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Photo Essay – Colombia’s Long Road to Peace

Mexico & Central America

The text, and the Photo-Essay published below, are part of an effort by Noria to analyze the evolution of the Colombian Peace Process, in the context of the May 2022 Presidential elections in the country.

A year ago, we published a Policy Paper by Jacobo Grajales, analyzing land conflicts, violence, and capitalism in Colombia.

In this occasion, we present the work of our Research and Photographer Fellow, Tomás Ayuso. Tomas is a Honduran writer and documentary photojournalist. His work focuses on Latin American conflict as it relates to the Drug War, forced displacement, and urban dispossession. Tomas seeks to bind the disparate threads of communities into the grand, interlinked story of the Western Hemisphere. In covering the different types of violences facing the region’s people, he hopes to record a narrative of both continental struggles and local successes.

Photo Essay by Tomas Ayuso

In 2016, I moved to Colombia just as the fifty-year conflict was drawing to a negotiated, peaceful end. At least, that’s what the hope was back in those heady days preceding the minting of the accords between the Colombian state, representatives of civil society, and the high command of the FARC. 

In the five years since then, many of the lofty ideals underpinning the peace pact have come undone. With over 1000 murdered activists since 2016, a multiplication in armed actors, and the looming specter of a Plan Colombia redux, far-reaching political instability from the most remote village to the highest echelons of Colombian society spreads unease across a country that was once poised to right historic wrongs. 

The answer as to how the conflicting elation and cautious optimism of 2016 turned to ashen resignation that peace is doomed for failure vary from sector to sector. Some argue that they were set to collapse from the outset, others blame the persistent opposition by hawks who never gave the precepts of the accords a chance to materialize. Wherever the fault may lay, there are few who see what is happening in Colombia a half-decade since the official end of the conflict and claim that it truly concluded. 

What follows are stories and reflections of my three years in Colombia (2016-2018). I chose to document the end of conflict and how it developed in the immediate aftermath.

In seeing these pictures in 2021, and reading my notes of the period, I’m struck by how accurate the stated predictions in conversations with both peace promoters and critics, the victims and victimizers, turned out to be. They were not doomsaying as events unfolded around them, as I thought at the time, but rather, knew full well what the contours of their community’s future held in store. 

These photographs, therefore, are glimpses from that brief liminal period of post-conflict. Seemingly lost to time, the country now reckons with the consequences of the unenforced promise of peace, whether by design or by negligence. A time when hope met with grievances, justice clashed with impunity, and a way out of fifty years of conflict was still undefined. While there is still hope that the lofty values of the accords can be rescued, what exists today remains a very close approximation to the low-intensity state of indignity and conflict that existed before 2016. The same causes persist, the same actors adapt, and the same victims endure.

The Photos presented in this article belong to Tomas Ayuso.