January 2016, Putumayo. The guerrilleros are waiting for the arrival of the peace delegation.

There is a Colombia left out, ignored. To meet her, you often need to take muddy tracks deformed by mule hooves or travel for hours on a tiny little rowboat. This Colombia doesn’t know the effects of the growth. It’s still waiting for the next visit of a health brigade or schoolteacher. But this Colombia isn’t only poverty and misery. It is also the liveliness, ingenuity, and passion of those who learned to survive and construct a world far from anywhere. You can meet it in the course of a vallenato refrain, on the rhythms of cumbia, or when you let yourself drive to the incredible stories of a local ranchera song. This is the other Colombia: out of the cities, removed from the centers of decision-making, living in the countryside at the pace of the harvest, the rainy period, and the moon’s cycle. She is built on community ties, looking at consumer society and its middle class with alternating desire and disgust.

Some people say this Colombia was born on April 9, 1948, when Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, the popular liberal presidential candidate, was murdered in Bogotá. The fights between conservatives and liberals gave rise to an internal war and led part of the liberal opposition to find a shelter in the countryside. Then the guerrillas emerged, like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army, or FARC.

Today, the other Colombia is the main stage of the armed conflict, while in the big city the effects of the war on daily life are rarely felt.

This body of work presents the Colombia I met in the countryside, in the Caquetá department, introduces FARC combatants, and tracks the peace process and the return to civilian life. The intent of these images is to find peace in the areas where war began and imposed itself day after day on the land, and the bodies and spirits of the people living there.

 

May 2015, South Caquetá. Sometimes the FARC-EP guerrilleros adopt an animal, domestic or from the jungle. It follows them in all their movements. This young parrot has been adopted by Sandra. Its name is Gris, in reference to a Colombian candy.

 

May 2015, South Caquetá. While Sandra reviews the encoding of the messages she will send by radio to other groups or to the command, Jessica begins to plait her hair. Sandra has been with the FARC-EP for 8 years. She joined at 14 and she explains she was attracted to the lifestyle and the possibility of escape from the traditional roles for women in the countryside. Jessica joined at 18. She says she was seduced when a female commander came to her school to present the guerillas. She also wanted to liberate her spot in the boarding school for her youngest sister.

 

October 2015, North Caquetá. Sirley arrives in the camp and takes a break near the makeshift kitchen. Now 17, she joined the guerrillas at age 14. She had tried to join at 12 but the guerrillas sent her home. The FARC units regularly visited her family home. She says she was attracted by the weapons.

 

January 2016, Putumayo. A guerrillera is waiting near a spray-painted advertisement, reading: “The FARC-EP also has a woman’s face.” The face depicted is that of Tanja Nijmeijer, alias Alexandra Nariño, a Dutch woman who has been a member of the FARC since 2002.

 

May 2015, South Caquetá. Sandra: “Find a husband? It’s not a future,” she says, “and in addition, a responsible husband? No, they abandoned their pregnant wives and children. Here, with the FARC, we contribute to a just struggle.”

 

October 2015, North Caquetá. Sirley talks with her new boyfriend, who recently rejoined the guerrillas after one year in jail. Love stories are common, but the fighters go for extended periods of time without seeing their partners. The fighters are not authorized to have love affairs with civilians.

 

January 2016, Putumayo. In this part of the Amazonian jungle, people use the river to travel. The local economy is based on cattle breeding and coca production, which is illegal. In the area, the FARC promotes training in cattle breeding. But the peasants don’t give up coca production, which is seen as the more lucrative opportunity in this isolated place.

 

January 2016. Putumayo. Guerrilleros during the public meeting between the FARC peace delegation and the civil population. An estimated 30 to 40 percent of FARC members are female.

 

June 2016, South Caquetá. Guerrilleros take a break to dance merengue.

 

May 2015, South Caquetá. Jessica, 30, checks that her rifle barrel is free of rust. Cleaning firearms is a regular part of military discipline.

 

January 2016, Putumayo. The guerrilleros are waiting for the arrival of the peace delegation.

 

The guerrilleros receive their final orders at the end of the day.

Nadège Mazars

Nadège Mazars is a French photographer living in Colombia. She dedicated her professional life to photography after completing her PhD in sociology. Her work explores the local and social effects of global issues, such as public health crises and natural resource extraction. Her work also focuses on the civilian opposition and the threats that face Colombian democracy. In 2016, she received an Emergency Fund from the Magnum Foundation and the Prince Claus Fund to develop her project, The Other Colombia.

3 Comments on “The Other Colombia

  1. Contrary to the photographers’ promise, that this is a reportaje about Colombia’s forgotten rural life, this reportage portraits just one thing: Farc members at rest, enjoying themselves. A portrait of Colombia’s rural society however, as promised and as I understand it, should include portraits of farmers, coca famers, military, mayors, city council members, shop keepers, chiva drivers, school kids, nurses, fisher men, moms, dads, and much more. Most of all, I guess, it should include portraits of victims. Even when presented under a more suitable title (for instance: “daily life in a guerrilla camp at the dawn of demobilization”), I guess the connotation of innocent and harmonious daily life these pictures carry, consciously leaves out any hint to the brutal realities of their past, as well as the uncertainties of their future. I feel that this tends towards the hagiographic and therefor disrespectful to victims. We’re thus at the extreme opposite of what Guernica has always stand for.

    1. Well said. As someone who reported on Colombia for years, it always distresses me when the complexities of that incredible and very complex country are reduced to slogans, platitudes, and stereotypical images. But to see the FARC through such a gauze-covered lens not only departs from Guernica’s standards, it defies a well-documented reality.

  2. This is ONE other Colombia, not THE other Colombia. In the West, and in the North – the places Guernica is mostly read there is both a romanticization and a vilification of the Other, depending on the picture and the viewer. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but without the larger context—-which began hundreds of years ago in 1492, not decades nor even a century ago—-without the nuances and details of those histories left out of the written record, pictures like these merely perpetuate the romantic or horrifying (depending upon the viewer) mythologies of worlds unknown. They do not reveal; they turn complex lives into postcards. Was it an editorial decision to give this piece the subtitle, “A photographic portrait of war, peace, and life in the countryside,” which promises much and delivers the tiniest prism’s sliver? Not that we shouldn’t know there are women combatants – who smile and love and dance – but how much more valuable to name this snapshot what it is, and then to show us another, and another – and give enough information and sources that perhaps the readers will want to seek out the histories they still lack, and without which our common America remains forever fractured.

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