La virgen de los sicaros takes places in what is presumably the 1990s in Colombia, a country reeling from the drug cartels’ influence. The film occurs after the cartels have left; this absence has an unexpected inverse consequence. Whereas the reduction of criminal organizations should reduce crime significantly, armed conflict persisted. The 1990s mark a distinct transition in Colombia. In general, the conflict changes from drug trafficking, and the search for greater profit, to political killing aimed to influence voting results as well as maintain order. The two articles by Ricardo Vargas and Forrest Hynton relate these ideas.
While the film provides a posthumous view of the conflict, Ricardo Vargas’s article highlights the cultural phenomena of life among drugs cartels. He writes, “…there is the strongest development of private armed groups that act parallel to those of the state” in areas of agricultural production (110). Their actions primarily involved killing or displacing individuals. One instance, which took place in the Santa Marta area, involved the displacement of 4,000 peasants and the disappearance of 20 others (115). These kinds of large scale crimes send a message to all of Colombia quickly; violence is not a bad thing, but a means to achieve success. There is also a shift in norms among citizens of Colombia. “When a trafficker attempts to ‘legalize’ his situation but buying land and acquire legitimacy by supporting those who promote ‘order’ in the community” as Vargas states his illicit activity is overlooked and accepted (123). Ricardo Vargas even proclaims one drug trafficker, Jose Cuesta, “as someone willing to resolve disputes, filling the void left by an absent state” (113). The results of years of economic benefit from drug trafficking are evident in the apartment left to Fernando by his relative who used to do drugs. It is also evident in the number of out of work hired guns remaining in the streets of Medellin.
Much of this drug trade killing was preceded by political killings. Liberal/Conservative conflict escalated into violence, especially during La Violencia. After the assassination of Jorge Gaitan, a president from the Liberal Party, the face of the police changed greatly. Forrest Hylton’s writing states “that Conservative ‘civil police’ replaced Liberal police in 1947-48, and were then organized into a professional force of political assassins in 1949-1950” (43). It is amazing that Colombia’s democracy survived for so long. They elected presidents for years amongst assassinations and revolutions. The election process stemmed from the electoral division of Colombian land. The “conquest of territory – the accumulation of land, livestock, and coffee – was the goal, and killing obeyed a sinister calculus of pain and cruelty” (44). This land-war translate into the 1980s and 90s as cocaine exporters take a informal control of Colombia. To be blunt, the complete absence of any social power in La virgin de los sicaros is astonishing. One would expect some police to intervene at some point; therefore this element is hard to believe.