I would like to remember these fires in more detail. At the moment, they felt unimportant. Or, at least, less important than landmines, demining, reconciliation, peace negotiations. Less pressing than the disintegration of the dirt road, the precarious suspended bridge, the "portable" power plant. The fires were just right there, in the background, literally: some of them occurred in the dense forest at the back of the basecamp. Some of us took pictures of the burning vegetation, the fumes, and the dark colors that the fires left when they went out.
However, the flames seemed unremarkable at that time. If we noticed them, it was because they dyed the sky gray and the fumes reached our noses; they called our attention because they shouted, attracting the attention of our senses. But even with that, they did not feel dramatic. Our attentiveness did not imply an environmental or political concern (both terms understood narrowly and "as usual" (de la Cadena, 2010).
Perhaps, the most remarkable thing about these fires, the ones I witnessed, is that sometimes they killed people. When writing this, I immediately want to invalidate my own point: "That is not true!" I tell myself. It was not the fires; It was the felling. The little I remember about these fires is that, while forest patches burned, I heard several stories of local people from Santa Helena and neighboring towns who were injured or killed by falling trees. The wind does not tumble the trees. It was the humans, their victims, who were cutting them down.
These fires were presented to me as traditional burning practices by locals. These fires generally occur in the "summer season." Little did I know that fires (this type of fires?) would become extraordinary, eventful, and worthwhile of news coverage a year later.
In the last couple of years, “wildfires” have been linked to the steady and purposeful disappearance of hundreds of hectares of forests. Consider the 2019 fires in the Brazilian rainforest that devasted more than 7,747 square kilometers, vis-à-vis the inert action of the Bolsonaro government and its troubling environmental policies. In Colombia, the official narratives about uncontrolled fires in the Colombian Amazon point to FARC-EP dissidents and small farmers and loggers clearing lands for “il/legal” crops and cattle ranching. The scale of the latter, however, does not correspond with “small” cattle owners. According to the 2018 Bovine Census of the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA), the country has more than 26.4 million head of cattle, distributed in approximately 600,000 farms.
Diana Pardo's ethnographic archive
Anonymous, "BURNING (FIELDS) II", contributed by Diana Pardo Pedraza, Center for Ethnography, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 4 March 2020, accessed 4 February 2023. https://centerforethnography.org/content/burning-fields-ii