Learning How to Coexist and Adapt to Peace in Colombia: NYT Reports From a Transitional Zone (E)
Across the country, an estimated 7,000 rebels with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, will hand their guns to United Nations monitors this year. The weapons will be melted down and shaped into war monuments. The FARC, too, hopes to transform, becoming a political group representing the left, like those that emerged after the guerrilla wars of Nicaragua and El Salvador.
La Paz is clear evidence of the country’s lingering divisions: While the referendum was supported here, four in 10 residents voted to strike down the peace deal. Some still harbor bitter memories of the war — and of an enemy who once preyed upon them but has suddenly become a neighbor.
“Many have the ability to forgive, but we can’t forget the violence we all lived in that time,” said Julio Fuentes, 42, a physician who said he voted against the accord. Mr. Fuentes, whose brother was killed in the late 1990s, said he had made his peace with the guerrillas.
But for many, he warned, “It will be their individual choice if they do, too.”
The settlement has become a place of reflection. Now without a war, the rebels spend the days contemplating what life they will choose next. Will they return to the villages they left and work the land? Will they enter the new political party that rebel leaders have pledged to create?
“Many look at how politics is done here, with a tie and a nice car and all the money and they say: ‘We can’t do that, we don’t want to,’” said Yimmy Ríos, 47, a rebel intelligence agent at the settlement. He said it will be a challenge for the guerrillas to inch into a political landscape where they are unschooled in running a campaign.
The government sees more than disarmament at work in these settlements, eyeing a chance to develop vast tracts of countryside that spent decades out of its reach during the conflict. One of the settlements lies in a distant coastal jungle; another sits at the end of a road mainly reached by mule.
None have seen a stable government presence in decades, if ever at all.
“We are talking about places where the FARC have been: There was no water, no electricity,” said Carlos Córdoba, the government director of the so-called Rural Zones.
In the camp outside La Paz, some aspects of guerrilla life remain. The fighters still wake at 4:30 a.m., though to take classes on the peace deal, rather than to march. One guerrilla patrolled the camp warily with a gun slung over his shoulder.