As the Colombian government and the left-wing guerilla group Farc “announced a peace deal”: http://www.euronews.com/2015/09/24/colombia-and-farc-rebels-announce-peace-breakthrough/ following decades of bitter fighting, Euronews spoke to a former fighter .
The text below is drawn from the original interview in Spanish, which you can see in the video above.
After his father was killed by paramilitary forces in Colombia’s Medallin region, the family of Jean Carlos (not his real name) relied on Farc for food and support.
Spending increasing amounts of time with their fighters, Jean Carlos was told at the age of 14 to decide if he would join the group or return to his civilian life. Wanting to avenge his father, and with no real alternative, he signed up.
He describes how he found the organization he joined to be political, focused on providing an unofficial government and essential services in areas where Bogota had lost control. But then things started to change.
“Back then ideology started to form and we knew that Farc needed money. They were a big military organisation and they needed food, to be military prepared, with a lot of weapons in order to fight the government which was quite armed. so guerrilla started to do things which were not part of Farc’s ideology. They started kidnapping people, started to do things I didn’t agree with. They started for instance to destroy high voltage pylons. Kidnapping people just to take their money. Innocent people, guilty of being rich. And Farc started to make business with drugtraffickers”.
His friends who criticized the new approach were executed as government spies, he says. He describes the daily life of a Farc fighter
“On the daily basis we woke up at 4:45 am and we had to be ready, armed, at 5:00 we had to be ready for inspection in order to see if someone was missing. At 6:00am breakfast. Something to do even if you didn’t want to. Then the different tasks such as cleaning up, preparing weapons, washing clothes, going out and checking out the territory, training. There was a commander telling us what to do. It is like the tasks in a business. But if in a business you refuse to do them, either they fire you or they dock your wages. In Farc you cannot refuse. It is a yes or…a yes”.
Being asked to destroy pylons delivering electricity to towns like his own, angered Jean Carlos, but it was when he was ordered to do drug deals with parliamilitary groups like those responsible for his father’s death that he decided he had to leave.
He finally fled into the mountains, leaving his wife behind, after disarming his comrades during a routine resupply mission. Wanted by the police, he feared for his life, but decided he had to return to the civilian life to be reunited with his family.
“When I arrived at the village they were waiting for me. 10 police officers on one side of the road and the lieutenant on the other. They received me as if I was a soldier. I was scared because just eight days earlier I had fought them. But the lieutenant came to me, saluted me and said: ‘Welcome to freedom.’”
He says he is speaking out to give a boost to the peace process: “I understand how hard it is for a mother who lost her son, for a father who lost her son, to forgive, but if we want peace we must do it. Because if we continue the war things won’t change.”