In the early hours of May 17, 2014, four young men were killed by troops from the Colombian Army’s 27th Jungle Brigade in the remote southwestern coca-growing community of Alto Amarradero, close to the border with Ecuador. The Army later claimed that José Antonio Acanamejoy (29), Deivi López (15), Brayan Yatacué (20) and Yiner Esterilla (25) were active members of the 48th front of the FARC, Colombia’s longstanding guerrilla group, which exercises a degree of territorial control in the region. But the young men’s relatives—eyewitnesses to the event—sustain that far from dying in combat with military units, the young men had no connection to the armed group, and were in fact executed in their sleep.
The case is only a recent instantiation of practice deeply entrenched in the Colombian military labeled with the sinister medical euphemism false positives. One of the bitter fruits borne by decades of counterinsurgency war-making, the practice encompasses different types of extrajudicial executions of innocent civilians which are then presented as combat deaths—false positives which until recently entitled soldiers to bonuses and vacations, and drove commanders who presented inflated death counts up the ranks. Serious studies by independent NGOs have recorded up to 5,763 cases between 2000 and 2010, and investigations by the Attorney General’s office have implicated some of the highest-ranking officers in the Colombian military, suggesting that the practice was widespread and systematic.
The campesinos of Jardines de Sucumbíos portrayed in these photographs, including the relatives of the victims, eke out a precarious existence amidst the most destructive forces of the Colombian conflict, which converge and collide in their land. Many of them have arrived forcibly displaced to this region were the Andes mountains plunge into the rich jungles of the Putumayo. Growing coca provides them with their only means of livelihood in this remote and forgotten territory, one of the most active fronts in the war between the FARC and the military.