Combats, oil, and rifles in Putumayo
28/10/2017 D-Day +331
There, in the Puerto Vega-Teteyé corridor, you can see a long line of trucks resembling a worm parked on the road that leads to Ecuador. It’s a dirt road even though tons and tons of money, in the form of oil, move along its path. The huge valves are opened and a thick gush comes out. The ground starts to darken as a stain spills to the sides of the road. It eventually reaches the first green leaves that surround the dirt. It advances drenching the soil until it slides into the creek where the spirit of the Nasa and the Kofán lives. The oil slides along the ground and the jungle in front of the silent truck drivers and the distant-looking guerrillas, the same ones who, with a rifle in their hands, ordered the opening of the valves.
The oil has fallen on the ground, the water, and the animals countless times –thousands and thousands of barrels, tens of thousands of gallons, millions of liters. Black marks running through the water networks of the Putumayo and San Miguel rivers; living waters that are navigated, drank, fished. But the oil not only fell as a result of FARC’s rifles; it also fell during the daily tasks of production and exploration carried out by oil corporations that, as the region’s inhabitants well know, throw their wastes in the creeks and rivers: in the San Miguel, El Diamante, the Mochilero, Buenos Aires. The poisoned water lands in the wetlands, the lakes and the lagoons.
The caravan, a time bomb with its flammable load, halted immediately. The drivers, already used to the drill, crawled out as if it were an old Western, and threw themselves to the ground as best they could.
The assailants shot from a high point, while the others, already off their bikes, hammered their rifles from the ground, their bellies slightly in the air. Surely, there were voices amid the buzzing of the bullets. Orders here, insults there, cries for help. -Someone was hit, partner, they hit him; Anguished screams. -If feels as if a bee stung you, not more, and then the blood stains your whole uniform.
The bum bum kept rattling and the wounded fell. Further over there, one of the men died with a radio by his side. When Army backup arrived, the guerrillas were already gone, but one of the combatants was missing: a soldier.
–I was in that gunfight. We grabbed him and put him on a motorcycle. He was hurt. The wound was in his arm. We grabbed him, but we didn’t tie him, even though we were wary because you never know. But then the comrade said: “No, we are not going to tie him. Leave him like that. He is wounded. The guard can watch him.”
–The Central Staff of FARC-EP informs that second lieutenant Christian Moscoso Rivera, belonging to Jungle Brigade 27, of the National Army’s Sixth Division, is held by Front 32 as a result of combats between FARC-EP and the Army in the county of El Líbano. The wounds he has are not of a grave nature and he is being given the necessary medical attention. We call on the national government to stop any search operations to avoid jeopardizing the life of said official. At the same time, we invite the government to set in motion the pertinent protocols for the prompt release of the second lieutenant.
–One always says that everything has its history. People, weapons, and furthermore, these rifles, which are supposed to be only for the armed forces. There are some that are “made in Israel,” and others that are “made in Colombia” but they are just for them. This rifle, the one I have, has its history. We captured this one. I say, “we captured,” because you always speak as a collective. We captured it in a military action that took place right around the time Christian Moscoso became our prisoner. I am not sure if this one was Christian Moscoso’s rifle, or one of his partners’, but it must have belonged to one of them. It’s disgraceful, isn’t it? Telling you this, knowing that there are dead people in the mix and, well, it’s good to highlight, at least, the man’s bravery. He turned himself in because it was in one of his hands and he couldn’t operate the rifle any more.
–I can’t speak of all of them, because I don’t who you are. I speak of those who were with me, (those guerrillas) treated me well.
–We listened to the news and he yearned to listen as well because we were guarding him and he noticed: he paid attention. So we asked him if he liked listening to the news and he said yes, that he usually did it. So he asked us if we could give him a small radio as a gift. I went to the commander and told him, and the comrade said, “Sure.” They took a small radio from another guerrilla fighter and gave it to him. He listened to the news all the time. Whenever he heard about combats and dead soldiers, he would say: “Damn it, they’re giving it to the soldiers pretty hard, aren’t they? My poor soldiers.” We laughed and said nothing. We kept quiet. I only told him: “Yeah, sure, this is a fight.”
