orrantia_280When I arrived, images from the past came flooding back, and I felt a kind of thrill as I walked into homes once partially forbidden to me. Forbidden for the mere act of fear. The last time I’d seen this town it was filled with men in army fatigues carrying grenade launchers and looking despairingly at me. Behind them, in their homes, in the fields, were the men and women who also lived under their gazes, for whom this was simply life.

Until a few years ago, people in this small hamlet tucked in the mountains of the northern coast of Colombia made a living mostly from coca cultivation and cocaine production. It was not that different from many others places in the country, where coca has replaced cash crops and constituted a way of survival. But this small place was also the hub of a well-known paramilitary commander. The Boss, as he was called, ruled this region, and to this day people consider him a father figure, a protector, benefactor and leader. Nothing was done here without his permission or supervision. Today, as he serves a sentence in a US prison for drug trafficking and murder, the army has moved in, eradicating most of the coca crops and labs. Among the people here there is a feeling of having been left adrift, as they now seek ways of dealing with their pasts and rebuilding their lives.

This series is about going back and revising not only what is left but what was once imagined. It is also an approach to the uncertainty that people are left with as a result of the so-called war on drugs. In so doing this series is both a personal exploration of my own memories and fears, as much as a suggestive documentation of what life has become for some in contemporary Colombia.

Juan Orrantia