Driving Into the Colombian Dead Zone

Almost no physical remains from the years of rebel control in some parts of Colombia. Roads, mostly dirt tracks that criss-cross the region, are one hidden marker of this period. These roads tell a complex story of neglect and violence but also human resourcefulness. This photo essay follows Don Peter, a young taxi driver intimately familiar with the history of these roads, the people who live along them and the stories they tell.

Scorched Land From The Air (September 2018) by Elliot GravesDurham University

Meta is a region in central Colombia. Many people in Colombia still associate this region with the violent conflict between FARC, the revolutionary armed guerrilla group, and the government. For four years, between 1998 and 2002, the Colombian government abandoned the region to FARC control. It was known as the Zona de Distensión, Colombia's No Man's Land.

Sunset inside the Linea 01 (September 2018) by Elliot GravesDurham University

Inside Peter's 4X4
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"My name is Peter and I am 25-years-old. I've been a taxi driver in this region for years. The passengers, their destinations, the bags, that’s my livelyhood. It’s a family tradition: My dad did it and so do I."

Don Peter skillfully naviagtes the deep mud ruts 01 (September 2018) by Elliot GravesDurham University

4X4 In Mud
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"The roads I drive are very bad, full of potholes and often flooded. Years ago, these were just paths for cattle. Gradually, the community improved the road. The guerrilla played an important role in this, creating a special work day when everyone from the community worked to improve the road.

You see, these roads also tell the story of our community, and a political story about this region."

Constant bridge crossings (September 2018) by Elliot GravesDurham University

Broken Bridge
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"When the guerrilla was in charge, the community was very united. They put rules in place, and if you didn't follow the rules, you would be punished. For example, people who were disorderly, were penalised by the guerrilla commanders in the region. The penalty was usually hard labour, opening a stretch of road. It could take 15 days or a month, you never knew, but those were the things that helped build the road.

The guerrilla put things in order. During the Zona de Distensión, when this was a no-man's land, there were always rules and you had to stick to them. It's hard to explain to outsiders, but in that sense those were good times."

The Hidden Deforestation, Yarmales (September 2018) by Elliot GravesDurham University

Sounds Of The Forest
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"In 2016, FARC rebels signed a peace agreement with the government, and then disarmed. But we have now have new challenges. The forest is being cut down for agriculture and there is nobody to stop it. People here used to grow illegal coca crops. Now the government forced farmers to remove these crops, but what are they going to do instead?"

"So many people in these small farms are under the risk of displacement, of getting kicked out. I don't think that is a solution. Instead, the government should replace coca with crops that help the environment, or start projects like fixing the road. If the road is fixed, locals can bring produce to the markets and make a living."

Don Peter's Linea under a thunderstorm at night (September 2018) by Elliot GravesDurham University

Night Time in Yarmales
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"I spend many hours every day in the taxi, that’s my livelihood: the passengers, their destinations, the bags, that’s my life.

I actually love to drive a car on the muddy road, to get stuck, to get muddy, to slide on the mud. I want to make people feel good, that they visit us and see how we work here. If you visit, you’ll see what I'm saying."

Don Peter with his truck on the Rio Guaybero Barge (September 2018) by Elliot GravesDurham University

Credits: Story

Photography and Post Production: Elliot Graves

Sound: Oliver Kadel

Producer: Noam Leshem

Production Assistant, Colombia: Laura Daniella Pardo

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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