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Spatial Ambiguity and Geographies of Enforced Disappearance in Colombia

Authors: Max Counter*,
Topics: Human Rights, Human-Environment Geography, Latin America
Keywords: Colombia, Latin America, human rights, enforced disappearance, development, mapping
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper address life, death and the spatial politics of enforced disappearance. The sense of “ambiguous loss” associated with enforced disappearance—which produces deaths that can in many cases only be partially grieved while bodies remain missing—is intimately connected with ambiguous geographies that gesture toward, but also obscure, bodies’ physical location. Colombian cartographers and human rights activists have brought pressing attention to the manner in which hydroelectric dams, oil palm plantations, and rivers have been assembled as sites of enforced disappearance over the course of Colombia’s enduring armed conflict. A number of important questions thus arise: How are life and death made sense of when geographies are mobilized to occlude missing persons’ bodies? How can we cartographically situate these bodies when we do not know where there are? Recognizing that over 80,000 people have been forcefully disappeared due to armed conflict in Colombia and drawing on Fidel Mingorance and Erik Arellna Bautista’s 2019 Cartography of Enforced Disappearance in Colombia (Cartografía de la Desparación Forzada en Colombia), this paper illuminates the possibilities and paradoxes of mapping deaths cloaked in the spatial ambiguity of enforced disappearance. Following Jason de León, this paper further considers how socio-ecological processes facilitate and obscure enforced disappearance in particular landscapes. I thus aim to draw precise attention to the spatial ambiguity implicit in mapping, understanding and ultimately contesting geographies of enforced disappearance.

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