Feature

A woman and her baby walk to the port of Frasquillo in Tierralta, Córdoba, a region of Colombia where coca plantations increased by 146% in 2016. Tierralta, Colombia. Oct. 14, 2016. © Erika Piñeros

January’s featured photographer is Erika Piñeros

Erika Piñeros is a multimedia journalist covering human rights and socio-political issues, based between Colombia and Cambodia.

In her native Colombia, Erika has reported on internal forced displacement, kidnapping, the reintegration of ex-militants from illegal armed groups into society, and the impact of drug policies on the livelihoods of coca farmers. She has documented Cambodia’s post conflict rapid development and its impact on the Cambodian population including land grabs, civil unrest and the recession of natural resources.

Her work has been published by outlets such as, IRIN News, Foreign Policy, America’s Quarterly, CNN International and Le Figaro.

Coca: Colombia’s burden

Shocked by the unexpected results of the October 2016 plebiscite that momentarily derailed peace negotiations between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC); thousands of people marched in the cities to pressure the government to conclude the deal. Meanwhile, cocaleros (coca growers) in rural areas were relieved. They feared how their livelihoods would change when law enforcement arrived in the region, and with the demobilisation of their main buyer. “If the ‘yes’ had won, we’d be screwed by now”, says Miguel, a cocalero from the municipality of Tierralta in the northern department of Córdoba. Along the food he grows for his family to eat, Miguel cultivates coca to make ends meet.

His main buyers are the same FARC militants who would have to relocate to a designated ‘normalise zone’ in the neighbouring village of Gallo, if the peace deal is reached. Furthermore, the increment of public force and international observers in the area during the disarmament period represents a threat to Miguel’s illicit activities.

Jaime, a young cocalero said coca production would become difficult when the FARC fully demobilises, but it will never end. “There will always be another buyer, because when one [illegal group] leaves, another one arrives.” He pauses and then concludes, “or maybe if there isn’t anyone to buy it, that would be the end of it. We would have to leave the coca aside and dedicate ourselves to something else,” he smiles.

A sceptre from the Guardia Campesina gifted by the Catatumbo community – another area where coca is widely grown – to the local governor. Tierralta, Colombia. Oct. 14, 2016. © Erika Piñeros
Community leaders and cocaleros discuss following steps after a government’s meeting about the crop-substitution programme in Tierralta, Colombia. Oct. 14, 2016. © Erika Piñeros
Women and children watch a soap opera at their home in Gallo. Tierralta, Colombia. Oct. 15, 2016. © Erika Piñeros
Young girls play over the coca leaves kicking them to mix it with cement and ammonia in the first step of processing coca paste at a makeshift laboratory in northwest Colombia. “She doesn’t work here, but the kids like to come and hang out. They keep us company”, explains her father. Tierralta, Colombia. Oct. 15, 2016. © Erika Piñeros
A ‘cocalero’ shows the blisters on his hands at a local coca makeshift laboratory. Dario (not his real name), now 25, has been working processing the coca leaves into coca paste since he was 14. Tierralta, Colombia. Oct. 15, 2016. © Erika Piñeros
A young girl and her friend , shovel the coca leaves into containers at the local ‘caleta’. “To us this is the legal stuff, with this we can educate our children, buy them food and clothes, give them health, and there’s even a little bit left for us,” says her father. Tierralta, Colombia. Oct. 15, 2016. © Erika Piñeros
Gasoline is added to the coca leaves – already mixed with ammonia and cement – at a makeshift laboratory. Tierralta, Colombia. Oct. 15, 2016. © Erika Piñeros
A sign in front of the local school reads ‘Welcome to Gallo’. This community, whose inhabitants rely on coca production for their survival, was chosen as one of the ‘normalisation zones’ where FARC militants would demobilise and disarm as part of the peace deal signed with the Colombia government in late 2016. Tierralta, Colombia. Oct. 15, 2016. © Erika Piñeros
Pedro – not his real name, 41, harvests coca leaves from his 14 year-old son’s plantation in Tierralta, Córdoba. “We have a thousand [coca] plants here. We get about $400,000 pesos (US$135) every two months, but we’re gonna have to take them out if the peace process goes through and the police arrives”, the cocalero says. Tierralta, Colombia. Oct. 15, 2016. © Erika Piñeros
A woman and her baby walk to the port of Frasquillo in Tierralta, Córdoba, a region of Colombia where coca plantations increased by 146% in 2016. Tierralta, Colombia. Oct. 14, 2016. © Erika Piñeros
Young workers from a coca farm pick up the necessary supplies to process the coca paste from a boat. Tierralta, Colombia. Sept. 30, 2016. © Erika Piñeros

To learn more about Erika’s projects visit her website , here


La fotógrafa del mes de Enero es Erika Piñeros

Erika Piñeros es una periodista multimedia independiente que cubre temas socio-políticos y de derechos humanos en su país natal Colombia y en Camboya.

En Colombia, Erika ha reportado sobre el desplazamiento forzado, el secuestro, la reintegración de ex militantes de grupos armados ilegales a la sociedad, y el impacto de políticas contra drogas en las vidas de los cocaleros. De igual manera, Piñeros ha documentado el rápido desarrollo de Camboya luego del conflicto y el impacto en sus comunidades, incluyendo desalojos forzados, las revueltas civiles y la devastadora desaparición de recursos naturales.

Su trabajo ha sido publicado en IRIN News, Foreign Policy, America’s Quarterly, CNN International y Le Figaro.

Coca: Colombia’s burden (Coca: la maldición de Colombia)

Sorprendidos por los resultados inesperados del plebiscito de octubre de 2016 que descarriló momentáneamente las negociaciones de paz entre el gobierno y las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC); Miles de personas marcharon en las ciudades para presionar al gobierno para que concluyera el trato. Mientras tanto, para muchos cocaleros y sus familias en áreas rurales, la coyuntura les dio un respiro respiro.

Temían cómo cambiarían sus vidas y sus subsistencia cuando llegara la policía a la región y con la desmovilización de su principal comprador. “Si el sí hubiera ganado, ya estaríamos jodidos”, dice Miguel, un cocalero del municipio de Tierralta en el departamento de Córdoba. Junto con la comida que él cultiva para el sustento de su familia, Miguel cultiva coca para mantener a su familia.
Sus principales compradores son los mismos militantes de las FARC que tendrían que desmovilizarse y trasladarse a una “zona de normalización” en la vereda de Gallo, cómo parte del acuerdo de paz. Y el incremento de la fuerza pública y los observadores internacionales en el área durante el período de desarme representaba una amenaza para las actividades ilícitas de Miguel.
Por su parte, Jaime, un joven cocalero de la misma zona, dijo que la producción de coca se dificultaría una vez que las FARC se desmovilicen por completo, pero nunca terminará. “Siempre habrá otro comprador, porque cuando un [grupo ilegal] se va, llega otro ”. Jaime hace una pausa y concluye diciendo: “O tal vez si no hubiera nadie que la comprara, puedo eso tendría que acabarse y ese sería el final. Tendríamos que dejar la coca a un lado y dedicarnos a otra cosa “, dice sonriendo.”

Para saber más de los proyectos de Erika, aquí