Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Paramilitary groups have been fundamental to the consolidation of the Colombian state’s neoliberal agenda throughout the country’s internal conflict. Paramilitaries have displaced millions of peasants to seize their land, systematically eliminated those who oppose the interests of political and economic elites and expanded their own business through alliances with drug traffickers with state complicity. Such alliances have generated a narco-paramilitary capitalist class that has transformed the urban areas where displaced and other disenfranchised people live into new financial frontiers where laundered money is converted into credit for the poor. This paper is based on my fieldwork among internally displaced people relocated to the outskirts of Cartagena, who were first dispossessed by paramilitary groups and from whom today, two decades later, narco-paramilitaries continue to extract profit in the form of interest. I focus on the gota a gota (drop by drop) credit system by which narco-paramilitary lenders provide small loans (equivalent to $20-50USD) at very high interest rates that are collected every day from borrower’s homes by armed men. Gota a gota credit targets wageless people who depend on quick cash for daily survival, a situation resulting from failed state promises of compensation for conflict victims, the disintegration of their support networks and lack of stable income, and want of affordable regulated credit. Gota a gota reflects a frontier where contrary to understandings of debt economies that rest on the potential of economic growth, profitability rests precisely on the stagnant wageless population wherein household economies are expected not to expand.