Citizens’ Media in Southern Colombia

Curator's Note

The English translation of the text in the video is: “Fabián, Juan Carlos, Mono and Yason present to you “Los Raspachines” (term used in Colombia to call laborers who pick coca leaves) Fabian and Juan Carlos are picking coca leaves. A farmer buys the leaves from them. We go to the corner store to shop for groceries. Fabián buys the coffee. Juan Carlos buys the panela (dark sugar-cane paste used by Colombian poor families to complement a low-calory diet). Fabián and Juan Carlos pay the groceries. The family goes back home. Next morning, at seven, we all get up. We are very sleepy. We go back to the coca plot. I have to carry the water to the coca plot. The father and the son drink some water. [At the end of the day] we go back home. The heroes who produced this film go back home.” In this 1’15” video the children of the Audiovisual School of Belén de los Andaquíes, in southern Colombia narrate what for them is part of everyday life: how their families pick coca leaves in illegal coca farms. This narrative disrupts the “official” version of things, put forward by the Uribe administration, the Colombian army, and backed by the Bush administration (and spread by Colombian and US mainstream media), by which coca farmers are nothing but delinquents and criminals backed by leftist guerrillas. Zeroing in on poor agricultural farmers as delinquents, this narrative rules out the possibility of linking illegal drug economies with world markets and unequal social arrangements. Scapegoating poor coca farmers has been used, first by the Samper administration and now by the Uribe administration to “prove” to the Bush administration that something is being done in the war on drugs. The more delinquent and evil the farmers are made to look, the more heroic the Colombian army and administration will appear. Instead, “Los Raspachines” re-instates the identity of coca farmers as poor agricultural families. It emphasizes the reason these families grow coca—to purchase coffee and panela in order to feed the family; it highlights how even the children are involved in this family venture—bringing water to the plot so that the grown-ups can quench their thirst while working. “Los Raspachines” is an open narrative; it invites questions such as why do they plant coca and not other crops? Maybe because world prices of corn and plantains are not worth the effort? Maybe because coca-leave buyers come to the farm while other crops have to be taken to market in a region without roads? Maybe because the only way to hold on to the family land and not sell to large cattle ranchers in the region is by profiting from coca? The narrative complicates the issue of coca cultivation; it denies the possibility of good guys and bad guys and simple answers. It tells the world in the words of the children of coca-farming families. That’s exactly what citizens’ media are for.


I would love to know more about the mission of the audiovisual school, and the context in which these videos are distributed and exhibited. I think we're at a stage where not only is the technology, when diffused, equalizing people's chances of producing high quality video, but knowledge and techniques associated with storytelling are also being diffused through a range of groups and initiatives that are global in scale. Examples of these videos can be found at the Witness Web site, or at OneWorld. But critical questions remain, including how to gain wider spread distribution for these works, and how to use these videos strategically to further social change. This is not to minimize the role these videos play in the lives of those who make them, but if one of the strengths of video is its portability and ability to project words and images beyond the local, then the question of distribution needs to be given as much attention as production. In many ways, this has been a central struggle since the beginning of alternative video. I'm always struck by how much great work is produced, and how difficult it can be to find.

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