The Intercept, March 2017.
The women of the FARC begin peacetime.
Photos by Newsha Tavakolian—Magnum Photos
When Newsha Tavakolian arrived in the Colombian jungle to document the women guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), she knew she would witness history. War had recently ended and the women’s lives would change. After fifty years of clandestine warfare, peace meant the Colombian government would build houses for former guerrillas who lived on the run in the wilderness, and send teachers to meet with them weekly, to “teach them how to be a normal citizen,” Tavakolian says. “The most basic things, like you cannot enter people’s homes without permission.” When the guerrillas were allowed to begin keeping pets, Tavakolian photographed sleeping kittens curled into the nooks of the women’s rifles.
In February, when the Trump administration announced plans to cut diplomatic aid by at least 37%, one question it provoked is what will happen with Colombia. Since 2000, the U.S. has spent $10 billion funding Plan Colombia, a program aimed at stopping the northward flow of drugs by focusing almost entirely on the country’s police and military, spending the billions to train and equip their forces. Plan Colombia buttressed the government’s war against the FARC, despite constant outcry from human rights groups about abuses committed by the U.S.-supported government forces.
There are about 7,000 FARC guerrillas, and soon they will leave the jungle and become civilians again. The enormity of the task ahead – especially for the estimated 30% of the guerrillas who are women — brought Tavakolian to Colombia.
Tavakolian, who arrived in South America after photographing Kurdish women fighters in Syria, is motivated by the question of what leads women to join rebel movements. Among Kurdish and Colombian women fighters, Tavakolian found that “when as a human being you’re in a condition where you have to survive or to protect the ones you love, you do whatever it takes.” In Colombia, she photographed FARC women between the ages of 20 and 45.
“I never saw any rain in my life as heavy as in that jungle,” Tavakolian says. “And this is the first time (these women) have roofs above their heads. When they hear a helicopter they still get anxiety. They have lived in the jungle in the rain, running constantly.”
The women of the FARC told Tavakolian they welcome peace, but “they had one thing in common: They are scared of the future because they think they’ll be killed by the paramilitary” when they hand over their guns to the government. Right-wing paramilitary forces are behind countless tortures and murders of social activists in the country. They sometimes worked as proxies of the government during the war; thus, one of the FARC’s demands in the peace negotiations was “that paramilitarism ends as a state policy.” A recent spate of killings of social activists and FARC members stokes those fears.
See more of Tavakolian’s photos at The Intercept.