At 5:00 am I pulled back the mosquito net and got dressed for the day’s activities. We walked the short dirt and gravel track back to the camp to see that the camp was partially torn down already.The guerrillas would be marching with their dwellings and possessions on their backs. The small huts were mostly gone, the plastic sheets used as roofing were rolled and stowed in back packs.
The entire FARC cadre would be in finest form for the march, the disheveled bunch from the day before were now dressed in their signature olive drab uniforms. They wore a variety of headware, from berets, to boonie hats, to cowboy hats. Their rifles were a mix of M-16’s and Israeli Galil rifles. Most of the group had fashioned custom rifle slings, stitched in patterns and colors resembling traditional indigenous garments.
We decided to follow a single guerrilla for the march and boat ride to the UN camp. We selected a woman of about 19 or 20 named Vichi, she was short and like many of the guerrillas of indigenous heritage. Colombia was like most colonial ventures, societal structure favored the European and disadvantage the indigenous and African members of society. As Colombian society grew in inequity, Marxist and Guevarist groups like FARC and the ELN developed a great base of support among the indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. The guerrillas we met were almost unanimously of indigenous and African descent.
This lesson goes beyond Colombia, most populist left wing movements in post-colonial societies draw their support from the non-European communities. In fact the post colonial model is essentially to empower the most “European” minority in the country, arm them and support them, thus making them entirely reliant on the old colonial master. This was a very effective method of control, however as colonial powers became less interested in this model chaos ensued. Rwanda is a prime example, the taller more fair-featured Tutsi’s were supported by the Dutch while only being roughly 15% of the population, the majority Hutu’s finally overthrew this structure and went about massacring the Tutsi population (along with minority Twa people and more moderate Hutu’s). Other models come to mind, apartheid South Africa, Hashemites in Jordan, Maronites in Lebanon, Sunnis in Iraq. All these models have ended with extreme inequity and often violence.
This is largely the model of the Colombian conflict, with the addition of ideology, drugs, and foreign intervention. The theme of dispossession was common in our discussions with the guerrillas, I sensed that the Marxism was an ideological vehicle of expression for their experience. Despite this the guerrillas seemed eager to proceed with peace and more fully integrate into society.
We began our march at the gate of the FARC camp and marched through Coca fields, passed thatch huts, and down to the river. We followed Vichi and the Comandante, most of the way. I had been carrying most of our gear so the film crew could work. I am 6’5” and roughly 225 pounds, and several of the guerrillas remarked how helpful I could have been to them as a pack mule. The Comandante himself came to congratulate me on my fine work also remarking on how my broad shoulders and aversion to complaining amounted to a noble martial virtue.
-On the march with the Comandante–
When we reached the river, we piled into a fleet of outboard powered wooden canoes. The trip downstream would prove to be much faster as the River Mira’s current was so strong. We joined Vichi in her boat, we sat at the front to film her as we traveled. Behind her was seated another guerrilla with an enormous photo of Alfonso Cano.
-Vichi with a photo of Alfonso Cano in the background-
We arrived at our original point of departure, the Playa Del Mira. As the guerillas disembarked there was a large throng of supporters cheering and hugging them. The scene was mostly jovial, and all the younger guerrillas seemed a bit confused by the fanfare. The highlight of this brief march was the band the locals had assembled to accompany the guerrillas. None of the instruments were familiar to me, but they did play with great enthusiasm and it seemed well received by the guerrrillas.
Not all the guerrillas marched, a truck had been supplied to carry the more severely disabled guerrillas. Many of these were missing entire limbs or had other ailments which prevented them from walking, however their comrades had lifted them into the truck and they too proceeded to their new encampment. No matter one’s view of FARC this seemed to me to be an admirable commitment to one’s companions.
-Interviewing Vichi at Playa Del Mira, Llorente, Colombia.
From here we marched up the steep grade to a plateau just before the town of Llorente. We were met on our walk by UN observers from various South and Central American countries. These independent observers were there ostensibly to make sure everyone was complying with the terms of the peace deal. As is typical of the UN the observers seemed to be busy don’t not much of anything. They seemed universally ignored by both the guerrillas and the Colombian federal police there to keep order.
-UN Observer, Llorente, Colombia-
We arrive at the camp, it is a freshly cleared field in the jungle. The ground is entirely freshly plowed dirt with a few tree stumps remaining. There are a few portable toilets and no shade structures. It is early afternoon, the sun is beating down, and the humidity had not relented. We are frantically looking for our fixer to get some reaction from the Comandante as he looks most displeased. After a brief discussion in my limited Spanish I tell our team that this was not the camp that was promised to them in negotiations. He said the FARC would honor their commitments and remain. To this end the Comandante set his men out on watch at the perimeter. This dutiful behavior belied a seething anger, the Comandante was deeply displeased and this foreshadowed the coming confrontation with the Colombian government.
Read Volume 1 HERE
Read Volume 2 HERE