I have been conducting research in Putumayo since 1999, with over 10 trips to the region. This fieldwork includes interviews with local elected officials including the governor and mayors; priests, U.S. contractors, community leaders, military officials, international aid workers, coca farmers, and women activists in the Putumayo Women’s Alliance.
The roads in Putumayo are lined with abandoned houses. Here is the story of one displacement, from a 2009 interview:
My husband was the mayor’s assistant, he was the acting mayor at the time, and he had to leave because the AUC was calling him to come be accountable to them, ponerse a cuentas with them.
Because he had always been a functionary, a government official, he was working with the mayor, and he had to go into the mountains and sometimes he had to go talk with the guerrillas. Because someone was going to be killed, he would go with a commission, the priest also would go with them, and as a functionary he would have to go, he would have to talk. He didn’t go to fight with them, he went in peace, en son de paz. And when he would go on these trips to the mountains, other people were watching, and of course, they said, they go because they already have connections, llaverias, or because they are friends, or whatever.
There was a civic-military brigade that was practically the installation of the AUC, they came with the entire military deployment and when the civic-military brigade was done some guys stayed behind that had arrived a week before. I say, sometimes you sin because of naïveté, uno peca por ingenuo.
One of these military officers, un duro, asked my husband, the mayor’s assistant, what strange movements had been occurring in the pueblo. He asked him, how is the situation. And my husband, believing that he was doing the right thing, said that people were worried, they were afraid because there were some strange guys that were going around armed, in cars and were driving all over, and were already living in one of the hotels…they arrived precisely at the same hotels where these guys were staying. Where the commander enters and these guys go down and they sit down together.
… He should have seen but not said anything to that guy. What does this reveal? That there are agreements, there are things that they do and people shouldn’t speak about it, no one should say anything or they are the ones who are accused, señalado. And that is what happened. And he was the one who was accused, that he was the one who had gone to the commander, the one who was coordinating the whole brigade. Later, he was called by the AUC.
After that, he had to go check on some government construction projects, some schools, and over there, there they — the guerrillas — were already trying to get people to go out and protest and because he told the people to remember what had happened during the last paro, because they suffered so much, that at least in the rural areas they had food to eat, yucca, but he personally couldn’t advise them.
They say that as he was leaving, a few meters out the guerrillas came out and they took the motorcycle that he was riding and they made him walk the rest of the way. It was a reprisal for opening his mouth, for saying things. The next day he had to go to the other side of municipality to check on other construction projects and they had taken the municipal dump truck that was transporting the food supplies for people because during this time the situation was very difficult. I think there was a strike going on, or they had lifted it for a few days and the shipment of food supplies had run out and they had to go, they had taken the dump truck full of food supplies and taken it to the mountains, where he had to go to check on the school and they were asking for someone, but it wasn’t his name, but it was him they were looking for…he told them, if there is a problem I won’t go in, I’ll go back. But the guerrillas spoke and they let him go in to check on the school and leave.
When at night he met with some friends and that day he was going to check on the school at 6am, the news had arrived, as the mayor’s assistant he had to report on Monday to the office, the state of public order, and he commented that the guerrilla in one hamlet had called him and that things weren’t going well. And all of this was covered on the Putumayo news, meaning that many people heard it. A friend of mine heard it and said to me, but he is an idiot, how is going to open his big mouth like that, saying that about the guerrillas, that they took the motorcycle, that they made him walk, that they took the municipal dump truck. Because, let me tell you, the guerrilla ended up burning the municipal dump truck. Things went from bad to worse. And everyone was looking for him, and luckily they didn’t find him or that would have been the end of him!
That was why he left. The other ones were calling him to ponerse a cuentas with them because they gave a deadline of November 20, 2000 for anyone who had things pending, they had to go confess and they would get a clean slate and anyone who didn’t go would be seen as against them. He said, what am I going to tell them if I am accused everywhere, I don’t have anything to discuss with them, all that I have done is part of the job, the work, el oficio que me toca, what could I tell them, here I am and at your service? Is that what I am going to say? No way. So he told the mayor and he left.
- Putumayo Oil
Oil exploration in southern Colombia began in the early 1960s, one of a series of extractive bonanzas pulling migrants into the region. A thin pipeline snakes along the road leading to Orito, the center of drilling in the region. Now, oil production has fallen substantially, and oil revenue makes up only about 9% of the state budget.
In the early years of Plan Colombia, the pipeline was a significant guerrilla target; hundreds of attacks against the oil infrastructure spilled thousands of gallons of oil along the road.