Conflicts & War

Festival gathers enterprising former guerrillas, Colombia conflict victims

By Jorge Gil Angel

Bogotá, Sep 22 (EFE).- Victims of Colombia’s armed conflict and former FARC guerrillas took to the central Plaza de Bolívar in Bogotá on Wednesday armed with beer and food, clothing and handicrafts to sell, almost five years after the signing of the peace agreement.

Blanca Nubia Díaz, one of the 70 entrepreneurs participating in the first Emprende Paz (Embark on Peace) Festival, seeks justice for her daughter Irina del Carmen Villero Díaz, who she says was lost at the hands of paramilitaries in May 2001 in a rural area in the municipality of Albania, in the Caribbean department of La Guajira.

Díaz, who has lived in Bogotá for 20 years, arrived at the festival to sell handmade bags and bracelets that she embroiders herself.

“We tell in the fabrics our stories, our suffering, what we have been through (…) These spaces are of great help,” she tells Efe about the woven and embroidered products that she and other women make and sell.

She seeks to remember her daughter “because that helps to heal,” and it’s something that she does together with other victims in weaving workshops.

Also at the festival were women from the Color and Hope Foundation for Our Heroes, mothers of soldiers who were killed during the armed conflict and who make dolls.

“The project was born as a result of the fact that we did not have psychosocial support because the public force does not have a clear route on how to [support] the mothers,” said Gladys Acevedo, mother of a soldier who was killed by a cylinder bomb dropped by the FARC in the municipality of La Uribe, in the central department of Meta in 2012.

Women of Color and Hope use their entrepreneurship to mitigate the pain and trauma left by the conflict.

“We make military dolls with the uniforms that our children have left us. This has memory and as long as we are alive, the memory of our children will continue to live, and we will make visible the problems that exist with the mothers of the murdered professional soldiers,” she says.

On the other side of the square are the ex-combatants committed to reconciliation and who in their reintegration process have worked in enterprises that range from food manufacturing to making suitcases and clothes.

One of these ventures is Casa La Roja, a cultural center located in Bogotá, where ex-combatants offer all kinds of products that their peers make in various regions of Colombia.

“We have our products on offer from all over the country: from Neiva, from Antioquia, from Cundinamarca. We bring our La Roja Clásica beer and the blonde beer, to the expectation of making ourselves known much more in the city,” says José Rodríguez, who works in the center.

He says the idea is to be able to demonstrate how, through reintegration, ex-combatants are present in territories where they didn’t used to be, such as Bogotá, “in a friendly way and with great respect.”

“We hope that people will come and try some quality products (…) They have been well received and our La Roja beer is almost iconic. There are people who come specifically to drink La Roja even if there are other products on offer,” he says.

The event, which took place on Tuesday and Wednesday, is organized by the High Council for the Rights of Victims, Peace and Reconciliation of Bogotá and is part of September’s “Month for Peace,” which seeks to consolidate the Colombian capital as the “epicenter of peace and reconciliation.”

“This is a strategy (…) that seeks to strengthen an ecosystem of peace starting from economic undertakings that include various actors who have been on different sides of the armed conflict,” Manuela Urrego, director of peace and reconciliation of the High Council, told Efe.

Thus, both former combatants and victims share spaces and advocate for compliance with the peace agreement, and who are committed to entrepreneurship as a vehicle for reconciliation. EFE


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