Over the 52-year conflict, the FARC has recruited tens of thousands of child soldiers
Colombians head to the polls to vote on the peace deal on Sunday
Colombia’s 52-year-old conflict with armed guerrilla rebels is finally winding down, paving the way for peace in a country that has seen violence, deaths and kidnappings for far too long.
Using pens made from recycled bullets, President Juan Manuel Santos and Rodrigo Londoño, leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, signed a historic peace deal on Monday that requires rebels to lay down their weapons and participate in a path toward transitional justice. The accord still needs final approval from the public in an October 2 referendum.
While tranquility is visibly on the horizon, there are many concerns.
One of the many challenges is the reintegration of FARC members, some of whom became soldiers when they were just children. What will they do once they lay down their weapons and bid farewell to the jungle, the only home they’ve known?
But they have hopes and plans too, some rebels told CNN en Español’s Fernando Ramos in the southern plains of Llanos del Yarí.
Giving up their arms only to get killed?
For Mireya, a 33-year-old fighter who joined the FARC when she was just 16, her biggest fear is being killed once she gives up her weapons.
“The great uncertainty and the fear of all of us is that this [getting killed] could happen to us. But I also trust my comrades,” she told Ramos. “One feels insecure because, despite everything, one has enemies. Just the fact you are in the FARC, you have enemies.”
The group’s chief negotiator, Ivan Marquez, echoed these fears last week, stressing assurances were vital for the peace deal to succeed.
Fighters must be given amnesty if peace in Colombia is to succeed, he said an interview with CNN en Español. For many Colombians, the idea of forgiving rebels for a conflict that has claimed an estimated 220,000 lives and displaced about five million, is unfathomable.
Ten years ago, Felipe Rodríguez became a guerrilla. At 23, he only has a basic education and the only thing he really knows how to do is shoot a weapon.
Soon he will be joining the many other soldiers who are trying to prepare for a new life. For him, finishing school is a priority, and then he will figure out the rest.
But his biggest fear is that the government won’t keep their word on the peace accord.
Like Mireya and Rodríguez, many rebels want to believe in the possibility of peace through a political process. The accord offers the FARC 10 seats in congress as the group pivots to a future through political participation instead of war.
“We always wanted an exit from this conflict through peaceful means. The comrades have always instilled this. Always,” Rodríguez said. “Consciously, we have always known that we aim to go for power, may it be through arms which was the only thing they left us as an alternative or through a political path.”
Searching for their lost loved ones
Like many among the tens of thousands of soldiers who were recruited as young kids, Mireya and Rodríguez don’t know about their family’s whereabouts or if they are even alive.
Mireya has tried to find her family before but has been unsuccessful. “I don’t know if they are alive or dead,” she said.
The thought of seeing his mother after 10 years makes Rodríguez wonder what will he do when he sees her.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Look at her, hug her, give her all the love that I could never giver her while I was absent.”
These soldiers all have a past and families they hope to come home to. They told CNN en Español they are tired and want to have a normal life like other Colombians.
However, the Colombia they hope to see might not be what they have fought for.
“We are brothers, a war that the poor are fighting because the rich of this nation have never sent their children to war,” Rodríguez said. “The soldiers and the police that have fallen in this war are poor families just like ours.”
“What we all dream of is a country where everyone has education, health, everything. That everyone has a home to live in and that misery and hunger end,” Mireya said.
CNN’s Fernando Ramos reported this story from Colombia and Julia Jones and Natalie Gallón wrote and reported from Atlanta.