Stories from loCombia

10/12/2018, Bogotà, Colombia, Lara writes:

Al que nada sabe, cualquiera lo engaña *

Library Alfonso Cano, ETCR Hector Ramirez

"Now, a person must have twenty or thirty changes of clothes, otherwise, s/he is not part of this society." Betsy is dressed in pink, with rubber boots that cover half her leg and a ponytail that collects her long dark hair. It is thin. She gives us a friendly welcome, accompanied by a political homily. I cannot imagine her in the middle of the Amazon jungle wearing a camouflage suit, a rifle on her shoulder and carrying a heavy backpack with everything she would need to face the war.

Betsy is a former member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army, better known by the acronym FARC-EP. We are in the department of Caquetá, municipality of La Montañita, Vereda of Agua Bonita, ETCR Héctor Ramírez. The ETCR are Territorial Training and Reintegration Spaces in which the ex-combatants of the FARC-EP live. After the "Final Agreement for the termination of the conflict and the construction of a stable and lasting peace", signed in Bogotá on November 24, 2016, the ZVTN, Transitory Normalization Zones were created, with the objective of facilitating the fulfillment of the point number 3, which provides for the social, political and economic reintegration of ex-combatants. The ZVTNs, born as transition spaces to guarantee the surrender of arms, the transition to legality and the creation of conditions for the reintegration into civilian life of the members of the FARC, were transformed, after eight months, into permanent ETCRs in which the guerrillas who have accepted to participate in the peace process, organized themselves, live and work. 

ETCR Hector Ramirez, Agua Bonita

Getting to the ETCR of Agua Bonita is not easy: to travel 20 km of road, we make an hour of twists and turns down a dirt road torn by holes filled with the water of recent rains. The landscape is surreal. On the left, the Cordillera de los Andes, at the foot of which extends a green plain and, on the right, the pure forest of the Amazon. The sunset dyes the sky orange and, when we arrive at the ETCR, it is almost dark. Red earth, thick vegetation and a pleasant silence: thirty hectares of this paradise belong to the Multiactive Cooperative for the Good Living and Peace of Caquetá-COOMBUVIPAC- created by the ex-combatants who live in the ETCR Héctor Ramírez. To sell them the land, was the priest who owned it and, by rejecting a generous offer from the state (some three hundred thousand euros), preferred to invest in the construction of peace by giving the land to the Cooperative for an almost symbolic sum (approximately seventy thousand euros).

Rows of houses that are all the same: one floor, tin roof, five large rooms, a bathroom and a shower. In each house three or four people live and the rooms, unless you want to live with your partner, are assigned randomly. When we arrived, the inhabitants of Agua Bonita were in a meeting and, to pass the time, we enter the ETCR community store where they sell shoes, t-shirts, pants, books, brooches and stickers produced by ex-combatants. I buy a t-shirt with the poster print of the graffiti festival "Agua Bonita is painted in colors in the hands of Peace and Reconciliation", which took place last November. Thirty national and international artists spent a week in Agua Bonita giving a new face to the white walls of the houses: all the graffiti represent images related to farian ideology and phrases of the communist leaders who have marked the history. Because, listening to the speeches and looking at the type of organization, it is clear that it is not the political beliefs, the socio-economic theories or the positions regarding environmental problems that the former guerrillas renounced with the Peace Agreement. What they gave up was the use of weapons and violence as tools to resolve ideological, social and economic conflicts: "Reintegration is not demobilization," says Federico, former commander and manager of the Cooperative. 

Painted houses during the first edition of the graffiti festival in the ETCR Hector Ramirez

The social organization within the ETCR maintains a strictly military footprint that guarantees order and efficiency: several committees have been established to monitor the different activities that take place within the space and with the cooperative and a common fund has been created that is nourished by the income from agriculture, poultry farming, the stable, the restaurant, the bakery, the community store, the shoe store, the carpentry work. The fund pays small salaries to the people involved in these activities.

The inhabitants of the ETCR are not just neighbors or compatriots: they seem more like a family. "In the post-conflict period, there are people from the FARC who died because they did not have the money to pay for the treatment, this never happened during the conflict, where people died because we could not get them out of the war, but never because they did not have money to the treatments”. It has happened more than once that a collection has been organized in Agua Bonita to help companions about to die, to return home or receive the necessary treatments.

Remove the stigma of guerrillas and see the people behind this mask that they have chosen to use no more. Humanize them. Try to understand and interpret elections. Forgive. This should provide the opportunity to spend a few days in the ETCR in the company of its inhabitants. An excellent opportunity to share will be the second edition of the graffiti festival that will be held at the end of October in Agua Bonita and that aims to promote peaceful coexistence through art. Everyone is invited!


[*] "He who knows nothing, anyone can deceive him!"

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