Chocó Chokes

With negotiations progressing between the government and guerilla group FARC, Colombia has never been so close to an end to a fifty-year long civil war. In the country’s cities, the war already seems distant, abstract. It has become invisible and hidden deep in the back of public consciousness. But in the countryside, in open lands disputed by interests for their natural resources, war remains ubiquitous. It profoundly dominates social relationships, economic structures, political influence and the spirit of people’s consciousness, exacerbating an already dire situation is a neglected area like Chocó that are home almost entirely to indigenous and Afro-Colombia communities. Isolation, lack of communication, scarcity of food and inadequate public services are some of the most pressing issues caused by war and general national disinterest. Such stigmas make the peace process ever precarious.

These photos were taken in the Baudó river basin, in the department of Chocó. The green shades of chlorophyll dominate this region on the Pacific coast but it is a land where people suffocate, a land choked by war and isolation. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) almost half of Choco’s population lives in extreme poverty and 80% of inhabitants’ basic needs are not covered.

The Upper Baudó lives to the rhythm of open combat between the army, right wing paramilitary forces and the leftist ELN guerilla group (National Liberation Army). It is a strategic corridor leading to the Pacific Ocean. The local economy is based on plantain and banana production traded on boats travelling up and down the river. When war intensifies, the local population resigns itself to confinement; farming stops and supplies from the nearest village grind to a halt. To compensate for losses in the plantain harvest, farmers turn to another agricultural product, the coca leaves which produce coca paste. This is the first step in cocaine production.

The peace process is far removed from Upper Baudó, where daily life brings hunger and confinement. The prospect of an end to the armed conflict seems uncertain, as negotiations with the ELN have not begun and the influence of ostensibly demobilized paramilitary forces increases.

[This story is an ongoing project. Pieces on Lower and Middle Baudo, still to come, will provide a regional perspective]