El Charco, 7 July

Carlos Avila Gonzalez and Phillip Robertson, for the Pulitzer Center
El Charco, Colombia

El Charco sits on a bend in the Tapaje river, a good sized town that is home to a growing population of displaced people from upriver. It is a violent and unpredictable place, filled with informers for the FARC and a heavy military presence. El Charco is poor and people have little or no civic services. The mayor told us that the city has gone without a supply of fresh water for more than two months.


We arrived and found about 100 campesinos living in an gymnasium in town. Many of them were from Pueblo Nuevo, a town an hour upriver that was caught in fierce fighting between FARC and the Army a few months ago. They also told us that the guerillas had helped them grow coca and they were afraid to return to their homes. Their situation has definitely gone from bad to worse. They could expect very little help from the Colombian government, which assisted them with mattresses and food for three months before turning the case over to the Red Cross. We made a trip the next day to Pueblo Nuevo to see if there was anyone left.


Carlos took photographs while I taped interviews with the displaced families. Many of them seemed desperate when foreigners showed up asking questions. People who have fled fighting often are important contacts in a war zone and often have much better information than the authorities. When I asked about the ecological effects of the spraying, they insisted it was a disaster for the river, that the chemical killed off jungle animals, fish and birds.