Life after Insurgency: Guerrillas Reintegration after the Colombian Peace Agreement
In 2016, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the national government signed a peace agreement ending a 52-year internal armed conflict. In early 2017, the FARC concentrated its estimated 10000 troops in several disarmament camps around the country where former guerrillas began the critical, yet arduous process of reintegrating socially, economically and politically into Colombian society.
My PhD research aims to examine several post-insurgency accommodation processes as well as the meaning that former fighters attribute to their transition to civilian life. Through life history interviewing and participant observation, I seek to gain contextualised understandings of the role that ideology and wartime experiences play in the FARC’s reintegration. In mid 2019, the generous support of the SLAS Postgraduate Travel Grant enabled me to conduct fieldwork in a reintegration area called Aldemar Galán where I had the opportunity to experience everyday life amongst former guerrillas and to share their gripes and concerns as well as their dreams and hopes for the future.
Although the collective Aldemar Galán was originally formed by more than 200 ex-combatants, poor living conditions, growing insecurity, and the lack of health care centres, schools and nurseries in the area forced the vast majority to resettle in neighbouring towns. During my fieldtrip, Aldemar Galán was home to approximately forty ex FARC members, their relatives and half a dozen children born after the peace agreement. I gained invaluable insight into the challenges involved in maintaining the FARC’s esprit de corps and revolutionary project in a context of rampant inequality, insecurity and uncertainty about the full implementation of the agreement. Mostly, I was inspired by this group of men and women’s determination and countless acts of resistance, which reaffirm their commitment to peace and their desire to transform their lives.
In order to become financially independent, the collective was running a vegetable garden for self-consumption and a chicken coop, which rendered a small profit from the sale of organic eggs. The main productive project, however, and the one on which they have their greatest hopes is a Lime cultivation project for the export market, which is due to start yielding its first harvest in 5 years’ time. Apart from my role as a researcher, I participated as an informal assistant during their numeracy and literacy classes, I helped them design the logo and slogan for the lime project and did occasional babysitting jobs. My favourite fieldtrip memories are the chats, the laughter and the fraternal sense of camaraderie that I witnessed when residents of Aldemar Galán gathered under a massive calabash tree during the day’s hottest hours or during our regular volleyball games.
Aldemar Galán exemplifies the challenges affecting most reintegration areas in the country, where the population dispersion has hindered the FARC’s plan to establish agricultural enterprises based on the principles of solidarity economy and to advance their political project. Today, insufficient land for the FARC’s economic reintegration and violence (197 demobilised combatants have been killed since the signing of the peace accord) are some of the most pressing problems threatening Colombia’s fragile peace. The full reintegration of FARC members as well as the thorough implementation of the agreements is key to prevent new cycles of violence and to advance future peace negotiations with other armed groups.
PhD Candidate at the Institute of Latin American Studies- School of Advanced Study