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Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla members dance during a party at a camp. For fity-two years, FARC has been an armed movement in Colombia. With the peace agreements reached in Havana on August 24, 2016, it will begin to move towards becoming a political movement, Cauca, Colombia, July 2016.
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla members dance during a party at a camp. For fity-two years, FARC has been an armed movement in Colombia. With the peace agreements reached in Havana on August 24, 2016, it will begin to move towards becoming a political movement, Cauca, Colombia, July 2016.Alvaro Ybarra Zavala—Getty Images Reportage
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla members dance during a party at a camp. For fity-two years, FARC has been an armed movement in Colombia. With the peace agreements reached in Havana on August 24, 2016, it will begin to move towards becoming a political movement, Cauca, Colombia, July 2016.
FARC guerrilla members in training, July 2016.. A peace agreement was reached in Havana, Aug. 24, 2016, ending Colombia's 52-year old conflict that claimed more than 200,000 lives, Cauca, Colombia.
FARC guerrilla members shower at a camp, Cauca, Colombia, July 2016.
Tania, A FARC guerrilla member, puts on makeup at a camp, Cauca, Colombia. On Oct. 2, 2016, Colombians will vote in a referendum to end Colombia's 52-year old conflict between FARC, the military and right-wing paramilitaries, July 2016.
FARC guerrilla members play soccer at a camp in Cauca, Colombia, July 2016. Under the peace agreement signed in Havana on Aug. 24, 2016, ending Colombia's 52-year conflict, FARC fighters will receive amnesty for past crimes including drug trafficking.
FARC members watch a soccer match against civilians from the community of Robles, Cauca, Colombia, July 2016.
Portrait of Vicky, a member of FARC, at a camp, Cauca, Colombia, July 2016.
A guerrilla member of the FARC carries supplies to a camp, Cauca, Colombia, July 2016.
A group of FARC guerrillas and civilians perform community work in the community Robles Cauca, Colombia, July 2016. Many regions in Colombia have lived for 52 years under the control of FARC as the only authority. The peace agreement reached Aug. 24, 2016, has raised doubts and fears among civilians about the future that awaits their communities neglected by the state.
A child rides a bicycle in front of the ruins of a house destroyed in an attack by FARC in the com- munity of Toribio, Colombia. Many regions of Colombia have lived for more than 52 years under FARC's control. A Peace agreement reached in Havana, Cuba on Aug. 24, 2016 raised many doubts and fears among civilians about the future that awaits these communities neglected by the state, Cauca, Colombia, July 2016.
A wall destroyed by the conflict in the community of Santo Domingo del Caguan shows propaganda from FARC, Caqueta, Colombia, April 2016.
Civilians in the community of Remolinos del Caguan during Easter celebrations, Ca, Colombia, April, 2016.
A wall with religious icons and a picture of FARC Commander Manuel Marulanda, alias Tiro Fijo. Many regions of Colombia have lived for more than 52 years under the authority of FARC. With the peace agreement reached on Aug. 24, 2016, many are concerned about communities that have been long neglected by the state, Caqueta, Colombia, April 2016.
A group of local civilians attend Easter celebrations in the community of Puerto Camelias del Caguan, Caqueta, Colombia, April, 2016.
A group of civilians attend a Catholic Mass in the community of Puerto Camelias del Caguan. Both religion and FARC play central roles in communities where FARC has been the only authority for over 50 years, Aug. 24, 2016
A vulture rests in the community of Mona where there is evidence of the right-wing paramilitaries reemergence. The villages of Mona and Puerto Torres were the main operational centers of the paramilitaries in the region of Caqueta, Colombia. Prisoners suspected of collaborating with FARC were tortured at the church and local school, April 2016.
Holding candles, members of the community from Re- moiinos del Caguan attend a vigil for peace. Since the unilateral ceasefire announcement of the FARC, there are signs of the re-emergence of paramilitary units in the region, Caqueta, Colombia, April 2016.
A group of civilians wait for a mass in the village of Puerto Camelias, Caqueta, Colombia, which is one of the villages under FARC guerrilla control, Caqueta region, March, 2016.
An image of Bolivar and propaganda posters of the historic leaders of FARC on a wall of a house, Nov. 2013 in San Isidro, Caqueta, Colombia. The FARC South Block commands main FARC strongholds.
