Breaking with the past: The social navigation practices used by ex-paramilitaries during their transition to a civilian lifestyle in Medellín, Colombia
Leeuwen, A.R. van
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The objective of this research is to understand why certain paramilitaries decided to demobilise and how they transitioned to a civilian lifestyle in Medellín, Colombia, from 2003 onwards while a substantial amount of their comrades continued in reconfigured paramilitary groups. In this research, the ex-paramilitaries were comprehended as social navigators who strategically and tactfully move in their dynamic social environment. Through fieldwork including interviews with twelve local experts and nine ex-paramilitaries, this study demonstrates that the former paramilitaries I interviewed decided to demobilise because they adhered to the order of their commanders and imagined a life in legality to result in an enhancement of their and their family members’ living conditions. The ex-paramilitaries’ subsequent new life was characterised by a flow of legal as well as illegal opportunities. Strengthened by their personal motivation and belief in God, the interviewees tactfully employed three strategies to resist the criminal offers. These strategies entailed a complete focus on their family, the avoidance of people who could have a negative impact on their achievements and moving to a different area where they were not known as paramilitaries. With the abovementioned strategies the interviewees managed to counter the influences that could pull them back into their old lives and to create their own stable and motivating environment. In this environment they could take advantage of the opportunities the local reintegration programme offered and find their way on the labour market. The interviewees talked about their reintegration in terms of redemption in which they were ‘freed’ from their confining lives as paramilitaries and were suddenly able to ‘move’ in the direction they preferred.