Colombia’s FARC dissidents hold event in makeshift town ahead of peace talks
By Laia Mataix Gomez
Casa Roja, Colombia, Apr 18 (EFE).- A dissident grouping of the now-defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla movement erected a improvised town last weekend in this Andean nation’s south-central region replete with a barber shop, a pizzeria and stores selling apparel and other items.
During the “macro event” in the remote Yari plains of Caqueta department, the Estado Mayor Central (EMC) armed group, the main FARC breakaway organization, announced that it is ready to sit down for peace talks with delegates from leftist President Gustavo Petro’s administration on May 16.
The gathering served as a showcase for the armed group’s powers of mobilization, which was apparent in the large numbers of rural laborers, indigenous people and Afro-Colombians drawn to that remote spot near the city of San Vicente del Caguan and in the EMC’s ability to establish a makeshift locality with almost all of the basic services.
Cars and vans lined both sides of the main road, forming a pseudo-shopping mall guarded by guerrillas and their rifles that sold everything from European soccer team jerseys to electronics and home products such as blankets and cushions.
And after nightfall, an improvised barber shop run by a woman and her husband offered service on the site. With her husband using his cellphone as a flashlight, she put a layer of shaving cream on customers’ heads and gave them as close a shave as they wanted.
Just a few steps away, a man used a portable oven to prepare pizzas.
While that commercial activity was unfolding in that rural area, a historical stronghold of the FARC located between San Vicente del Caguan and La Macarena (Meta department), EMC guerrillas walked and patrolled the area.
Also evident was the rebels’ evident closeness to those who arrived in colorful “chiva” buses and pick-up trucks, all of which were parked in a makeshift lot.
Amid the gun-wielding guerrillas, families of rural workers and indigenous people spent three days in which they took part in community barbecues and spent nights sheltering from the rain under canopies.
The rebels, for their part, seemed completely at home despite not having held a public gathering of this magnitude in years, mingling with the attendees and showing no qualms about speaking to members of the media.
The FARC dissidents spent freely on the event, which boasted a spacious platform, a press tent with Internet access and a live band for nighttime entertainment.
During the macro event, the chief of the EMC, Nestor Gregorio Vera Fernandez, alias “Ivan Mordisco,” attended a rap performance put on by a group of young people from the neighboring department of Guaviare.
He also listened to remarks by peasants, indigenous people and Afro-Colombians who asked the FARC dissidents and the government to set aside a place for them at the negotiating table.
But just as quickly as the makeshift town was erected, it was subsequently dismantled in a matter of hours and the large crowd that had gathered for the event dispersed. EFE