Freshly harvested cocoa leaves, Nov. 2013, Santa Elena, Caqueta, Colombia. Cooca cultivation is the main source of income for families in this region.
A local narcotics dealer holds up pure cocaine. All the different armed groups who take part in the conflict benefit from this market, with cocoa cultivation being the main source of income for families in this region, Colombia, Nov. 2007.
Soldiers of the Mobile Brigade No. 8 of the Joint Task Force South of Tolima during a military operation against FARC in a village in the municipality of Planadas, southern Tolima. Planadas has been a major historical stronghold of FARC in Colombia, May 2011.
Members of the Bloque Movil Arturo Ruiz of the revolutionary armed forces of Colombia (FARC) during a patrol, Nov. 2007. They are a special unit of FARC who fight in many different regions of Colombia. This unit is like a quick reaction force who help other sub-groups of FARC. About 35% of the Colombian Territory is under the strict control of the Revolutionary Forces of Colombia, or the FARC, as the self-declared Marxist-Leninist guerrilla is known in this country, where they have operated since 1964.
Soldiers of the Mobile Brigade No. 8 of the Joint Task Force south of Tolima escort two guerrilla members of the FARC mobile column Marquetalia captured during a military operation in the village of Macocal close to Planadas, Tolima, Colombia, May 2011.
Relatives and friends carry the body of 18-year old Benjamin to the cemetery for burial, Nov. 2013, La Union Peneya, Caqueta, Colombia, Nov. 2013. Benjamin died at age 18 during a fight with the FARC guerrillas
Family and friends gather for the funeral of 18-year old Benjamin, who died during a fight with guerrillas, Nov. 2013, La Unión Peneya, Caqueta, Colombia. About 35% of Colombian is under the strict control of the Revolutionary Forces of Colombia, FARC, as the self-declared Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group is known. Community Boards are the governing bodies of these municipalities. Both their chairmen and members are directly appointed by guerrilla commanders. FARC guerrillas are not the only armed group which operate. The ELN guerrilla and paramilitary groups also control vast areas of territory, applying their own laws and acting as the only authority.
A group of soldiers patrol the streets of "La comuna" number 13, a neighborhood with many FARC militants, and a stronghold for the distribution of cocaine, Medellin, Colombia, 2011.
Members of the Bloque Movil Arturo Ruiz of the revolutionary armed forces of Colombia, FARC, during a patrol. The Bloque Movil Arturo Ruiz is a special unit of FARC who fights in many different regions of Colombia, Nov. 2007.
A Forensic investigator with the Colombian Prosecutor's office examines an unidentified corpse (NN). The Human identification group from Antioquia, Colombia is comprised of four anthropologists, three dentists, two doctors, one assistant and a photographer. Since it was established, they have done 1325 exhumations of unidentified corpses, of which 653 have been identified and returned to their families. There are more than 96,000 people missing in Colombia, Antioquia, Medellin,March 2015.
A mural with photographs of missing people from the war in Antioquia, Colombia, Feb. 2015. The association of the mothers of the candelaria helps families find missing relatives. It was the first Association in Colombia which demanded answers about the fate of the missing 96,000 that exist in Colombia.
The bed of Ingrid Medarno Perez who disappeared in Yarumal, Colombia has become a shrine inside the family home of Martha and Antonio, Ingrid's parents. At eleven in the morning on Nov. 29, 2010, a member of the paramilitary group of the Urabeños went to her home, where she was with her boyfriend. It was not until March 2015, that Julian Bolivar, a former paramilitary commander informed the family that Ingrid and her boyfriend were executed that same day. Their bodies were crushed and thrown into the river. Their remains were never recovered, Feb. 2015.
A mother cries to a picture of her missing son during a vigil in the Center of Medellin, Colombia, Feb. 2015. Every Friday, the association of mothers of the candelaria organizes a vigil to remember and demand the return of their missing relatives. There are more than 96,000 people missing in Colombia.
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla members dance during a party at a camp. For fity-two years, FARC
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Alvaro Ybarra Zavala—Getty Images Reportage
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Photographing the Last Days of FARC

