This piece by Lorenzo Morales at La Silla Vacía shows, with concise and beautiful prose, the process through which the FARC impose themselves on local peoples in Colombia, becoming the de facto rulers of an incipient state.
Morales tells us about life in Araracuara, a small, isolated town within the Caquetá Department, deep within the Amazon. During the last couple of years, the town has been going through an illegal gold-mining boom.
The town is so hard to reach that it used to house a penal colony in 1939, and today “…remains a confined place: there’s no road, a ticket to board the weekly 19-seat plane that arrives from Bogotá costs more than minimum wage. A beer costs 5000 pesos, a gallon of gas 16,000, twice as much as in Bogotá.”
There, reality is inmune to the announcements of the Ministry of Environment, to the statements of the Defense Ministry, the plans of the one in charge of housing, to the governmental promises of infrastructure or healthcare. There, life governs itself, with its own laws.
That is… until recently:
Two months ago the FARC came back down from their strongholds in the upper Caquetá, from Florencia, San Vicente, Puerto Rico, El Doncello. They didn’t come with guns and swamp boots, but in small groups of militias, camouflaged among the strangers who come to this land looking to suck some of the new bonanza: the gold. New, because poverty here is an interlude between bonanzas: that of rubber 100 years ago, tiger or jaguar skins 50 years ago, coca 25 years back…
They arrived to restore order, they say. Order, in guerrilla logic, is to send boys to remove their piercings and get haircuts, forbid miners from getting drunk in brothels in Puerto Santander (across the river), lower the volume of music in the bars, sweep the town’s roads. Everyone knows that is the recurrent costume that precedes their next suit, that of armed “chepitos” [popular term denoting pintoresque, harrassing debt collectors that used to be common in Bogotá] asking for compulsory contributions. Said and done.