OCANA     -     Camilo Pérez lost two brothers to Colombia’s long war. One was murdered by state-aligned militias, who falsely accused him of collaborating with leftwing guerrillas. The other was riddled with bullets outside his home; Camilo found the body, but never discovered who was responsible.

“The war hit us hard here, it killed our communities, extorted people and forced us from our homes,” said Pérez, who asked to use a pseudonym after receiving death threats. A 2016 deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Farc, was supposed to put an end to five decades of bitter conflict that killed at least 260,000 people and forced 7 million from their homes.

But with the ink long dry on the deal, many Colombians are discovering that little has changed.

In the vast and lawless Catatumbo region near the border with Venezuela, armed men and women still roam the villages, imposing nightly curfews, handing out threatening pamphlets and regularly exchanging gunfire. An increased military presence has only exacerbated the violence – and civilians are caught in the middle.

“We all hoped that things would get better and it hurts to say it, but now things are worse,” said Pérez. “The winds have blown from peace to war.”

Catatumbo takes its name from the indigenous Barí word for lightning, owing to the spectacular thunderstorms that form above Lake Maracaibo across the frontier. It seems particularly fitting nowadays, as those nightly displays are matched by squalls of violence on the ground.

About a third of Farc combatants are believed to have taken up arms again: some claim that the government has not held up its end of the bargain; others simply recognize that there is more money to be made in drug trafficking, extortion and illegal mining.

After the peace deal, another rebel group, the National Liberation Army (or ELN), stepped into the power vacuum left by the Farc, and is now taking advantage of turmoil in Venezuela to expand as far as Guyana. Venezuela’s embattled president, Nicolás Maduro, sees the ELN as kindred ideological spirits and turns a blind eye to criminal activities in the countryside.

Yet another faction – the Popular Liberation Army (or EPL) – has long held out in Catatumbo and is now in open warfare with the ELN and Farc dissidents.

Pérez has come to Ocaña, the chaotic city at Catatumbo’s western frontier, to update humanitarian organisations on the situation back home in the village of Otaré. To do so by telephone would put his life at more risk – you never know who may be listening in.