Social Issues

Colombian ex-guerrillas chart new path with ‘socialist village’

By Klarem Valoyes Gutierrez

La Montañita, Colombia, Nov 19 (EFE).- Around 300 demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas arrived with their families in early 2017 in this southern Colombian municipality to hand in their weapons in keeping with the terms of a historic peace deal.

It was there that those ex-members of a once powerful leftist rebel army, one that had fought a succession of Colombian governments for decades, began reincorporating themselves into society and constructing their first “socialist village” in one of the Territorial Spaces for Training and Reincorporation (ETCRs) established by the accord signed on Nov. 24, 2016.

The idea was that the ETCRs – including the one in Agua Bonita, La Montañita, a remote municipality of the jungle-shrouded department of Caqueta – would be temporary resettlement zones for ex-combatants who eventually would continue their lives far from those hamlets.

Many people abandoned the ETCRs over time after re-establishing links with family members or finding new opportunities in the cities.

But at least 150 ex-guerrillas decided to settle permanently in Agua Bonita, a more than 50-hectare (120-hectare) parcel of land that they purchased from its owner with proceeds from the weapons handover, and founded the so-called Hector Ramirez Population Center.

That village has functioned as a cooperative and become a model of reintegration amid serious problems with implementation of the peace deal, including the murders of 290 ex-combatants nationwide.

Those who have settled in that community filled with colorful homes say the fear they felt in the first years after the peace accord was signed has disappeared and now speak with pride about having a hamlet of their own built with the effort and sweat of each and every resident.

After leaving behind the armed struggle, these former fighters have launched numerous productive endeavors in Hector Ramirez, including a pineapple farm, a shoe factory, a bakery, a fruit pulper, a restaurant and a community store.

The goal is we’ll be able to say in the future that this is our life project,” Roger Murcia, a pineapple farmer, told Efe.

He said that agricultural initiative has a lot of potential and that he hopes to earn enough income to provide for his family and complete his biology studies.

Murcia also is involved in a tourism project that is aimed at forging links between their community and the broader Colombian population.

Life is now offering him a “safer path,” Murcia said, adding that at least now he is able to “dream of a better future.”

Starting from virtually nothing, Agua Bonita has been incorporated as a township thanks to assistance from the government and international allies like the United Nations’ Multi-Partner Trust Fund for Sustaining Peace in Colombia, which has invested more than $136 million in 188 projects.

The ex-combatants were well-received by the inhabitants of that area when they first arrived, an openness that eased their adaptation process. Now their ties to the community can be seen on weekends, when local residents of that region drop by to join in artistic activities or to share a beer.

The social reintegration process has its limits though.

“Going in and competing in the world is much more complicated,” Murcia said, adding that these former FARC members “don’t have the experience nor often the knowledge that a city or a company requires.” EFE


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