Guillermo Cano was a councilman in the Pacific town of Tumaco when Colombia's biggest rebel group issued a national edict in April 2002: All public servants were now military targets, and they were to resign or die.

Armed guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) went to Cano's house on May 17, 2002, and gave him and his family 24 hours to leave the area.

Cano, his wife, and two children, ages 6 and 8, set out for Bogotá. They joined the ranks of 3 million Colombians—"Y cada día más" [and each day more], Cano said—across the country. They have been forced from their homes by leftist rebels seeking to take over Colombia in their 40-year civil war.

Other factors increase the number of the displaced. Rightist paramilitaries often accuse families of collaborating with guerrillas and force them out. In addition, many peasants, some of whom grow coca plants to eke out a living, become displaced when a U.S.-sponsored anti-drug program destroys their crops.

As a result, the United Nations ranks Colombia's number of displaced as the world's second-highest (after Sudan at 3.7-4.5 million).

Almost two years after their forced displacement, the Canos' lives remain in upheaval. They have lived under a Bogotá bridge. For a week they slept in a hospital emergency room. Now they cram into a rented room.

They arrived in Bogotá with no money, contacts, or belongings. Receiving government food assistance entails a six-month wait, so Cano hit the streets seeking a job. A carpenter by trade, Cano sought construction work. Then he sought anything. Nothing was open to him, he said. Employers won't hire the displaced.

With help coming only very slowly, Cano met other displaced people at a government center and founded ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.