7 Years of Covering Colombia has taught me one thing— Peace is messy
As an official ceasefire with the largest remaining rebel group approaches, I found myself reminiscing on all the stories I've been told
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7 Years of covering Colombia has taught me one thing— Peace is messy
Junior is a demobilized FARC member who now breeds pigs and chickens in Villa Paz, or “peace village,” one of the communities created by the peace deal to ease the transition of demobilized rebels into civilian life. His hamlet, In the department of Arauca, is one of many such Training and Reincorporation Community compounds nationally.
Its 200 residents, who are all former fighters or their relatives, grow food and produce shoes and other commercial goods as part of their peace-making activities. Junior takes notable pride in what they have accomplished.
As part of a conversation with him during a reporting trip to Arauca, he told me something that I think of often.
“We thought we would be greeted in Bogotá as heroes,” he said, explaining his motivations for joining rebel forces that waged a 53-year civil war against the Colombian state. “You have to realize, we were in the field for years. I think the hardest part for me about the peace deal [between the FARC forces and the government in 2017] was encountering reality, a reality that was harsh to face.”
Support for the FARC was between 1-3% when the peace deal was being negotiated in 2016 . In polls leading up to a plebiscite on the accord, 78% of Colombians polled wanted members jailed after disarming.
I think of Junior often as I follow contemporary developments in Colombia’s peace process. Peace-building is a slow, messy, frustrating, and imperfect process.
“Every family was touched by the war” was a phrase I often heard when I first arrived in Colombia years ago — a relative or a friend who was threatened by it, or fought in it, were wounded by it, displaced, or even killed.
Junior never believed reports about how unpopular the FARC had become by the end of the war. “I just thought it was more lies from the government,” he said, or media companies “that the government-controlled.”
Disarmament was a painful awakening for Junior and for me a process that is difficult to fully understand. Imagine dedicating more than a decade of your life fighting a war that from your perspective was waged to free the people of Colombia, only to disarm and realize the vast majority of them wanted you jailed.