Working in Colombia during the pandemic
Undoubtedly, this year has been hard for many in and outside of academia. I arrived in Colombia to take up the Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship with the Facultad de Jurisprudencia, at the Universidad del Rosario in Bogota in mid-January. I was setting up the research project on the bureaucratic treatment of conflict-related land dispossession that SLAS generously supported and the Observatorio de Restitución y Regulación de Derechos de Propiedad Agraria kindly endorsed when the rolling lockdowns began in mid-March. Since the travel restrictions interrupted my fieldwork plans in the Department of Meta in the west of Colombia early on, my work since has taken on two directions.
On the one hand, I have focused on developing some theoretical arguments in collaboration with Lorena Vega Dueñas (Universidad Javeriana, Colombia), Dina Belluigi (Queen’s University Belfast, UK) and Alejandra Ortiz-Ayala (University of Otago, New Zealand) in relation to the Colombian armed conflict and its consequences for the different actors involved. The themes of these articles vary from the treatment of the human remains recovered from the Magdalena River by the community members of Puerto Berrío, the Department of Antioquia, the regime of reparations that could address the conflict-related harms of academics and staff operating in higher education institutions, and tending to the victimisation and harms suffered by members of the Armed Forces.
On the other hand, I have taken on a research methods consultant role in a larger project that evaluates the Social Dialogue aspect of the work of the Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Co-existence and Non-Repetition operating in Colombia until the coming year. This project is not reliant on fieldwork, but the data is collected remotely by a third party. We are also using secondary sources and data collected by the Colombian Barometer for Reconciliation of the Programme Alliances for Reconciliation (ACDI/VOCA and USAID). Once the evaluation is complete, the data will become available for academic publications and, given my insights throughout the project, I hope to be in a good position to integrate my long-standing interests in the measurement of the effects of transitional justice policies and truth commissions.
My professional future continues to be uncertain. Although my contract was not extended given the restructuring that many Colombian universities have had to carry out due to dropping student numbers, I am thankful for the support of my mentor, Rocio Peña Huertas, the Director of Research, Enrique Prieto Ríos, and the Deputy Head of Faculty, Laura Victoria García Matamoros. It is hard to imagine what this year would have been like without their help and guidance. A testament to the goodwill of the Faculty and the University is that we are working towards the ethical approval of my original project in the hopes that it could be carried out in the spring semester 2021, when I will continue on an as a honorary research fellow, if the epidemiological situation allows it.
Four years on from the signing of the Peace Agreement between the government of Colombia and the FARC, the political situation is becoming increasingly unstable and the levels of violence are rising again especially in the rural areas. This is why I am considering applying for a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship with University College Dublin next year to study the bureaucratic practices of the older administrative domestic reparations’ programmes in the Southern Cone. Current literature on transitional justice considers Chile and Argentina paradigmatic cases, but our understanding of the shift from their respective truth commissions to the reparations programmes, which continue to function more than three decades after (re)democratisation, is limited.
While it is hard to know what the coming months will bring for everyone, I cannot but express my gratitude to the Society for Latin American Studies for the Post-Doctoral Research Award.
Facultad de Jurisprudencia
Universidad del Rosario