Human Interest

Spain’s Queen Letizia tours Colombian ex-guerrillas’ coffee plantation

By Carlos Perez Gil

Yotoco, Colombia, Jun 14 (EFE).- The Spanish government on Wednesday confirmed its commitment to coexistence in Colombia with a visit by Queen Letizia to a coffee plantation where former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas who accepted the peace agreement with Bogota and laid down their arms are growing one of the country’s prime products.

After landing in Cali, Queen Letizia traveled by road to the town of Yotoco, in southwestern Valle del Cauca province, where the “La Esperanza” (Hope) plantation is located.

A total of 124 former guerrillas work on the farm, having been active FARC rebels until the 2016 peace pact offered them a chance to reintegrate productively with Colombian society.

The queen was given an hour-long tour of the cooperative, situated on a 119-hectare (about 300-acre) plot of land that the Colombian government expropriated from a drug trafficker and handed over to the cooperative in February 2022.

Wearing one of the Spanish cooperative’s red vests, Letizia chatted with several of the former rebels to get their impressions of the new open phase in Colombia, during which social and employment reintegration for ex-guerrillas as well as national reconciliation after the more than half-century conflict are being pursued.

“How are you? Are you happy?” the queen asked Karina, one of those who laid down her arms to join the cooperative and get a new lease on having a productive and peaceful life.

“I’m satisfied with all the knowledge and opportunities that the peace process has given me and with all the people who’ve supported us. We continue in this process dreaming (of better things),” the ex-guerrilla testified enthusiastically, to which the queen added: “Well, you’ve said it all.”

Letizia also had a look at the playground where “the children of peace” frolic while their parents work on the farm.

With one of his children in his arms, one of the workers, along with his wife, told the Spanish monarch that the process has its difficulties, since some of the cooperative members are still receiving death threats from recalcitrant guerrillas for laying down their weapons in exchange for government protection.

“Violence still pursues us. It hasn’t been easy. Thank you for coming; it’s very important to us,” he told the queen.

At one point in her tour, Letizia stopped at the cooperative’s coffee-tasting stand, where she tried several types of coffee, smelled the beans and even prepared a cup for herself.

The coffee she tried is not the coffee that’s being produced yet on the plantation, where the first harvest is expected early in 2024 given that the coffee plants flowered a few weeks ago.

Rounding out the tour, the queen and her entourage went out to observe the coffee bushes planted in the heart of Valle del Cauca.

The Colombian army took part in establishing the farm, something that the ex-guerrillas say has gone far to foster reconciliation. “Formerly enemies, today we’re working together,” said one FARC ex-rebel.

Gloria Cuartas, the Colombian government’s regional official tasked with ensuring the implementation of the peace process, emphasized to the queen that the coffee program has “redefined some lands” that had been controlled by drug trafficking organizations. “Now they’re in the hands of the community. Coffee is our hope,” she said.

Represented on the visit was Spain’s Secretariat of State for International Cooperation (AECID), which in late April had also visited the cooperative as a sign of Madrid’s support for the goal set by Colombian President Gustavo Petro to consolidate a stable nationwide peace after a 60-year period of ongoing violence – a situation that continues to be aggravated by still-active guerrillas.

The coordinator of Spanish cooperation in Colombia, Vicente Ortega, said that the ex-fighters working on the “La Esperanza” farm, besides “selling coffee, (also) are making peace.”

“That was something that few people believed in and it’s been costly. They’re risking their lives every day for peace,” Ortega added in the presence of the queen.

EFE cpg/bp

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