I have been conducting research in Putumayo since 1999, with over 10 trips to the field, funded in part by the Wenner Gren Foundation, the US Institute for Peace, and Colby College.
Putumayo is a southern frontier state along the border with Ecuador.
My fieldwork includes interviews with local elected officials including current and former governors and mayors, priests, community leaders, military officials, international aid workers, and coca farmers.
My first trip to the region, in 1999, was as a representative of WOLA on a trip accompanied by representatives of Colombian NGOs. Colombian anthropologist María Clemencia Ramírez provided invaluable contacts and support as she accompanied me on some of my subsequent research trips. Human rights activist Nancy Sanchez has also been a key guide and advisor for my research.
Since 2004, much of my research in the region has been supported by the Alianza Departamental de Mujeres del Putumayo–Tejedoras de Vida (the Women’s Alliance of the Department of Putumayo–Weavers of Life), a loose network of women, many of them public school teachers and community activists, created in an effort to collectively to address political and domestic violence. Although I continue to interview a range of people in the region, the Alliance assists me with contacts and my travel arrangements, and guarantees my security—to the degree that it can be, and my perspective is deeply informed by the Alliance’s analysis and projects.
Additional Sources on Putumayo
Putumayo became the centerpiece of U.S. counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations, including aerial fumigation and U.S.-sponsored Colombian army counternarcotics battalions.
Links in parentheses open pdf files.
For more on the intense violence in the region, see Human Rights Watch reports, on the relationship between the paramilitaries and the military, including a chapter on Putumayo (6thdivision), on forced recruitment of the minors by the paramilitaries and the guerrillas (childcombatants), the use of land mines by the guerrillas (Mines), on the paramilitary demobilization process (parademobilization) and on issues with impunity, particularly for paramilitary crimes (obstaclestojustice).
The Latin American Working Group has reported on violence in Colombia, including forced disappearances (ForcedDisappearances) and state abuses including illegal wiretapping (PoliceWiretapping) and aerial fumigation (LAWGfumigation LAWGfumigation1).
Women pineapple growers discuss the impact of aerial fumigation on their livelihood in this 7 minute video with English subtitles, here.
On January 25, 2013, their pineapple fields were fumigated and destroyed, along with forest and pastures, in a region with no visible coca. In addition to the loss of the crop and their families’ livelihood, the women are left with approximately US$13,000 debt to private banks and to the Women World’s Fund for loans taken out to rent the land and finance their agricultural work.