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In Colombia, the start of life without arms for guerrillas

For any guerrilla, a temporary FARC-EP camp or ‘verge zone’ as it is also known, is not much different from the insurgent settlements they operated in before peace was agreed between the government and this armed movement.

 

farc 2Félix Albisu


The 19 verge zones of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP) provided for in the protocols agreed on by the government and this organisation were already occupied as of just ten days ago by thousands of its fighters. In the sites, set up for bringing about a return to normality, they will immediately begin preparations for laying down their arms and re-integrating into civilian life. The last groups to leave their units enclaved in the mountains and Colombian jungle were the 13, 14 and 15 guerrilla fronts which, as has been the mood for this first phase of demobilisation, were frequently saluted by various communities with white flags as they passed.

In order to ascertain how the so-called verge zones for peace work, Prensa Latina visited the one situated in La Fila some 15 kilometres from Icononzo, a municipal district in the department of Tolima, some 115 kilometres from the capital, Bogotá.

Zonas veredales (3)It is a settlement comprising three camps on a rising incline occupying three different clearings, where some 300 fighters are grouped together; the command headquarters, under the leadership of Commander Carlos Antonio Lozada, a member of the Secretariat of the FARC-EP, are visible at the top.

It is, on the face of it, a sheer incline on which traces of what was a cattle ranch still remain such as two shacks for providing the ranchers with shelter at night.

As has been the trend with all these demob zones, the shacks were all the guerrillas had when they arrived. As for the other essential installations, the fighters are themselves still constructing or making necessary improvements to them.

During our stay in La Fila, a tracked bulldozer arrived at command headquarters with its latest earth moving equipment and completed a narrow winding embankment which continues on from the one which already extended from Icononzo to the foot of the mountains on the Eastern Range.

Zonas veredales (14)Up till now, the members of FARC-EP had to carry everything that was brought from that district to this verge on their shoulders up an incline over several kilometres.

The composition of the verge zone is simple. In the camps each company surrounds the armouries – where modern rifles belonging to each guerrilla are deposited – with their ‘cambuches’ or shanty houses.

The rest of the crude installations are ade up of large marquees for self-improvement and cultural activities, the kitchen, the food (supplied by the government) stores, an outdoor communal bathroom, the house (with the best living conditions) for pregnant guerrilla mothers or those with babies, the infirmary and out of the way latrines.

This camp in particular is typical of the large presence of women in FARC-EP with some 120 fighters, some married and others single. The occupants of the shanty houses, each with synthetic mattresses on crude wooden beds, may be a couple or two men or women sharing.

Zonas veredales (1)Mutual respect and natural military discipline are typical of the peaceful coexistence evident in the verge zones which have become, as a result, breeding grounds for civilians of all political persuasions, as well as journalists, who come and go from the camps in search of details regarding these preparations for a final peace.

Many family members find themselves there for the first time reunited with their loved ones who they have not seen for decades.

What do the guerrillas think?

In La Fila we spoke with several guerrillas, some very young, others in their forties, who are unarmed, constantly moving around the camp doing different jobs, including guard duty for the armouries and fixing the position and direction of the satellite receivers which keep them connected to the internet and mobile phone networks.

One fighter who preferred to remain anonymous said that he was impressed by the affectionate reception his troop got when they passed through Icononzo.

Zonas veredales (13)The majority of the members of FARC-EP in La Fila come from the Yarí Savanahs in the area of Caquetá. This young veteran who is hoping to study journalism when he demobs remarks on the difference between the warm climate of that flatland and the cold mountain zone.

And the food. Here the government and the UN monitoring teams only bring us dried and tinned foods – little in the way of fresh produce. But in the Yarí we had our own cattle and ate dried and fresh meat very regularly, he remarked.

The ‘guerrillada’ (‘guerrilla forces’) are taking an important step in ending their ties with the people amid the peace process, which is what Colombia needs : although without separating us from our ideology as regards social justice, remarked Yeidy Torres, a native of the district of Puerto Rico in the department of el Meta.

He is married and became a guerrilla at the age of 14. He has been an insurgent for 24 years and does not know Bogotá but wants to finish his higher secondary education to then study systems and continue working with the party which funds the FARC-EP.

paz peace paloma PixabayDisney Guzmán , mother of Darita Llanos (two years old) is one of the six guerrilla women who have been placed in two premises in the verge camp with their own bedrooms which they share with their husbands ( also fighters ).

She feels that for a camp situated in tricky mountain terrain, the conditions provided by the guerrilla leadership are very good, with toys even, for entertaining each child.

We dedicate our time solely to looking after our babies who also benefit from on-site medical care. There is no guard duty or any of the other activities associated with being a guerrilla, added Guzmán who also wants to better herself by studying IT.

In each conversation with the insurgent troop the following expression kept coming up: we will hand over every weapon to the UN but we are hoping that beforehand each of our comrades in prison will be given amnesty as established in the Havana peace agreements.

(Translated by Nigel Conibear – DipTrans IoLET MCIL – nigelconibear@gmail.com)

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