Stories Heard in the last conference of FARC-EP as an Armed Group.
15/02/2017 D-Day +76
San Vicente del Caguán
Until a few months ago, in one of Colombia’s least explored regions, one which many consider a chimeric throwback where you can catch a glimpse of a prehistoric past, a guerrilla unit, machete in hand,clearedfrail paths and fought against the violent currents of the Mesay and Apaporis rivers. Each guerrilla fighter carried a Galil 7.62, a Pietro Beretta Cougar 8000, and a machete. As part of his gear, Perga also carried a Sony HDR-CX405, a small video camera that can take landscape photographs.
Perga and the rest of them walked like tiny creatures among the colossal and sandstone columns that stand like islands rising from the jungle – antediluvian giants that are part of a geological structure that could be characterized as the sage forebear of everything there is on Earth. The columns are tepuis, those abrupt, vertical walls with flat or round peaks that resemble domes. According to scholars, they received their name inpemón *, a local indigenous language, and it translates to the “abode of the gods.” This tepuisshapeChiribiquete, make up a vast mountain ridge that rises in the middle of the Amazon rainforest in Colombia, in the departments of Caquetá and Guaviare.
The next foreign eyes that saw Chiribiquete walked among the tepuis almost fifty years later. The geologist Jaime Galvis, a camera in his hands, and Fernando Urbina, a philosopher who specialized in indigenous thinking, came upon the magnificent jaguars, the men in soldierly formation or enraptured in a magical trance, the ferocious dogs, and the ancestral snake from whence all life comes –all of them traced nearly 20,000 years ago on the walls of the gigantic island-rocks. After that, it was Carlos Castaño Uribe, then the National Parks director, who saw the ridge’s vastness through the window of a small airplane. Since then, helicopters started landing and researchers from various disciplines started navigating the rivers. The scientists saw the millenary wall paintings, the birds, the rocks, the waterfalls, and the plants that had never been recorded. They saw part of what ancient men had seen, what Perga and the rest of his unit would see some time later.
The gigantic Chiribiquete, its tiny inhabitants, and the rocks on which they painted as a testimony to their presence remained isolated for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years. The tepuis were sheltered from outside interference by the natural barrier formed by the surrounding forest and the state’s incapacity to look beyond its center. The people who did manage to look beyond and recognize the enormous advantages of the area were the entrepreneurs from the buoyant drug trafficking industry. In 1984, Colombian Police airplanes flew over Chiribiquete and DEA undercover agents visited the park. They were tracking a satellite transmitter that they had installed in ether tanks –an indispensable precursor that is used in the production of coca paste—that had traveled all the way from New Jersey and arrived in the middle of the Colombian jungle. The ether, and then the bombs, reached Tranquilandia, an enormous coca complex owned by Pablo Escobar, the Ochoa brothers, and Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha. Not far, Perga’s father and other peasants from his village picked the leaves that probably fed Tranquilandia’s nine laboratories. After being transformed, the cocaine was hauled onto airplanes that took off from clandestine tracks in Chiribiquete (one was located on the top of a tepui). Close by, the police found sewing machines and uniforms that apparently belonged to guerrilla fighters from FARC-EP. Following that discovery, politicians and the public in general realized that there was a connection between FARC and drug trafficking. Accordingly, and for the first time ever, FARC were dubbed –and became for all the world—a “narco-guerrilla” by Lewis Tambs, the Ambassador to the United States at the time.
More than 30 years after “Yarí 84,” the name given to the operation against Tranquilandia, and more than 20 years after Perga joined FARC, his unit received the small camera and a set of detailed instructions. Perga’s unit was ordered to photograph something, to film something, and to gather information with that little device that, in principle, no one knew how to properly operate. The guerrillas marched, perhaps they fled. They were the spearhead of an operation, or maybe the rearguard of a larger group. They were en route to a new mission; or perhaps walking through the jungle was the mission.
Unlike Schultes, Perga surely does not think of God when he recalls the striking sandstone mountains, but it’s likely that he does think sometimes of the dense mist blanket that fell over the mountains every night and disappeared at sunrise. Perhaps he senses that life over there is special, that the living beings that thrive in the tepuis probably can’t be found in any other corner of the world. Perhaps he knows that the ground that his rubber boots trod was the home of the gods of another civilization, the beginning of the world for the Karijona indigenous people and its millenary ancestors.
Chiribiquete saw the wandering gods, the men and the animals that rose from the water, and the sacred serpent. Chiribiquete saw the coca leaf turning into cocaine, and then traveling in planes or heading south following old rubber paths. Chiribiquete saw many times the fire that fell from armed planes. It saw men and women guerrillas marching in lines. It heard a newborn child crying in the line of the armed men. It saw three Americans and noticed that they were prisoners. It saw thousands of years go by like windstorm, since the time it first rose during Earth’s infancy. Chiribiquete saw Perga with his rifle slung over his shoulder, wielding the camera. Chiribiquete has seen it all and barely anyone has seen it. Perga has. Perga saw it.
He has also remained unseen by almost everyone. Only a few will recognize his face when his body no longer carries his gear. And only a few others will be able to connect his face with his nickname. Only a few know who he is, and perhaps, just like “the isolated,” he will stay away and avoid contact, keeping clear from the inventories, the lists, the registers. Like them, maybe, he will try to avoid being branded: the uncivilized, the barbarians, the guerrilla, the killer.
We thank Perga, who generously shared part of his story and his images with us during an interview in the X Conference of the FARC-EP, in the Yarí Plains.