The Afterlife of coca and its dreams (an episode from “sugarcoated blues”)
On one of the slopes of Colombia’s northern mountains, there is a small farmers village with the name of a blade. A hamlet funded by settlers, it would come to be known as the center of coca growing and cocaine production in the region as well as the turf of a very well known paramilitary leader.
My memories of the place go back to the early 2000, the height of paramilitary territorial expansion in the country. A time marked by massacres and vile forms of terror. Due to its strategic location, the region had become a crucial and disputed drug territory, and local rural armed bands funded by the narcotic trade entered a dispute with what by then was a consolidating national right paramilitary movement. Life was regulated, and it was not uncommon to see armed young men patrolling the roads while heavy drinking took place at cantinas. The mountain slopes were covered in patches of green coca fields and marked by the paths leading to the processing labs. You could feel eyes on your back. Rules were clear: mind your business and move on. But today, memories here are complicated, entangled in politics, rights and loyalty. Things are much calmer now, but stories and allegations have begun to surface, telling a different, more complex picture of what life was here, and what it left. Like an atmosphere marked by patriarchy, arms, money that came and went, and the power and fear of sexual violence in such contexts.
In Colombia there are many memories and imaginaries built around the conflict, some shared, some deeply personal. My own recollections of this place are somewhat defined by the presence of fear. So my new visits seek to be more than a record of a present situation, and rather is a way into dreams and memories that fill such moments of friction between change and sameness. Of an ongoing time when all that is left are the loose ends of what once was, and what there could be. Of a place that is filled with little snippets of episodes witnessed years ago that I could not photograph and had since then remained dormant, as layers over which a different sense of banality has set in.