policy, land restitution and other forms of victims’ reparation as provided for in the 2011 Victims and Land Restitution Law; and improving protection of community leaders, human rights advocates and endangered land recipients by mechanisms consulted with them;

    b) ending the stigmatisation or criminal prosecution of even the most strident peaceful political dissent; and

    c) providing for inclusive, well-organised, safe and effective civil society participation on and input to all points of the negotiations agenda, as promised in the 26 August pre-accord; actively reach out to conflict-affected communities and to indigenous peoples as well as Afro-Colombian communities, in line with their consultation rights under the constitution; and ensure full accountability for decisions.

    2.  Involve key political decision-makers as negotiations advance, balancing the need to reach substantive commitments with FARC at the negotiations table with respect for democratic processes so that the appropriate institutions remain the main forums for relevant policy decisions.

    3.  Ensure that any political settlement leads into a wider social peacebuilding process aimed at meeting basic rights and addressing Colombia’s rural problems in continuous dialogue with local communities.

    4.  Ensure buy-in of the security forces, including by:

    a) reducing judicial uncertainty through strengthening of the independence, capacities and impartiality of military courts; and

    b) beginning discussion on eventual security sector reform and post-conflict mechanisms to provide benefits to demobilising security personnel.

    5.  Reduce impunity risks by ensuring that all grave human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL) violations remain under civilian jurisdiction and by strengthening mechanisms to guarantee the transfer of cases from military jurisdiction to civilian courts.

    6.  Step up efforts to fight New Illegal Armed Groups (NIAGs) and other organised crime groups, including front structures and corrupt networks, in a more integrated manner, particularly by giving law enforcement agencies the resources, capacity and incentives to investigate and prosecute the full spectrum of NIAG and related crimes, starting in the conflict-affected regions.

    7.  Publish, through the Vice Presidency’s Human Rights and IHL Observatory, timely and constantly revised updates of major conflict variables so as to facilitate the objective of monitoring of hostilities and their humanitarian impact during the negotiations.

    To the Government, the Armed Forces and FARC:

    8.  Achieve a bilateral ceasefire in an early phase of negotiations, and in the meantime, in order to produce humanitarian relief in conflict zones and minimise risk of destabilising the peace talks, immediately exercise military restraint, in particular by:

    a) respecting the principle of distinction and, particularly, the rules of precaution and proportionality in attacks, as stipulated by customary IHL. This implies stopping the use of civilian infrastructure, such as schools, to hide and conduct military operations; and taking all possible measures to avoid direct or indirect violence against civilians;

    b) granting and securing permanent access to the conflict areas to humanitarian agencies and public social institutions in order to guarantee health, food and other basic services;

    c) FARC should accept all international standards on the conduct of conflict, including those that prohibit the use of minors, and progressively release such minors as may be in its forces; security forces should no longer use minors for intelligence and surveillance tasks and make this commitment public;

    d) security forces should restrict bombardments, in particular in areas close to civilian housing; reduce aerial coca fumigation to the absolute minimum; refrain from actions that result in mobility restrictions for communities; give communities explicit guarantees that allow local and unavoidable communication with FARC for humanitarian purposes; and recognise that such or similar incidental contacts or physical proximity do not make civilians guerrilla supporters; and

    e) FARC should immediately release hostages it might still hold and provide information about those whom it formerly held and are unaccounted for; halt attacks using car bombs or other devices with indiscriminate effects that pose significant risks for civilians; refrain from attacks on water, energy and electricity infrastructure and armed blockades; and lift existing restrictions on access for humanitarian actors.

    To all parties to the negotiations, including international facilitators:

    9.  Ensure that women effectively and substantively contribute in all aspects and elements of the peace process; and commit to comply with all relevant international norms, including those enshrined in the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and Security Council Resolution 1325 and associated texts.

    To the International Community, in particular major donors including the U.S. and European Union:

    10.  Enhance and renew political and financial support for the initiatives aimed at improving the humanitarian condition of the affected population, including de­min­ing, return of the displaced and reintegration and reparation for victims.

    11.  Maintain and, if possible, increase levels of funding for human rights defenders, local or regional peace initiatives and capacity-building programs for local NGOs and social movements; and support civil society in critically, autonomously and constructively engaging with the negotiation process and the resulting post-conflict order.

    12.  Announce willingness to assist in providing technical, financial or other support as may be requested by parties to implement agreements.

    Bogotá/Brussels, 25 September 2012


  • Violentology, An Event for my Boston-based Colleagues


  • “I know why the caged bird shrieks” by Charles Blow


  • For friends and colleagues in the Boston area

    Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times


    A Conversation with the author, Eyal Press

    September 27th, 11:30-1:00, William James Hall 105

    On the Swiss border with Austria in 1938, a police captain refuses to enforce a law barring Jewish refugees from entering his country. In the Balkans half a century later, a Serb from the war-blasted city of Vukovar defies his superiors in order to save the lives of Croats. At the height of the Second Intifada, a member of Israel’s most elite military unit informs his commander he doesn’t want to serve in the occupied territories.

    Fifty years after Hannah Arendt examined the dynamics of conformity in her seminal account of the Eichmann trial, Beautiful Souls explores the flipside of the banality of evil, mapping out what impels ordinary people to defy the sway of authority and convention. Through the dramatic stories of unlikely resisters who feel the flicker of conscience when thrust into morally compromising situations, Eyal Press shows that the boldest acts of dissent are often carried out not by radicals seeking to overthrow the system but by true believers who cling with unusual fierceness to their convictions. Drawing on groundbreaking research by moral psychologists and neuroscientists, Beautiful Souls culminates with the story of a financial industry whistleblower who loses her job after refusing to sell a toxic product she rightly suspects is being misleadingly advertised. At a time of economic calamity and political unrest, this deeply reported work of narrative journalism examines the choices and dilemmas we all face when our principles collide with the loyalties we harbor and the duties we are expected to fulfill.

