The trip to Cartagena, Colombia had no complications. The Sarpa flight picked us up at Jose Marti airport in Havana, where we were accompanied by officials from the Foreign Ministry of Cuba, who were as kind and helpful as ever. It was our last farewell, this time we would start our trip without thinking about coming back.
We were attended by the same flight attendant of our trip in late March when we went to the conclave [where FARC-EP leadership, Government officials and representatives from all political parties met in Cartagena to trace a route for the implementation of the Peace Agreement]. When we said goodbye, she asked me if I would write another chronicle so that she could look it up on the internet. The transparency of her dark blue eyes would be enough to transform a rock into a poet. I condescendingly smiled, leaving her standing at the door of the plane. The white and purple clothes she wore made her look even more beautiful.
In Tibú [a municipality in northeastern Colombia] we were told that the helicopter trip to Caño Indio where the Negro Eliécer Transitional Zone is at would last twenty minutes, but it actually took ten. From the heights, one can see numerous palm plantations. We descended on to a small mount. It was two and a half years since I had last been walking on a mountain, the heat stroke was frontal in spite of arriving from Havana.
The drivers of the vehicles have been forced to become experts to overcome the huge amounts of mud in the access path to the Transitional Zone. We are told by their supervisors that the downpour of the previous night managed to frighten many away. More visitors were expected to arrive to commemorate the 53rd anniversary of the FARC, but people know what it means to get there when rain has fallen for several hours.
We walked the last few meters to the entrance. An honoring formation of unarmed guerrillas wearing white T-shirts welcomed us with overwhelmed enthusiasm. Timo [the commander-in-chief of the FARC-EP] led our march while many men and women left their posts to happily approach us to shake hands. Numerous civilians looked at us with joy as well; some smiled in such a way that we could not help but to hug them.
It was three in the afternoon. The events on the occasion of the 53 years of our foundation were under way since the morning. The voice of the presenter was heard through the loudspeaker. Slogans for peace and agreements. There had been a march in defense of the agreements from inside the camps to its reception area. A gigantic flag of Colombia several meters wide was escorted by unarmed combatants dressed in white.
The whole day was full of cultural events, dances of various kinds, songs, mimics, presentations alluding to the commemoration, greetings from peasant communities, and musical performances of the purest folklore. Some wore their clothes and boots smeared with mud. They had come from distant places, and the state of the road extended their journeys beyond any calculation.
That day we didn’t join the celebration. We arrived tired from the trip and also had to settle in to the assigned place, a wooden house covered in zinc, with cement floor, in the most authentic peasant style. A couple of peacocks live near the house and the male undertook his characteristic song at the slightest motive. We went back to sleeping under tents, with no air conditioning or fans. The temperature is very high until when the classic storm of the Catatumbo bursts with its prolonged downpour, strong winds, lightning and thunders.
On Sunday 28 I toured all the facilities. The backlog of the construction is astounding. Only the general classroom is finished. The rest is still in an early stage of construction or without even even starting. It will take months of work, even if the materials arrive on time. Guerrillas live in the individual tents that they have built since their arrival in February. They have had to reinforce their tents with creativity. The strong winds often wreak havoc, but their morale is high.
Now I can greet and have lengthy talks with known combatants, with old loves arouse great affection and nostalgia. I also greet and exchange with many of the civilians who visited the Zone. Many are relatives of guerrillas, their mothers and fathers, brothers, nephews. Others represent various local or regional organizations. Many young people from Cúcuta [city in northeastern Colombia that borders with Venezuela], other regional municipalities and even from Venezuela. Everyone is happy.
The day is devoted to sports competitions. Everyone has the right to participate. The Sports Secretary of the municipality of Tibú is linked to this part of the program and awards diplomas to those who win. There are micro-football and volleyball tournaments, for men, women and mixed. Teams of guerrillas compete with those of different villages in the region. There are also chess and domino games. A nice integration.
To the side of the micro-football court, is the wooden floor and zinc roof. There is a sound crew and a guerrilla announcer who encourages the players and the public. On the stage everyone who wants to participate goes up: children singing, guerrillas singing peace songs, music of different rhythms playing from the speaker.
By 10:15 a greeting by Timoleón Jiménez is announced. People wait expectantly. A peasant leader with whom I converse tells me of his illusions with peace, of the pedagogical work necessary to get all the communities to endorse the agreements. Another one tells me about his illusions with the special circumscriptions for peace*; they must win the seat in congress to obtain their deserved political representation. They tell me about their work with the communities to get it. He shares with me his concerns regarding the other surviving armed groups.
Alexis, a guerrilla I met years ago, introduces me to a brother of his who came with his mother and others to visit him. He explains that they are not blood brothers, because he was abandoned as a child and raised by that family. They all fled the Catatumbo region when paramilitary groups raided the area in the late nineties. Except for him, who joined the FARC. His brother looks very excited. He explains how much they love him and their joy for reuniting.
A peasant woman of more than seventy years takes the stage singing rancheras regarding the suffering of the mothers. She is then succeeded by her son, Gabriel, a guerrilla from Catatumbo, who now sings in homage to her. I approach her to congratulate her and she tells me that she had fourteen children, several of them, with their daughters-in-law or sons-in-law and their children are with her on this visit. Peace is very beautiful, she says. A four-year-old boy shouts slogans to Bolivar's sword. They applaud him.
Timo's greeting starts amidst applause and cheers in the audience. He is immediately assaulted by a circle of admirers, some for his autograph and others with their cell phones begging him to please allow them to take a picture by his side.
We must organize a space and devote a long time to that. The journalists of the alternative press rush for an interview. Some are satisfied with a greeting or some words of mine, the old man does not have time for all this.
They tell us that the talks between the FARC delegates and the government in Bogotá are intense and difficult. There had been concern about delays in the implementation of the agreements before, due to the unfortunate ruling of the Constitutional Court, things seem to be even more complicated now.
It may be true, but there is a fact, the pedagogy for peace grows and the communities feel as their own this struggle for reconciliation. Hope and possibilities are great.
There is no other way but to persist and go forward. Also on the side of the football field, there is a kind of altar surrounded with red flowers, in the center of which stand three hand painted portraits by guerrilla artists. Manuel Marulanda occupies the center, with Raul Reyes to his left and Iván Ríos to his right. It's the history of the FARC, which marks 53 years of struggle for peace.
Now peace is closer than ever and we will not allow it to be snatched from us. This is what all those people who visit us in solidarity enthusiastically declare. Something like this happened in all Transitional Zones and Points. Also in Bogota and other cities. In Havana there was an OSPAAAL [Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America] forum with the same purpose. Timo sent them his written speech. He had to be in Colombia.
We are here, Colombia, nothing and nobody will be able to prevent it.
Caño Indio, May 29, 2017.
*The Peace Agreement signed between the FARC-EP and the Colombian Government contemplates 16 “Special Circumscriptions for Peace” which are 16 additional seats in Congress to be occupied by representatives from the regions that have been most affected by the conflict. It must be noted that these representatives must be from the communities and must not have any affiliation with any political party or movement including the FARC-EP.