Sep 12, 2016

At 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 29, the historic cease-fire between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — a Marxist guerrilla group known as FARC — and the Colombian government was in place, bringing to an end a 52-year-old conflict. In the coming months, thousands of FARC troops will relinquish their weapons and rejoin civil society, bringing hope to a country scarred by too many deaths. "Never again will parents be burying their sons and daughters killed in the war," said Rodrigo Londoño, FARC's leader.

For the past 12 years, Spanish photographer Alvaro Ybarra Zavala has been following the FARC guerrilla. He speaks to TIME about his experience.

Alice Gabriner: Why do you think this peace agreement is significant?

Alvaro Ybarra Zavala: The peace agreement between FARC and the government offers the first opportunity, after many generations, for Colombia to change through a framework of peace and dialogue, putting an end to a war that has raged in Colombia since 1964. In terms of Latin American history, it is as pivotal as the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. During the Cold War, the U.S. opposed the Marxist FARC, fearing that Colombia would follow the path of Cuba. For the Colombian government, the U.S. and its allies, a peace agreement means they are willing to accept their enemy as a legal political party, which now has the possibility to bring social change in Colombia, where other left-wing governments in Latin America have failed, most notably in Venezuela.

Gabriner: When did you take your first trip to cover FARC in Colombia?

Ybarra Zavala: My first contact with FARC was in 2004. I wanted to do a story in an area under their control. However, it wasn’t until 2007 that I had full access with them. Then, for six months, I was documenting in and out of their territory, particularly in the San Juan River in Chico state. I have maintained contact with FARC and lived in guerrilla camps six times over the years, documenting their activities all over Colombia, especially in the region of Caqueta where FARC is particularly visible. In Colombia, you need the agreement of the armed groups in order to work, and FARC controls a major part of the country.

Gabriner: How did you arrange access?

Ybarra Zavala: Access to FARC has changed a lot since 2004 and 2007, when my contacts were militants and FARC collaborators who helped me [get close to] the commanders. This is how I worked in Chico and Caqueta until the beginning of the peace talks in Havana. Once the negotiations began, it was necessary to work through channels in Cuba in order to make contact with the guerrillas. Access with FARC has always been difficult and complicated, because of all the different armed groups in those areas. Plus, FARC distrusts everyone from the outside.

Gabriner: Why do people join FARC? What was the attraction for the local population?

Ybarra Zavala: In many regions of Colombia, for the civilian population, the Colombian state represents only bombs and war, nothing more. In these regions FARC acted as the governing body tending to the needs of the local people because the state was not present. Poor people in regions under FARC control are victims of abuse by right-wing paramilitaries and the army, simply because they were born there, and therefore assumed to be collaborators. For these people, FARC represented the only alternative in helping bring change to the established order all over Colombia.

Gabriner: FARC has long been associated with the drug trafficking? How will the drug trade in Colombia be affected by this peace deal?

Ybarra Zavala: Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, coca has been the main source of funding for the guerrillas. They controlled the territory and the business of illicit crops. Coca has been, and is, the only source of funding for the families of these regions neglected by the state. The guerrillas guaranteed purchase of all production from the territories under its control, which allowed families to survive. After the peace agreement, the big question is: What real alternatives are there for thousands of families from these poor regions? Will the state fulfill all of its commitments in relation to social investment in these regions as an alternative to illicit crops? To inculcate this peace agreement is not enough. Just as armed peace, social peace is necessary. It is more important than ever to provide alternative opportunities for the people who have lived in the shadows. Without that, Colombia will never have real peace.

Gabriner: Why do you think both sides are willing to embrace peace now?

Ybarra Zavala: The Colombian people are tired of war and violence. Colombian society has had enough. They want the killing between brothers to stop.

Gabriner: As a photographer, what is your biggest challenge having covered this story for so long?

Ybarra Zavala: My biggest challenge is to photograph the contradicting reality in Colombia. There is not just one Colombia, but many different fractured parts that share the common denominator of war. This vast country is divided by invisible but quite real borders that have given rise to parallel states. This fact has opened up deep wounds, insurmountable hatred and absolute truths that take shape as unquestioned dogmas. Worst of all is that memories of the conflict have been erased. Colombians must face truths about the past in order to move towards forgiveness and reconciliation. The objective of my work is to expose the legacy of violence, hatred and distress that should not be forgotten. To quote my good friend, Eduardo, “The wind sweeps away the traces of seagulls. Rain sweeps away the traces of humans. The sun sweeps away the traces of time. Photography searches for the traces of lost memories, love and pain, that cannot be seen, but that cannot be swept away."

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

A book of Alvaro Ybarra Zavala’s work will be published in December.

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