Photography contains all the elements of a past of violence and pain, a radically different present and a future marked by uncertainty and hope. From the table, the president of Colombia, Iván Duque, addresses a group of former FARC combatants from Llano Grande, which until 2016 was a camp for the defunct guerrilla and today is a space for reincorporation that grows like a village that goes way of becoming a town. Along with him, government and territorial authorities and Pastor Alape, former commander of the insurgent organization. Duque, who opposed the peace accords reached by his predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos, and when he won the elections in 2018 he tried to modify the process, celebrates the delivery of a new piece of land for the construction of houses for the families of former guerrillas. He assures that it is a step that will change their lives, but he also listens to their complaints, mainly related to security problems and the incessant trickle of murders of community leaders. “Here we came today to start a process that is transformational,” he said last Thursday.
The mountains of Dabeiba, a rural municipality between Medellín and the Caribbean coast, were one of the bloodiest scenes of the war that plagued the Andean country for half a century. In addition to the FARC, the National Liberation Army (ELN), paramilitary mafias and deviant sectors of the Armed Forces also operated here. Four years ago its inhabitants supported, with almost 65% of the votes, peace between the State and the oldest guerrilla in America. In that plebiscite, however, the “no” won by the minimum, which led to the change in the text of the agreement. Duque was then one of the spokesmen for the campaign that rejected the agreements, although today, as head of the Government, he has the obligation to manage their application.
Despite the advances in Llano Grande, the president continues to disassociate himself from that process. “My idea of peace with legality is a concept that is not tied to before or after the process. The reality is that we have a very important group of people in the process of reincorporation and we have focused on making sure this process goes well, ”he assures in conversation with EL PAÍS during the flight back to Bogotá. “And the second is that we have been building security in the territory and also the judicial apparatus. Today we can say that this year we are going to close with the lowest homicide rate in 46 years. Last year we had the third lowest rate in 44 years. We have the two lowest kidnapping rates in more than four decades and an improvement in other crimes as well, traditionally we are reaching the territory with the institutions to build infrastructure, to build well-being ”, he continues.
Duque, who also highlights a millionaire investment in social inclusion, used the same data to defend his work on security before the ex-combatants. Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, demanded last week that the government protect the population. The latest report from his office is devastating, documenting 66 massacres in which 255 people were killed this year. The UN also registered the homicide of 120 human rights defenders and, since the signing of the peace accords, has recorded 244 murders of guerrillas who demobilized and laid down their arms. The Colombian president attributes this perverse ecosystem to drug trafficking and its structures.
“The assassinations of social leaders are not something that have begun to occur in my government, it comes from behind and further back. What the clarification of the Prosecutor’s Office has shown in these cases is that 78% are behind groups such as Las Caparros, Los Pelusos, the ELN, the Clan del Golfo, Narcotalia, which are all structures that live off drug trafficking. So what we have said is the more coca the less peace, ”Duque maintains. “We had been in Colombia until 2014 with a substantial reduction trend, we had gone from 188,000 hectares in 2000 to less than 50,000 in 2014 and between 2015 and 2018 we reached 207,000 hectares. I said, when I became president, we are going to stop growth. We stop it. But we need to have all the tools. And to the extent that we have more manual eradication, more substitution, more alternative development and precision spraying, we will take away space from coca and that will ensure more security in the territories.
The presidential delegation travels by helicopter from Llano Grande, where 212 people now live, to the village of El Mango, a peasant settlement with difficult access. Duque, accompanied by Emilio Archila, counselor for Stabilization and Consolidation, the Chilean ambassador and the president of the Éxito supermarket chain, Carlos Mario Giraldo, exhibits another achievement with the inauguration of a coffee plant. The mayor of Dabeiba, Leyton Urrego, assures that the change “is very palpable.” “Before it was seen on paper, we were a bit incredulous, especially those of us who are victims, they hit me five bullet wounds, they killed my older brother and the mother of my children. It is a great hope for us, we know that we are on a very good path ”, he says.
A common grave with 54 possible victims of extrajudicial killings by the Army was found a year ago in the municipality’s cemetery. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), the court in charge of trying the most serious crimes of the war, last November handed over the remains of four disappeared to their families. The path to reconciliation and the healing of wounds is one of the objectives of that court, instituted from the peace accords. However, Duque himself tried, unsuccessfully, to reform the court and the most radical sector of the ruling party, the Democratic Center, linked to former president Álvaro Uribe, has not renounced that purpose.
“The issue”, justifies the president, “is not to revoke or not revoke the JEP, but rather that the JEP fulfills the purpose for which it was created, which is to guarantee truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition, which is what is not happening in Colombia ”. “The top leaders of the FARC have not delivered goods to repair, they have not told the truth about drug trafficking, about the recruitment of minors, about the crimes registered by the women of Rosa Blanca of rape and pressured abortions. And sometimes they go out to expressly acknowledge the odd homicide with all the peace of mind that they are not going to jail. If that continues to happen, what will happen is that they will re-victimize the victims and they will delegitimize the purpose of transitional justice, ”he maintains.
However, in the Colombia that suffered the most from the armed conflict, peace is advancing despite obstacles. That is the main legacy of the Havana accords. EL PAÍS visited the Llano Grande reincorporation space on Christmas Eve 2019. There was a climate of change, a tension between the desire not to forget and the need to turn the page. A year later, the families of the ex-combatants will have 17 more hectares to build their future.
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