Social Issues

Ex-guerrillas of Latin America: Peace is only way forward

By Ovidio Castro Medina

Tierra Grata, Colombia, Nov 21 (EFE).- The path toward peace is a rocky but necessary one, according to ex-rebel combatants from Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala and Indonesia who gathered here to share their experiences.

“Every government should commit to peace,” Juan Javier Martinez, a political science graduate and ex-member the Salvadoran rebel group Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), told Efe while observing red-roofed houses being built by former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas in Tierra Grata, a hamlet in the northeastern Caribbean department of Cesar.

The FMLN was one of the main participants in the 1979-1992 Salvadoran Civil War and became a leftist political party after the peace accords were signed.

Demobilized FARC rebels began arriving in Tierra Grata in 2016 after the signing of a peace agreement between the Colombian government and what then was the Andean nation’s largest guerrilla organization.

“What we’re giving is a testimony. They’re not recipes. The important thing is to say, ‘this happened to us’ … so it doesn’t happen again,” Martinez said, adding that positive aspects will be shared “but the things where we had problems is what we want them to know, so they’re not repeated.”

The gathering was organized by the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, the United Nations Development Programme, Norway’s embassy in Colombia and the National Reincorporation Council.

A total of 612 men, women and children currently live in Tierra Grata, more than three times the number (182) who arrived there six years ago with few possessions but a desire to forge a lasting peace.

“What I’m seeing is really beautiful. It’s the path that needs to be pursued to (implement) peace,” Rosalina Tuyuc, an indigenous woman who leads the National Association of Guatemalan Widows (Conavigua), told Efe.

Tuyuc is a leader of the Kaqchikel ethnic group, one of the indigenous Maya peoples of Guatemala’s midwestern highlands. She was a national lawmaker between 1996 and 2000 as a member of the New Guatemala Democratic Front party and has been honored for her work to bring about peace and the wellbeing of the indigenous population.

The FARC ex-combatants who have arrived in Tierra Grata have been supported by the international community and to a lesser degree by local governments, which has enabled them to bring water, electricity and sewage service to their hamlet.

“The sewage system is small. It’s not ideal, and we hope that with time it can be modernized. The same goes with the roads,” said Miguel Martinez, who fought in the ranks of the FARC for 19 years and now studies public administration and runs a ornament workshop.

His former comrades in arms have similar small productive projects that include raising hens and pigs and growing vegetables.

“It’s all (now) for family consumption, but if we combine those efforts, a level of production can be achieved that will allow us later on to take our products to nearby markets,” he said.

The ex-combatants in Tierra Grata are responsible for building their own homes.

“We make the bricks ourselves and are advancing (in the home-building efforts) because our goal is keep fulfilling the terms of the (peace) agreement,” he said.

Martinez urged the current Colombian president, leftist Gustavo Petro, to speed up implementation of the 2016 accords and continue working for peace “despite the obstacles.”

Julieth Mejia, who was a FARC guerrilla for 16 years and now is responsible for a daycare in Tierra Grata that attends to 50 children of ex-combatants, echoed those sentiments.

She said she hopes the hamlet will eventually have a school where children of both war and peace can study.

Carolina Vargas, a former guerrilla who is now the gender equality councillor in Cesar for the Comunes (Commons) party, the FARC’s political successor, said for her part that despite a wave of insecurity, the murders of (demobilized rebels and their family members) … our commitment to peace is unwavering.

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