Helicopters overhead, vallenato tunes reaching my ears from all direction, children squealing as they bathe together, the cluck of chickens searching for any sign of food in the bare yard, soldiers pass through the village, buying lunch, just an average day here. I go to use the toilet at 6am to find a solider showering there. His helmet on the wall where I wash my hands. I am in the municipal of El Tarra, one of the most heavily militarised municipals in the region, with an estimated one thousand soldiers present.
Two weeks ago the Colombian government gave the USA permission to use seven military bases for US soldiers from which they will carry out military operations both inside and outside of Colombia. The argument given for this unconstitutional agreement is anti-drugs and anti terrorism. In Catatumbo I have met young people with far smarter answers to these arguments than foreign military in their territory.
And in this piece she told me a simple reason for why many young people continue to join the guerrilla groups. One of many.
Another is the near impossibility to learn new skills, get good work. Fighting is one current option to get paid work: army, police, paramilitary, FARC, ELN. Another popular option is raspando, picking coca leaves to make cocaine.
Bullet Holes and Aguilas Negras Graffiti: Classroom occupied by the paramilitaries in 2002 in the village of Filo Gringo.
While in a shop the owner immediately started asking us if we knew of opportunities for his son to become a professional solder. His son had heard there was a shortage and wanted to train. Did we know of any veterinary courses that had programmes to support students from poor backgrounds. His nephew wanted to work with cattle. Did we know of a way to get on a mechanics course. Another nephew thought he could make a living if he got good qualifications.
If the Colombian government really wanted a anti-drugs policy they would know where these sons and nephews could get support to study. They would be trying to open doors for young people so they can follow dreams and not get drawn in to the conflict and coca.
They are not.
They are permitting a foreign army to become involved in the internal armed conflict thereby exacerbating the confrontation and diminishing the possibility of peace. They are giving military bases to the USA from which attacks could be launched on neighboring democratic and progressive governments. They are giving US soldiers full impunity for crimes that they may commit.
“y en tu pais, hay guerra tambien?”
“in your country, is there war as well? ”
The following day a boy asked me:
"el conflicto alla, donde vives, es mas fuerte que aca o menos?"
"the conflict there, where you live, is it worse than here?"
Conflict is such a part of everyday life that kids assume that it is normal. Twisted brutal reality.
Yet it is staggeringly beautiful that while they improvised much conflict and murders in their sketches, that they also had the vision to improvise peace, performing the possible.
Written on 11th August