Thirty years ago in the jungle south of Colombia, Raul Barquero was a Chilean infantry officer manning patrol bases, scouting fields and photographing enemies during the war against the FARC drug traffickers.
He traveled to Colombia in the late 1980s to visit his family but instead was commissioned as a colonel and sent to the demilitarized zone. He ended up there for an unprecedented ten years with the demobilized, prominent and now largely forgotten paramilitary organizations and guerrillas in charge of the jungle.
Barquero had seen very little of the forest during that time, it was just a big open field filled with loggers and hunters, but there were atrocities. There were drug-runners chopping down mangroves in remote rivers to plant huge amounts of marijuana plants, illegal gold miners who hacked off a man’s hand to feed his habit and personal vengeance was meted out to people who argued with “the people of god”.
Wildlife conservation is the top priority of the FARC now that it is a political party, but they were trying to illegally extract resources, especially coffee, and are now doing it again. Extractions had to stop when the FARC surrendered and drug traffickers disappeared but the loggers are back and now burning and chopping down the forests.
Ecuador has also seen massive environmental destruction with mining for petroleum and lithium, poachers with chainsaws, hunters with bows and arrows and the reopening of the Dominican-Dominican border.
What happened to the FARC men that were really dangerous to anyone who crossed their path?
As a Colombian colonel, Roque Barquero doesn’t remember much about his time in the jungle, but after a decade living in the mountains he can still sense the absence of gun-toting men and spoke to Jillian Kay Melchior about the reason he wants to help fight pollution in Ecuador.
For more information on the Afro-Colombian community in Colombia, check out the Department of Energy’s website