No Shelter from Fear

Mads Nissen

For almost 50 years, Colombia has been at war with itself, displacing millions of people within their own country. As is often the case, it is ordinary civilians who bear the brunt of the suffering.~~Colombia has been at war with itself for almost half a century, a war that has cost the lives of tens of thousands of people and has displaced millions Colombians from their homes. Rooted in the devastating civil war that ripped the country apart in the 1940s and 50s, paramilitary groups aligned to either side of the conflict have carried on their fight in Colombia's countryside, ostensibly responding to threats from each other and in defence of different groups but increasingly profiteering from the rich pickings of the country's huge output of cocaine. At 5.2 million people, Colombia's Internally Displaced People (IDP) rate is an astonishing 12% of the population and puts it second only to Sudan in terms of people uprooted from their homes by violence.

Despite its initially ideological causes, much of the conflict now revolves around the production and smuggling of drugs, mainly marijuana and cocaine, the proceeds of which are used to perpetuate the armed struggle. Amongst a number of smaller outfits, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN) on the left of the political spectrum and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) on the right dominate what has become a complex web of interconnected conflicts being fought by means of extortion, kidnapping, guerilla warfare and other means. Since the late 1990s, the USA has stepped in with its "Plan Colombia", an ambitious scheme to help eradicate coca cultivation and assist the Colombian government in fighting the militias. ~~The losers, as so often in these situations, are overwhelmingly ordinary people who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. For farmers in the countryside, danger can lurk in many places. No means of enrichment are too base or specialised for many of the armed groups and evictions are commonplace, leaving farmers with no livelihood and few legal avenues to reclaim what is theirs.~~Guillermo Rendon's story is typical of how easily civilians can get sucked into the wider conflict. He witnessed a group of loggers stealing wood from a local farm and reported the incident to the police. A few days later, while his wife was out shopping for groceries, armed men stormed into the house, dragged him out and shot him at close range through the mouth. His wife Leidy, fearing for her own and her children's lives, refused to reveal what she suspected to the police - that the loggers belonged to Los Chicos, the local paramilitary group in Tolima, a small town southwest of the capital Bogota. ~~A few days later, Leidy received a letter with a large skull drawn on it. The message was simple: "We give you five hours." Like so many others caught up in the murderous fighting, Leidy took her three children and fled to Bogota where she has sought refuge in one of the dozens of slums ringing the city. Though they now occupy a decrepit 10 square metre shack surrounded by other frightened recent arrivals Leidy's instinct was to move to an urban centre since they are perceived to be less at risk than the lawless countryside.~~Colombia's last president, Alvaro Uribe, was able to improve the internal security situation to some extent during his two terms in office but his methods were seen as overly focused on a military solution to the long running conflict. Under his successor, Juan Manual Santos, guerrilla activity and clashes with security forces have once against started to edge upwards. ~~Mads Nissen received funding from the Manuel Rivera-Ortiz Foundation for International Photography which enable him to work with writer Lene Winther to cover this ongoing and often sidelined conflict which has been blighting the lives of tens of thousands of Colombians for decades.

 

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      COLOMBIA

      A local woman has just escaped from her boyfriend who...

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      COLOMBIA

      47 year old Jose Parra Zape exposes his shocking scar...

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      COLOMBIA

      The house of Leidy Vivianna Rendon. She and her three...

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      COLOMBIA

      Local police officers search customers of a nightclub...

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      COLOMBIA

      Squashed into just 12 square meters, 16 displaced...

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      COLOMBIA

      A child looks through a glass window in the slum...

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      COLOMBIA

      Squashed into just 12 square meters, 16 displaced...

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      COLOMBIA

      A policeman stands guard in a poor slum neighborhood...

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      COLOMBIA

      A slum south of Bogota where millions live in...

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      Government troops on patrol at a local cemetery pose...

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      COLOMBIA

      Leidy Vivianna Rendon holds a neighbour's child. She...

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      COLOMBIA

      Overview from a plane of the Arauca province. One of...

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      COLOMBIA

      19 year old Yemini Esperanza Narbaes stands at the...

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      Leidy Vivianna Rendon only has two photographs left...

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      COLOMBIA

      A woman fixes a mosquito net at a house in the...

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      COLOMBIA

      Receiving letters inscribed with death threats etched...

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      COLOMBIA

      An internally displaced woman makes a complaint at...

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      COLOMBIA

      Local residents pump water from a truck into their...

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      COLOMBIA

      A view of a child in the village of La Esperanza from...

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      COLOMBIA

      Soacha is a slum area southwest of Bogota. Tens of...

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      COLOMBIA

      A displaced (IDP) man and his son beg for money from...

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      COLOMBIA

      In a church in the city of Quibdo, the walls are all...

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      COLOMBIA

      Graffiti by the paramilitary group A.U.C in the slum...

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      COLOMBIA

      17 year old Gilmar Johani cares for his four month...

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      COLOMBIA

      The house of Leidy Vivianna Rendon. She and her three...

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      COLOMBIA

      Nine year old Luiz Guillermo Rendon lives in Soacha...

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      COLOMBIA

      A man looks out from his shack with a view over the...

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      A stray dog on a street at night in a slum...

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