In the aftermath of Colombia’s surprising “No” vote in the October 2nd peace agreement referendum, many people around the world were left wondering—why would a majority of people (however slim) want to continue fighting a 52-year war?
Unfortunately, time spent in the country reveals a parallel Colombia—one that has been left out and widely ignored. Finding it involves walking over muddy roads that have been deformed by the hooves of countless mules and embarking on a tiny little rowboat into the heart of nowhere. This Colombia doesn’t know the effects of economic growth. It’s still waiting for the next visit from a foreign health brigade or the coming of a single schoolteacher.
But this Colombia isn’t only poverty and misery. It is also filled with the liveliness, ingenuity, and passion possessed by those who learned to survive and construct a world far from the rest of society. This is the other Colombia—and it has been the main stage for the 52-year-long armed conflict that has displaced an unbelievable 7 million people within the country. Meanwhile, in the big cities where the media (both local and international) gathered in the days leading up to the referendum, the effects of the war were rarely felt.
Four years ago, the FARC guerrilla groups and the Colombian government began their peace talks. Their negotiations culminated in a tentative peace agreement, signed on the 26th of September 2016. The terms of the deal said the FARC guerrilla fighters would not come back to war. Yet this future remains wholly uncertain after the results of the plebiscite on October 2nd. In a shockingly close result, 49.79% of voters voted for the referendum, while 50.21% voted against it. What comes next is anyone’s best guess.
This reportage, which I began in May 2015, was conducted with FARC units of the South Block, specifically in the Caquetá and Putumayo departments. I visited several camps and followed two events. The first, in January 2016, was a meeting between the FARC peace delegation and peasant and indigenous communities. The second took place during the FARC’s tenth conference in September 2016, where the group’s general assembly agreed to the peace deal.
Besides shedding some light on the political background of this delicate agreement, I wanted to offer an intimate view of the fighters’ daily lives. When these individuals chose to enter the fray, they abandoned their name for a new identity and inserted themselves into a wholly new family—the FARC. They adopted—sometimes for years on end—a harsh, nomadic lifestyle.
I also wanted to profile the female combatants: they represent more than 30% of the fighting force. The project gives a particular focus to these women because their participation during the conflict has been frequently undervalued.
Still, it’s important to remember that the peace process is not only about the FARC. The agreement also incorporates issues such as rural reform, finding substitutes for illicit crops (e.g. the coca leaf), increasing political participation (especially in non-urban areas) and finding justice for the victims of this endless conflict. It’s a monumental deal with endless room for negotiation, political grandstanding and compromise.
In short, despite the endlessly complex nature of the surrounding politics, I wanted to photograph the attempts to find peace by both sides in the most deeply affected rural areas—areas where this awful war was born—where it imposed itself day after day on the territories, bodies, and spirits of the people living there.