Emily Johnson

An Untold Story of Survival in a Village Controlled by Guerillas

Intrigued, I opened the piece and began reading, consenting to it as it threw me into a world of guerilla groups, manipulation, and desperation. I got to the last paragraph and thought: this cannot be the ending. 

I was an innocent sifter through the archives, seemingly old and dusty, when I found her. A woman named Lucia who had been buried in the files for our first online publication: The Coffee that was Very Nearly Cocaine

When I reached the end, I was so desperately seeking justice. It was a little like reading The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck—but of course, worse. Her story pinching a deeper, bluer vein of haunting reality. A bittersweet narrative that counteracts nauseating fairytale and has the ability to truly transcend us. To illuminate a rare form of hope in spite of injustice—overpowering and consuming all other narratives we might hear that day, that week. 

This is Lucia’s story, no longer untold. 

A village outside of Cali shadowed by mountains and padded with forests is where Lucia calls home. A place where guerrilla groups surge and poverty haunts its residents. Lucia remembers several guerillas visiting her house when she was young, around 12 years old, on a mission to recruit children and young people to join their fight—a conflict marketed as a war for the justice of ‘el pueblo,’ the people. 

Their promises were gorgeous. Power. Prestige. Education. Wealth. They waved big flags of security and economic opportunity, in a region of instability and poverty. And for Lucia, the daily demands of her family became burdensome to observe. She watched her mother work the fields—tirelessly. She watched her siblings work the fields—faithfully. 

Rg Family Essay19

Credit: Erica Baker

Lucia dreamed of becoming a well-educated woman, of traveling the country, of opening doors for her family. These were the dreams that led her to join. 

She left home in the middle of the night and was brought to a campsite in guerrilla territory. Once Lucia’s mother realized what had happened, she set out in search of her daughter. Days later, she found Lucia and confronted the guerrillas, declaring they had no right to take a minor without parental consent. So, the leaders agreed to let Lucia go home, but on the condition that she must return when she was of age – 15 (18, at the latest) – in order to fulfill the commitment she had made to them.  

So when the time came, Lucia left Cauca for Nariño to return to the guerillas, but this time, with orders from her mother to never return home. 

One of the young fighters began pursuing her romantically, making promises he could not keep, and at the age of 14, Lucia found herself pregnant. 

“I didn’t know anything about life,” says Lucia. “This was something hard, something complicated.” 

"It’s either your life with your daughter here, or death out there."

Stricken with fear and blinded by sweet words, Lucia agreed to marry the young fighter. But it was not long before her new husband became abusive, both physically and emotionally. Lucia tried reaching out to her mother, but was turned away, told she had created too many problems for the family. The abuse continued throughout her pregnancy and until her baby—a little girl—was a year old. It was then when she finally decided to flee. 

Shortly after her escape, Lucia contracted malaria and was hospitalized. During her stay, a guerrilla arrived and ordered her to get up, collect her things, and go retrieve her daughter. She was 16 at the time. 

“They started to pressure me about my daughter. They said I could have however many weapons I wanted, whatever money I wanted, but my daughter had to be raised there. She would have guerilla roots…I refused. I refused. I refused. And they said, ‘No. It’s either your life with your daughter here, or death out there.’”  

Rg Family Essay71

Credit: Erica Baker

And so, wanting to protect her little girl, Lucia acquiesced to their demands. She would come and live on guerrilla territory in exchange for the protection of her daughter and her family. Her daughter was then sent to live with a family outside of guerrilla territory, while Lucia lived and worked in the camps and coca fields. 

But eight months later, Lucia was given another mission. Handed a revolver and a knife, Lucia was told to choose one and use it to kill the family that was keeping her daughter and bring her daughter home. 

“The only thing I could answer was ‘no, I am not an assassin.’ I wasn’t going to dirty my hands with innocent blood. I would do anything to get my daughter back, but not this.”  

After refusing, the guerrilla hurled insults at Lucia, telling her she was worthless and leaving her on the ground, a crying heap.  

One week later, the same man returned, placed 200 thousand pesos in Lucia’s hand and told her to run, disappear from the mountains of Cauca, adding, “If I ever find you here, I will kill you myself.” 

She took the money and left for Cali, forced to leave her daughter behind. She found a good job there and began to rebuild her life.

Rg Family Essay17

Credit: Erica Baker

When we talked to her, it had been three years since she received any threats. Lucia’s daughter remains with the guerrillas, claimed as their own. For this, Lucia grieves, but she does not regret leaving the guerrilla life, explaining that nothing could justify the brutal and senseless killing that she would have been complicit in had she stayed behind—not even a mother’s love. 

These images are all we have left to give way to her life. 

Lucia doing her family’s laundry. Lucia and her new husband, leaning in to one another. And possibly most poignantly, we are left with the image of a new young woman to add to Lucia’s narrative. Combing her hair in a mirror. Observing herself perform the simple task. What will be her story, I wonder.