–When he heard that I was going out, he said farewell: “Goodbye, lads.” We asked him one question, one man from (Front) 32 asked him what he would do if he found one of us guerrillas dressed as a civilian in town. He said: “No, all normal, I would shake his hand.” That’s what Moscoso said. And then the guerrilla said: “Confess, don’t be an asshole.” That’s how the guerrilla put it, all in confidence. So the soldier said: “I would shake his hand.” He repeated the same thing, and the guy insisted that no. I am not sure how the matter finally ended between them.
–I think that those from Havana can realize that the weapons that are under their custody and those we’ve left in the containers are well-kept weapons. Why? Because a guerrilla fighter takes good care of them. They are given to him and he must care for them. Suddenly, the commander would say: “Come here, let me check your rifle.” Then, if it was dirty, and that happened often, well, then, logically, it meant that we didn’t deserve to bear it: “Give me that rifle right now!” the commander would say, and then hand it over to a man who was tidy. Because if you are too lazy to bear it, then it must be given to someone else, someone who will bear it, take good care of it, keep it well. It’s simple: if you don’t take good care of it, it starts deteriorating. And in our case, we can’t just wait for it to deteriorate, because this was a war and we needed a working rifle.
That’s the way it was when the conflict was still going on. Today, we clean them to keep them well and pretty, so that when they melt them there won’t be too much mud coming out [laughter].
–We had him for a month, perhaps less, I think. We couldn’t speak to him. We were there in camp and he was over there, as if he was part of a cache. He thought that we were different. A girl earned his trust, a nurse. She took care of him, cleaned him. He was all in for her. He was the last one, the last one we turned over in this unit. In those days, the days of the peace process, they were talking in Havana. They talked there and we fought here.
That day, there was no oil stain spilling through the jungle and the roads. The combat, in the end, prevented that. Nevertheless, the oil keeps on seeping through the forests and the waters, spilling all over after an improvised tube designed to steal it suddenly explodes; leaking in front of the eyes of the local people, those who wield hoes and dirt instead of rifles.
– Starting at 00:00 hours next July 20th… Iván Márquez’s voice resonated all the way from the island.
On July 20th, the day after FARC-EP freed the last soldier they had kidnapped, a new indefinite and unilateral ceasefire was decreed. A year later, on June 26, 2016, a “bilateral” and “definitive” ceasefire was signed. Nearly a year after that, on August 2017, the doors of the containers holding the weapons of FARC-EP former combatants were finally closed. Soon, the weapons will be deactivated and destroyed.
The voice of one of the former combatants that is reproduced in this story was heard in a restaurant in La Carmelita Normalization Zone, in Putumayo, right by the Puerto Vega-Teteyé corridor, where he agreed to reminisce on the six “hard” battles in which he fought and came out unwounded thanks to his skills and training.
The other former combatant told his story sitting a few feet from his new temporary house in La Carmelita Normalization Zone, where he lives with his girlfriend and their baby. A Galil rifle with UN bar codes rested on his lap. Just a few hours later, he laid down his weapon in one of the containers disposed to that end. In exchange for it, he received documents that accredited his laying down his arms, thus starting his new life as a civilian.
The man who stated that the second lieutenant was being held by Front 32 was Joaquín Gómez (nom de guerre), commander of what was then FARC-EP’s Southern Bloc and a peace delegate for the guerrilla’s negotiations with the Colombian government, in Havana, Cuba.
The voice of Christian Moscoso was sourced from the archives of Informativo Insurgente, a FARC-EP online newscast that Colombian and international media reproduced on the day of the second lieutenant’s liberation. His voice was drowned by the sound of a helicopter landing nearby Christian spoke slowly in front of the FARC cameras, seemingly weighing his words.
When his statement was over, you can see him from the camera in the helicopter. In the clearing, dozens of guerrillas dressed in camouflage, their rifles on their shoulders, wave goodbye. Finally, once more from below, you can see in the backlight the helicopter flying away, carrying Moscoso on board.