Transformations in the Colombian Armed Conflict

Several people gather around a laptop to watch a film in a refugee camp for the Warao indigenous people of Venezuela in Pacaraima, northern Brazil. ©Federico Ríos

The indigenous shelter at the border city of Pacaraima has received more than 700 Wraos indigenous people. They live in hammocks and tents. ©Federico Ríos

Members of the Brazilian army register all Venezuelan refugees upon entering Brazil by. ©Federico Ríos

A man at the border shows 5.000.000 of Bolivares, the equivalent of about 20 USD. ©Federico Ríos

Wily bandages his toes to protect them from the blisters caused by walking several hours on the pavement without proper shoes as he made his way between Cucuta to Bucaramanga. ©Federico Ríos

Overcome with headaches and stomach illness, Reynold fell down and then decided to rest. Due to the high altitude and the extreme cold, several migrants get sick and vomit. ©Federico Ríos

A group of migrants take a selfie outside of Bucaramanga after walking for hours. ©Federico Ríos

Colombian Police officers watch as illegal immigrants cross under a bridge that connects Venezuela and Colombia. ©Federico Ríos

A group of Venezuelan migrants climb into a truck for a ride to Bucaramanga. ©Federico Ríos

A large group of Venezuelan migrants travel in the back of a truck while crossing the Colombian mountains. ©Federico Ríos

A group of Venezuelan protesters burn a banner with the faces of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro in Tachira, Venezuela during protests that erupted in February of 2019. ©Federico Ríos

A guerrilla mounted atop his horse that swims toward a secret passage. ©Federico Ríos

Two guerrillas collect their arms from the banks of the Arquia River in a remote region of Colombia after saving a boat that was about to sink. ©Federico Ríos

A group of guerrillas dance to celebrate their commander’s birthday ©Federico Ríos

A group of guerrilla women spend time together in a rural village; minutes before guerrillas and local civilians played a game of soccer. ©Federico Ríos

A member of an indigenous community carries a homemade explosive manufactured by the FARC. The indigenous people of the Cauca region collect explosives from the rebels and detonate them in a controlled setting. ©Federico Ríos

A guerrilla woman ties a bandana with the name of the rebel group (ELN) to cover her face. ©Federico Ríos

A group of ELN guerrillas train for combat in the jungles of Chocó. ©Federico Ríos

A group of FARC dissidents play billiards in a remote area. After the signing of the peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas, some combatants have returned to the jungle and taken up arms once again. ©Federico Ríos

A group of FARC dissidents eat breakfast near a small creek hidden in the Colombian mountains. ©Federico Ríos

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Transformations in the Colombian Armed Conflict

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In his photographs, Federico Ríos explores transformations in the Colombian armed conflict through the period of negotiations between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) (2010–2016) and the unfolding post-peace accord moment. His photo-essay includes many of the conflict’s armed actors, such as guerrilla groups that have been pushed to Colombia’s borderlands. Yet the series of photographs goes beyond classic depictions of Colombia’s armed conflict to include a photographic reflection on the exodus of Venezuelan migrants through many of those same borderlands. Ríos’s work challenges us to think of geopolitical upheaval in northern South American from a regional perspective in which flows of actors across dire, interconnected contexts cross-fertilize in spaces of militarization, deterritorialization, and economic crisis.

Within a historical vantage, this perspectival reorientation harkens back to the post-independence period in the early nineteenth century when pockets of loyalist resistance, bandits, and smugglers traversed the northern Andes as the young republic of Gran Colombia struggled to consolidate its authority. Ríos’s images challenge us to tack between small details, such as a migrant’s blistered feet and the big picture of a region in which states are unable to monopolize violence or figure out how to wield it legitimately. His pictures offer clues for a future research agenda, subtly raising questions such as: Will Venezuelan migrants be pulled into the ranks of narco, guerrilla, and paramilitary groups? How can borders as porous as those in southern and eastern Colombia help us hone our understanding of the state? To what extent are historical geopolitics a factor in contemporary international relations? How are social networks and the speed of information transfer accelerating the interconnection between phenomena that researchers have tended to isolate.

— Alexander L. Fattal
Assistant Professor
University of California, San Diego

Copyright information: Photos are copyright ©Federico Ríos