For the first time in the last thirty years I was stepping on my country´s territory in condition of legality. Or in a fiction of it. “We are in Colombia” I told others in conspiratorial tone. Colombian officials were waiting inside, men and women, friendly, smiling, attentive. Something has changed, I thought. In the past I used to capture a different attitude.
We were carrying out the process for new citizen identification cards to be expedited for us. First, and after introducing himself with first and last name, a smiling official of the National Civil Registry explained that this was one of the commitments of the President with the FARC. Their purpose was to help as much as possible for us to count with our proper identification documents.
It sounded strange. For decades, I never required for a document to identify me. Revealing in any scenario that I was Gabriel Angel, FARC guerrilla member was sufficient. True, during all this time I lived in the other Colombia, in which it’s not your identity number that counts; the best proof of your existence is your presence. Now we´ll be needing identification cards.
Perhaps, reincorporation begins by having an individualized number within the pile of figures from the official statistics. The doctor, and I call him so because I’m guessing that this official spokesperson must have a university degree that certifies him to exercise his duties and mission, as usual in Colombia, proceeded to politely explain the procedure.
We must respond a short questionnaire. Family and personal data result to be fundamental for the pursued objective. He expects our maximum cooperation and understanding. For example, an address and a phone number in Colombia where any notification from the National Civil Registry can be sent to us. We must not think wrongly, it´s confidential information.
Sounds interesting. Does this nature really exist is such as police State as the Colombian State? Will the first recipients of this information be the intelligence services? A scene of a raid to a house at late night hours goes through my mind. But we must assume that all these practices are left behind with the signing of the Final Agreement. That what it all is about.
In any case, we must think that the data that we provide will only be a simple confirmation of the information that already lies in the official security files. This time for the National Civil Registry, so it doesn´t make any difference. I start thinking about the address that I will supply. I remember the house of my mother in law, where I lived thirty years ago before joining the ranks.
What I cannot remember is the phone number. My loss of memory on the matter is explained by so many years without calling or having any such contact. We must also inform if we ever had identification cards in the name of another person, in order to cancel any false identities, explains the official. Multiple fingerprint records may complicate the quick expedition of the authentic document.
Pastor asks several questions in a burst and the doctor proceeds to respond with as much affability as possible. Outside, he finally explains, there is a waiting area, where we can wait while it’s our turn. Timo and Pastor initially remain in the office, they will be the first. A friendly waitress offers us coffee once we´re at the corridor.
She laments that it’s not Colombian coffee as expected, but Cuban, although light, not as loaded as they usually drink them here. After all it’s not as light as I imagined, but the amount does seem to be Colombian, big mugs, almost full, as how it´s offered in Norte de Santander by female farmers. We're back, no doubt.
As I would later note, the last of the procedures would be the picture. It happens to be that officials get excited with the presence of three FARC Secretariat members in their office, Timo, Pastor and Pablo, and they want to preserve the memory of the moment by taking a picture with them. One of ours entered the office at that moment and came out laughing telling us all about it.
Apparently, we no longer inspire fear, but desire for a picture with us. Something is changing, we must admit it. As I recall, something similar happened in other peace processes, and afterwards, people could not find ways on how to hide or disappear those images. The persecution was always relentless. But in contrast, there was not final agreement then, like there is now.
We must take that challenge. As soon as my turn arrives and I´m invited into the office, I note that we had a coat and a tie and that one of those who preceded me had probably left them somewhere around. I’m not given any account on those items and for a moment we all assumed the task of finding them somewhere. The office is spacious and apart from several desks there are some subsections.
There are some divisions, like cubicles, and in my quest to find these garments for the photo, I walked into one that was slightly disguised. I see a big and aged man sitting in front of a computer. Almost at that same instant I hear them saying that I should not go over there. The man also expresses evident surprise at my presence.
Normally, I wouldn´t have given it any thought. But the collective alarm of the officials compels me to conclude that the existence of that corner with its employee must obey to a security matter. Without a doubt, it´s an official of an intelligence service, listening to everything from his site and recording whatever is of his interest. How could that be missing. I silently laugh.
Having found what I wanted, I sit with the tie on and answer the expected questionnaire. It doesn´t seem as detailed as I had imagined. Since I can’t provide a phone number, the doctor requests me to have one at hand for when I come back to sign and receive my provisional ID, so they can write it down. I promised that I would, even if had to rely on a relative, I´ve never bothered them.
The official in charge of taking fingerprints is a mature and pretty woman who tells me her name and is very polite. To my question on what part of Colombia she is from, she replies that she is from northern Tolima, and I comment that my mother is also from there. This arouses a good degree of mutual trust and the procedure develops without any obstacles.
She affirms that from all the hands she'd had to touch, I had been the least tensioned, and I respond that it must have been because women always have done with me whatever they have pleased, since I am naturally prone to gentleness with them. She laughs with delight. At the end she offers me a damp cloth to clean the ink left in my hands.
For the picture, the doctor helps me get suited. He tightens the knot on the tie and puts it in the correct position. There were no mirrors to look at. I tell him that when I was a child, we had to go with suit and tie to Sunday Mass. School obligation. Suddenly, his gesture reminded me of the neighbor to which we recurred to in order to tie our knots.
Dad worked outside the city, and Don Ignacio, who had a shop in the house in front of ours, sacredly complied with this gesture of solidarity. In that instant I felt as if I was 50 years in the past, standing in front of him, while making the same gesture that the official now makes. He rejoices with the comparison and comments something similar with regard to his daughter's school.
The photographer, who had previously portrayed me as I answered the doctor´s questions, supposedly for the National Civil Registry´s file on the mission they were abiding, is also very cordial at the moment of taking my picture for the document. He takes two pictures and displays them to me in order to retrieve my opinion. To both of us they look good, he´ll be choosing one.
I go back to the waiting area. I walk by an open door which has an adjacent Military Attaché sign. Within, there are two grown men getting ready to leave. One of them, with grizzled head, has all the poise of an officer, but he´s wearing civilian clothes. He observes me without greeting from a certain distance, with a clear hint of superiority in his eyes.
His gesture confirms what I think; he surely is aware that we´re from the FARC and fails to conceal his prevention. I understand it and I´m not offended. I know that from now on, we will encounter many people like him and we have to learn to live without rancor. The return to civilian life is getting closer, it floats in the air, and we breathe it.
Havana, September 6, 1016.