In the jungles of western Colombia, between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, a small rebel army is holding out against the government, drug traffickers and history.
The Cold War ended a quarter of a century ago, and the biggest guerrilla army in the Americas, the FARC, finally handed in its weapons this year. Yet the FARC’s smaller rival, the Marxist-Leninist National Liberation Army, or ELN, is still on a war footing.
The group is currently holding peace talks with the Colombian government in Quito, Ecuador, while fighting off drug gangs encroaching on its territory. Many of the rebels are skeptical that they’ll be able to reach a lasting peace with Colombia’s “oligarchy.”
“We have to keep fighting, we have to keep shooting, to be able to build a more just Colombia,” said “Yerson,” the alias of a commander of the group’s so-called Ernesto Che Guevara combat unit. “I don’t see enough common ground for the ELN to leave more than 50 years of its history on a negotiating table in Quito.”
Photographer Iván Valencia traveled to Choco department in western Colombia to document the rebels’ daily life for Bloomberg News before the ceasefire ends next month.