News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 17, 2012

Photographer brings Colombian conflict to Rose-Hulman students

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Often-graphic images from the brutal, decades-long civil war in Colombia were on display Tuesday afternoon at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

Stephen Ferry, journalist and photographer, spent years amid the violence in Colombia where he won the trust of left-wing guerillas and right-wing paramilitary groups, allowing him to capture often-disturbing images of the bloodshed that has become known as the Colombian “drug war” or the Colombian “conflict.”

He showed those images to Rose students and faculty Tuesday in Moench Hall.

Ferry doesn’t believe the violence in Colombia is all about drugs. In fact, a goal of his recently published book of photographs is to help people realize the “it’s not a drug war.”

Still, drugs – or drug money – fuels much of the bloodshed and violence in Colombia. More than 3 million Colombians have been displaced by the violence and tens of thousands have been killed, tortured or kidnapped.

Ferry’s photographs often showed young guerillas or equally young paramilitary fighters, often looking into his camera while carrying their weapons. One image shows three probable left-wing commandos with the ironic image of a peace dove behind them painted on a wall.

Other images from the conflict are far more disturbing: a child gunned down in a random killing, a severed head, a woman sitting on the debris of her home destroyed by paramilitary forces, to name only a few.

The United States has given military aid to Colombia for years, Ferry noted. Often the Colombian military supports the brutal paramilitary groups, he said. That fact is often overlooked or denied in the U.S., he said.

Ferry believes that, while drugs are not the only source of revenue for the warring sides, the western “war on drugs” is driving up drug prices, making the Colombian drug trade irresistible. Lately, drug runners have started using “narcosubmarines” to transport cocaine to the U.S., where the BBC estimates about 90 percent of all cocaine is Colombian.

A single “narcosub” can carry up to 10 tons of cocaine, Ferry said.

“I don’t put much stock in this drug war,” Ferry said. “It’s not working.”

Asked whether legalizing drugs would end the violence in Colombia, Ferry said it would not. However, he said it would “lower the temperature.”

Ferry’s book, “Violentology: A Manual of the Colombian Conflict,” is available from online booksellers such as

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or arthur.foulkes