Past Exhibition

Eros Hoagland

"Colombia's Silent War"
Photographs by Eros Hoagland

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In Colombia's rolling hills and lush jungles, far from the eyes and ears of the media, a horror unfolds in relative silence. While news headlines elaborate on U.S. financed anti-narcotics operations, a smoldering battle is being fought between the leftist guerillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the right-wing paramilitaries of the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).

Among the victims of this war are thousands of farmers and small town inhabitants, accused by one side or the other of collaborating with the enemy. They are murdered, in many cases brutally, to spread fear throughout the region. Those remaining in a town after a killing are often expelled under threat of death. Refugees flee from small pueblos in the increasingly volatile countryside, creating ghost towns overnight. This tactic of war is aimed at denying the enemy logistical support and is used frequently by both sides.

Selected killings and forced migrations have displaced hundreds of thousands of people within Colombia's borders over the last five years, creating an internal refugee crisis worse than the catastrophes of Kosovo or East Timor. In Colombia, however, the victims are not easily differentiated by religion or ethnicity. This deters the use of stigmatic terms like "genocide" and "ethnic cleansing," which effectively diminishes the "news value" of the suffering. Furthermore, because the victims do not cross national borders, international law does not recognize them as refugees. They are overlooked as recipients of large-scale international relief efforts.

The silence surrounding Colombia's displaced people makes it all the more important for the world to pay attention. In my ongoing photo-documentary, I look at the desperation and violence of Colombia's political strife through the eyes of the civilian victims, people who care little for the ideologies of the warring factions.

Eros Hoagland

Field workers haul the body of a man killed by FARC guerrillas in southern Colombia's Putumayo department. The guerrillas accused him of collaborating with right-wing militias in the area.

Paramilitary fighters of the far right United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) patrol the jungles of southern Colombia. The AUC is responsible for the majority of Colombia's political killings and has recently made a strong push into the southern regions in an effort to force guerrillas from the area.

A victim of political violence in rural Colombia. This man was beaten to death with a stone hammer. Many of the war's victims are killed in an unusually brutal manner to spread fear among the campesino population.

Young boys are the last to flee the village of Los Angeles where the massacre took place. Behind them are fields of coca, the raw material for making cocaine.

A soldier of the counter-guerrilla battalion rests in a town abandoned overnight after leftist guerrillas killed several villagers there as a warning not to co-operate with right-wing militias (AUC.) The graffiti is an earlier warning to the guerrillas claiming that the paramilitaries have come to take the area.

Villagers in El Placer gather around the bodies of civilians killed in the turf war between FARC guerrillas and AUC paramilitaries. The two opposing factions are fighting to dominate the cocaine business in Southern Colombia where the majority of the world's coca plants are grown.

Counter-guerrilla soldiers of the Colombian army leave a combat zone by helicopter in Putumayo where they were fighting with FARC guerrillas. Putumayo is the epicenter of Plan Colombia, the American sponsored anti-narcotic/anti-guerrilla campaign.

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