Yesterday, SIPA hosted a talk by Stephen Ferry on photography and human rights in Colombia, and Ross Chapman was there to bring you the details.
Few countries have a part of their history explicitly called “The Violence.” One rare exception is the nation of Colombia, whose civil wars have spanned on and off for over a century. The specific war period of La Violencia lasted most of the 1950s and claimed about 200,000 civilian lives, and its scholars were called Violentologists. In his photojournalistic reporting of violence in Colombia since then, Stephen Ferry borrowed the name and bestowed it upon his book, Violentology. Ferry gave an hour-long lecture in which he described the photos of his book page by page for a small, substantially Colombian crowd in the IAB yesterday, followed by another good hour’s conversation about the current political climate. The result was a history lesson with quality journalism and impassioned conversation at its finest.
“I had this chip in my head that this was a drug war,” Ferry explained. He first visited the country in 1995 when giving a talk to Colombian photojournalists. But he soon discovered that the conflict was mainly political. Unlike many civil wars, it had nothing to do with race, ethnicity, or religion. But this didn’t make a huge difference for journalists. The government didn’t want photos of their atrocities publicized, and the insurgents didn’t want some of their tactics to come to light. As a result, most prominent journalists were bombarded with threats, and dozens have given their lives for their coverage of the events.
Since the formal end of La Violencia, three main parties have maintained the conflict – government forces (funded by nations such as the United States), guerilla forces (primarily the FARC and ELN), and paramilitary forces. Officially, the government and paramilitary were unconnected, but signs of collusion are abound, and both fear and despise the guerilla groups. Much of that animosity stems from kidnapping – the FARC especially was notorious for taking hostages from the civilian base. But the other parties are hardly saints; the national government would often kill civilians and dress them up as guerilla insurgents to show progress to the world, to the tune of an additional 4,000 civilian deaths. To give an idea of just how widespread this chaos is, over 10% of the nation of 45 million is internally displaced.