When the Highway Becomes a Weapon: Situating Infrastructure Within The Colombian Counterinsurgency Doctrine

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Article published in The Funambulist 17 (May-June 2018) Weaponized Infrastructure. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

The signing of a ceasefire agreement between the Colombian Government and FARC guerrillas in November of 2016 signaled an end to over 50 years of conflict in Colombia. Although this peace deal is a significant step towards the resolution of hostilities between factionalized government forces, paramilitary groups, and guerrilla fighters, sites within the country have been fundamentally altered by the civil conflict’s protracted violence and forced displacement. While violent destruction of land and livelihoods has often contributed to the impacts of the multi-staged war, displacement, marginalization, and violence are also consequences of the construction and management of infrastructure. Throughout phases of the conflict, counterinsurgency strategies relied heavily on infrastructure development programs, alongside intensive military operations, that sought to extend government control into underserviced and marginalized regions. The Carretera Marginal de la Selva (Road at the Edge of the Jungle) is one such infrastructural insertion. The highway was first conceived in 1963 as an eastern arterial road that would connect the frontier zones along the borders of both Venezuela and Ecuador. Plans for the Marginal de la Selva have included the consolidation and upgrading of previously built roads and paths into a single route that would traverse the eastern plains and forested regions in the Andean piedmont. The highway is still unfinished today — its proposed route crosses a large swath of formerly FARC held territory that bifurcates the highway into two disconnected sections. National proposals for completion have once again become central in the most recent national highway infrastructure plans. The most conspicuous manifestation of the weaponization of this highway is the frequent military checkpoints that interrupt it at strategic and highly visible locations, though an examination of the location, construction, and promotion of the highway reveals that its spatial assertion is a violent strategy of ordering territory and making populations legible. Photography here is used as one method to capture the sequencing of movement along the highway, alongside its intersection with the land and populations it traverses, to reveal the manifest and latent violence of infrastructure.