Carlos Avila Gonzalez and Phillip Robertson, for the Pulitzer Center
El Charco, Colombia
An hour upstream from El Charco lies Pueblo Nuevo, a small village where residents have fled the fighting that occurs on this part of the river. Colombian military units from the Brigades Fluviales advance up the river using boston whalers with .50 caliber machine guns mounted on their decks. These boats, called Pirañas, are part of Plan Colombia, the multi-billion dollar US program to eradicate coca production and cocaine smuggling into the United States. As the Colombian military moves around on the river, FARC guerillas have attacked from the treeline, essentially invisible because jungle comes right to the water. Both armed groups have river checkpoints. At El Charco, the Colombian military has a large base for the Pirañas. When I asked what was farther upriver, beyond San Jose, a soldier told me, FARC and coca. No one we asked would take us beyond this point.