    About the Author

    Eyal Press is the author of Beautiful Souls (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), an exploration of what animates individual acts of courage and conscience in dangerous circumstances.  Framed around the stories of four people who defy the sway of authority and convention when thrust into morally compromising situations, the book has received critical acclaim in publications including The New York Times and The Economist. A former recipient of the James Aronson Award for Social Justice journalism, Press’ work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, The Nation, The Atlantic, The Raritan Review and numerous other publications.  He is also the author of Absolute Convictions (Henry Holt, 2006), a narrative account of the abortion wars that racked the city of Buffalo, NY.

    Book Reviews

    Too often we think of courage only as something required to charge into gunfire or scale an icy peak. Eyal Press looks at courage of a different and far more important kind. His examples spread across decades and continents, and he is wise enough to know that it can take as much bravery to defy an unethical corporation as it does to resist a totalitarian regime. This is an important and inspiring book.”

    –Adam Hochschild, author of To End All Wars and King Leopold’s Ghost


    Beautiful Souls helps us understand why a minority stands on principle when a majority fails. It’s an important book for our time, about conscience, group pressures, ethics, and psyches, and a beautifully crafted one that never falls prey to simple answers about matters of conscience.”

    –Rebecca Solnit, author of A Paradise Built in Hell


  • An interesting text on the negotiations with the FARC, by Claudia Lopez


  • Students Loans

    As we watch the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, it is  worth noting the distinct stances on student loans. I am certain many of my friends and colleagues have student loans to thank, in part, for our education. I worked throughout both my undergraduate and graduate school years, at times well beyond 40 hours per week. However, it was student loans that made up the gap and allowed my to pursue and complete my PhD.

    Mitt— I did not have parents to loan me the money. Wake up.

    I am a Harvard professor today because the student loan program made it possible to combine my hard work and efforts with the necessary economic support. I was not looking for a ‘hand out,” and certainly will vote in such a way as to assure — to the best of my ability — that student loans exist in the future to help other students.

  • From Chapter Five,Intimate Enemies….

    From “Common Sense, Gender and War”

    In the village of Accomarca they told us about Eulogia, a young woman who died long before our arrival but who continues to appear in the memories of various women we spoke with. Eulogia was mute and lived during the time when the military base sat on the hill overlooking Accomarca. The soldiers came down from the base at night, entering the house Eulogia shared with her grandmother. They stood in line to rape her, taking advantage of her inability to verbally express her pain. Her female neighbors told us, with a mixture of compassion and shame, that “We couldn’t do anything. We were afraid they would visit us as well.” So they listened to her at night, along with her grandmother who sat across the room, unable to protect her granddaughter.
    Eulogia’s muffled, guttural sounds still resonate in her neighbor’s ears. “We knew by the sounds. We knew what the soldiers were doing, but we couldn’t say a thing.” The soldiers succeeded in depriving everyone of their capacity for speech.
    There are two versions of how Eulogia died. Some told us she had fallen, walking down the steep cliffs toward Lloqllepampa. Others insisted she threw herself from those cliffs, unable to bear her pain. Elaine Scarry has argued that pain and torture seek to “unmake the world” and to rob human beings of their capacity to speak and to make sense—a sense that one can share with other human beings. Eulogia could not resort to language: she could not put words to her pain; she could not denounce injustice. She also appears in my memories: it is impossible to erase the image of a young woman screaming with all her might, unable to say a thing.
    When people talk about rape, they talk a great deal about silences. What to do with these silences—how to listen to them, how to interpret them, how to determine when they are oppressive and when they may constitute a form of agency—is a subject of much concern and debate. Clearly if there is a theme capable of imposing silence, it is rape. Women have many reasons to hide that they have been raped and, with justice a distant horizon, few reasons to speak about a stigmatizing, shameful experience.
    My goal is not redundancy. We know rape can be a strategy of war, and recent developments in international jurisprudence have recognized this. I am also averse to presenting graphic details that may resemble a pornography of violence and that may be yet another violation of the women with whom I have worked. Rather, I want to share some of the conversations that my research team and I have had, addressing a series of themes that left a deep impression upon us.
    First, I explore the historicity of memory, discussing how certain victiim categories become “narrative capital” within the context of a truth commission. Second, I turn to what women talked about and how their narratives are “thick description” in the best anthropological sense of the term. Drawing on their thick descriptions, I examine some assumptions about what constitutes a “gendered perspective” on armed conflict. In doing so, I discuss how women talked with us about rape and the emphasis they placed on how they had attempted to defend themselves and their family members. Third, I examine how women were coerced into “bartering” sex to save their lives and the lives of their loved ones. I then discuss how rape between men and women—and between men—was a form of establishing relations of power and “blood brothers.”  I conclude this chapter by considering some of the legacies of the massive sexual violence that characterized Peru’s internal armed conflict, reflecting on the possibility of reparations in the aftermath of great harm.

    Copyright ©  University of Pennsylvania Press
    All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations used for purposes of review or scholarly citation, none of this book may be reproduced in any form by any means without written permission from the publisher.
    Published by University of Pennsylvania Press Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ␣à␣-␣␣ http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress

  • To purchase Intimate Enemies: Violence and Reconciliation in Peru