Barragán’s respect for the land is so deep that asking him to dig up memories from one specific period of his life leaves him almost speechless. It was in the 1990s. The guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and other rebel groups were rapidly taking hold of the country, particularly rural areas like the Orinoco River basin. To the FARC, the land was a source of revenue from the sale of timber, oil, gas, palm oil, rice, coca, and other crops.
Like so many, Barragán’s family fled the region. More than 7 million people were displaced during the country’s 52-year civil war. They escaped to places like the Colombian Amazon, and when those forests became ground zero for FARC-led drug trafficking and other illegal activities, they fled again. And again. More than 220,000 people were killed.
“It was a difficult time,” is all he says about the period when he and his family relocated to the capital city, Bogotá.
Without the llaneros and other natives of the region, the Orinoco basin suffered. There and across the country, natural resources were degraded and destroyed by forest fires used to clear the land for crops, toxic spills from coca cultivation and illegal mining, and other illegal or unsustainable activities carried out by the rebels.
After a few years, when fighting in the Orinoco died down, the Barragáns returned to their ranch. But the armed conflict continued to smolder and flare, especially in the Amazon.
A historic peace agreement, signed in late November 2016 between the government of Colombia and the FARC, is designed to put an end, finally, to the conflict. The agreement includes the requirement—met in June 2017—that the FARC hand over its weapons. It also includes a less common measure for achieving peace.
Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos, along with donor countries supporting the peace process, believes that finding answers to who manages the country’s natural resources and how these resources can be used is integral to the peace process.