As part of my research, I am working on the documentary “An Uncomfortable Peace” in collaboration with Oscar Osorio, Luis Gallego, Ricardo Venegas, and Carlos Álvarez. Set in Briceño, the rural village where I conduct my dissertation research, the film shows how three families have experienced a broader transformation based on a landmark peace agreement and the building of Colombia’s largest hydroelectric dam. “An Uncomfortable Peace” has been featured in El Espectador, Colombia’s most important daily newspaper.
Documentary film represents a way to both collaborate with the communities I study and direct the lessons of Briceño, important to an ongoing and controversial peace process, to a public audience. For more, keep reading…
Setting the Scene
On a sunny Sunday morning, a dozen campesinos (peasants) load up mandarin oranges, sugarcane juice, coffee beans, and other products from their farms onto motorcycles and a borrowed truck. As we film, they travel in convoy down a serpentine dirt road to a not-yet-opened hydroelectric dam. “When we arrive, we need to be ready to unload and set up the tables immediately,” says Fabio, a veteran of eight years of organizing against the dam that has wreaked havoc in their community.
“They’re going to jump on us immediately, saying, ‘you can’t be here, you need to leave.’ What are we going to say?” Angélica, Fabio’s partner in life and struggle, asks.
“We’re going to say, ‘we can’t fish anymore, we can’t pan for gold’,” Maria says. “That we pulled out all our (coca) crops. That the government hasn’t lived up to its promises. We’ve taken our products to sell. So what are we going to do? They need to give us a solution.”
The isolated village of Briceño is a key site for the implementation of Colombia’s landmark peace agreement. The region was a battle zone between the army and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and paramilitary groups who fought to control the local coca economy. As part of the 2016 agreement, Briceño was named the pilot site of a coca substitution program, which has brought promises of state investment and an uncomfortable peace. However, major delays in promised aid have led to the disappearance of the coca economy with nothing to replace it. At the same time, Hidroituango, the largest hydroelectric dam in Colombia, has eliminated local access to the Cauca river and traditional economies based around gold panning and fishing. And a Chinese company further threatens the local environment and livelihoods with plans to open a gold mine.
Over the objections of dam security and heavily armed police officers, the families sold their goods in the dam’s parking lot. But just as their struggle to open this market at the foot of the dam is about more than a strategic sales point, the story of our documentary is about more than a rural community being run over by the forces of development and state power. We are documenting these families’ often contentious struggles to carve out lives for themselves in the midst of regional transition.
For Yaned, this means raising the cacao trees that she’s planted to replace her coca, with or without the help of delayed productive projects that were promised as part of the coca substitution program. For Fabio and Angélica this means a battle to be autonomous, growing nearly everything they eat with agroecological practices, and seeking the spaces (including the dam parking lot) to sell their coffee and chocolate. For Suso and Eugenia, this means living between Briceño and the closest big city of Medellín, seeking a better education for their four children. “An Uncomfortable Peace” tells their stories, and through them, those of rural Colombia, the peace process, and campesino populations across Latin America that confront a changing world.
While the arrival of COVID to rural Colombia forced us to temporarily suspend filming in 2020, we plan to resume recording shortly. For press, please contact me.