Hunting FARC

Photographs and Text by Alvaro Ybarra Zavala

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Hunting FARC is a new body of work from the Reportage photographer Alvaro Ybarra Zavala, and is the latest instalment in a broader personal project about the internal conflict in Colombia, entitled Colombia, in Eternal Despair.

For this new phase of the project, focused on the struggle of the Colombian Armed Forces in their war effort against FARC rebels, the photographer spent four weeks living among the military units currently responsible for the operation attempting to capture the Commander in Chief of the FARC, Alfonso Cano.

The work was shot in the areas that are under the influence of FARC’s Central Block, which is where Colombian Army’s South Tolima Joint Taskforce are carrying out operations currently, in the southern departments of Tolima, Huila and Cauca. These territories are considered to be the birthplace of the FARC guerrilla movement, and very difficult to access, due to the extensive presence of the guerrillas there, and the high concentration of landmines.

This new body of work is divided into three sections. The first shows the frontline operations carried out by the Joint Taskforce in the area, and the risks that the soldiers have to take in such a hostile territory. The second section focuses on the new troop presence in areas that have always been considered strongholds of the FARC. The presence of government troops in these places has interrupted the isolation that these people have had from the rest of the country, previously knowing only life under the control of FARC. The final section focuses on the daily lives of the troops, and their free time when deployed on military operations.

The work aims to give insight into the issues and places that are seldom seen by the international community, or even by a large part of Colombian society who have this conflict taking place within their own borders. The situation that is frustrating for many of the members of Colombia’s armed forces, because of the lack of support they get from Colombian society, and in fact they are often actually the target of much criticism.

The lack of public support has been reported by numerous senior military figures, and their helplessness when subjected to allegations of human rights violations. This has caused many army officers to openly say that it sometimes appears that no one has any interest in ending this conflict... and their suspected reason behind it: the drug trade.

The drug trade is the giant engine that continues to drive this conflict. This business generates hundreds of millions of dollars annually, with the support of the various armed groups operating in Colombia, and has turned the country into a key sanctuary in the worldwide drug trade.

The work also examines the fight against the funding/source of the conflict in the capital Bogota, and especially at its port of departure for export, the international airport of El Dorado.

This feature was shot in May 2011.

Full edit of 85 images available on request.

Colombia, in Eternal Despair

Colombia has been embroiled in 47 years of undeclared civil war. The struggle for equality and political ideals that divided Colombian society, the class struggle, the revolutionary quest for identity and the idea of a Great Colombia with a place for all, are now all dreams of the past.

The political and ideological motives sometimes cited as motivations in this forgotten war are largely a smokescreen. The only truth that reigns today in this conflict is drug trafficking. The conflict serves the interests of the drug trafficking market, which fuels this conflict further, with a heavy daily toll of human lives. The country is blinded by this war, which still officially does not exist.

Regions such as Narino, Huila, Tolima, Cauca, Choco, Caqueta and Meta are scenes of conflict that are far from the image that Colombia wants the world to see. Throughout the length and breadth of the country, thousands of people have been forced from their lands and homes because of fighting, violence and extortion. Civilians are forced on a continuous journey to save their own lives, joining the vast numbers of internally displaced.

The systematic violation of human rights through different forms of armed violence has become part of the only way of life known by the new generations of Colombians caught in this conflict. Isolation, social inequality, and drug trafficking as the only source of income in certain regions of the country, have all meant that the law of the gun is the only thing that governs the daily lives of a large portion of Colombian society.

Colombia, in Eternal Despair is a project which aims to show the drama and schizophrenia of this country that desperately needs long-forgotten peace in order to heal the deep wounds of such a long and brutal conflict that has lasted nearly fifty years.