Reference : V-P-CO-E-00264
Date : 2007
Country/Region : COLOMBIA
Caption : San Joaquin. Portrait of a couple of displaced persons.
Photographer : RIOS, Carlos
Confidentiality level : public
Publication restrictions : publication without restrictions
Copyright : ICRC
Description : Home > The ICRC worldwide > The Americas > Colombia
27-08-2007 Stories from the field

“. . . we’re never going back there, that’s for sure”
Ana Soila and José Genaro never imagined that after 34 years of marriage they would have to start their lives all over again. Frightened by what had occurred where they lived, they decided to move and leave everything behind.
" We had a 50-hectare farm, where we planted plantains, lulo (naranjilla) and palm. These plants generated enough income for us to support our 7 children,” says Ana Soila.

“Everything was quiet and we led a peaceful life until an armed group started to propose that my daughter of 17 and son of 18, who worked with us on the farm, join their cause. They refused, saying they preferred to work the land. That’s when the pressure started. To prevent anything from happening to them, we had to decide whether to pick up and leave everything behind or to stay and lose the children.”

“It wasn’t an easy decision to take. It was either our children or our life’s work. It was a terribly stressful time. But some neighbours, who had witnessed the persecution, told us to get our children out of there. You’ve raised them so well and here you’re going to lose them.”

“One day we went up the mountain on two pack-animals to collect palm and take it to market, but we found it all damaged. We gathered what we could, but the message was clear. When we came down some armed men forced us to remove the palm and transport some supplies for them. Things were obviously getting very complicated. So on 20 November of 2003 we decided to leave.” Ana Soila and José Genaro, together with their children, headed for Villa Juliana, anheaded for Villa Juliana, an "invasion slum"[1] in Villavicencio where dozens of families have gone. “There a man gave us a small room to sleep in for some three months,” Ana Soila recalls.

“When we arrived, we practically lived off charity. A neighbour who had received assistance told us to go to the International Red Cross and that there they could help us until we found something. I went to the office they have in Villavicencio and there they gave us food supplies for the whole family and things for the house.”

To get by, Ana started working in a restaurant. Her husband couldn’t work because of a heart condition. “Thanks to a subsidy from the Government – says Ana – we could buy this little house that we’ve repaired a bit. And with the little money they lent us we put up a little store in the house and we live off that. Sometimes we have to use articles from the store because there’s no money for food.”

Ana also does laundry for families in their homes and with that money she pays the electricity and water bills. “For me, being so old, it’s very hard, but this little bit of money helps a lot.”

“When we were displaced it was really hard. We were accustomed to living very well. We had meat, milk, chicken, vegetables, everything. Now we have to pay for everything.”

“About six months ago we returned to San Joaquín. We found everything burned and in ruins, including the papers for the property. Now we don’t know what to do to prove that we own this piece of land. Even so, we’re never going back ther

1. A concentration of squatters' dwellings built illegally on land that is very often unsuitable for human habitation.
Original material : digital
Resolution : 2272x1704
Orientation : landscape
Colour/B&W : colour