Jessica Camille Aguirre, a journalist specializing in Latin America, is a visiting scholar at the New York University Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and the recipient of the 2018 Matthew Power Literary Reporting Award. Her work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, n+1, Smithsonian, Outside, Guernica, and the Columbia Journalism Review, among others. (November 2019)

NYR DAILY

After the War, Before the Flood, in Colombia

The reservoir filling the Cauca River valley behind the Hidroituango Dam, Antioquia, Colombia, October 3, 2019

The Colombian energy company EPM has developed programs for people directly affected by the dam, but the wider effects of a drastically altered ecology and changed landscape have reverberated beyond the obvious immediate emergencies. To the activist Isabel Zuleta, the irrevocable loss of a place—including all the unresolved issues of the disappearances and the victims’ remains—is the worst, final act of violence against its people. “That is incredibly painful,” she told me. “Because we, the displaced, have fought for the right to return. Without the possibility of return, it can no longer be considered displacement—it’s an uprooting. It’s an exile. That’s the magnitude of the impossibility of return. And you cannot return to a territory that has been destroyed.”