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This chapter examines the emergence of a violent new configuration of power in Barrancabermeja, between 2000 and 2006, in which paramilitaries forged a realm of de facto sovereignty that was grounded in the violent repression of labor, the suppression of democratic processes, and the control of illegal activities, especially the cocaine traffic. The paramilitary victory shuttered a vision of the state as the guardian of the public interest and raised questions about where the state was located and who had the legitimate right to rule. The chapter explores how residents were incorporated into new or reconfigured forms of exploitative labor discipline, rent extraction, and political subjugation that characterized the militarized neoliberalism that the paramilitary takeover solidified. It also considers how ordinary people understood “the state” in a context in which the boundaries between paramilitaries and the institutional state and between illegality and legality became blurred.

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