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gabriel.jpgRSS Gabriel Ángel

Gabriel Ángel is writer and guerrilla fighter of the FARC-EP
Tuesday, 27 June 2017 00:00

The long journey that has just begun


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It had been a long time since Timo [FARC-EP Commander] had slept fourteen hours in a row. In the last weeks his hours of sleep had been cut in an agonizing way, forcing him to get somehow accustomed.

But once in Caño Indio, after the greetings and reception upon arrival, after having a succulent stake for lunch, cooked in a guerrilla stove and by guerrillas, in the old style of the mobile camps, after trying to respond to some emails while resisting the overwhelming heat of the Catatumbo region, he found it impossible to resist the slumber that was invading him. He said he was going to lie down for an hour before continuing his work, but the sleep lasted until nine o'clock at night, without anyone trying to interrupt him.

When he realized he was surrounded by darkness, after looking at the time on his watch, he went back to sleep, and it was until four in the morning that he woke up. Surprised by the intensity of his lethargy, he stretched out his arm and turned on his portable radio. He learned that Pastor Alape, a fellow Commander, had clarified in the radio that it was not true that he was going to hand over his rifle to the governor of Antioquia, who, who knows why, had said so to the media. Luis Pérez, the governor of Antioquia, had been invited to the event of the following Sunday simply to witness the lay down of weapons, as the former Commander of the Magdalena Medio Bloc had been expressed in a tweet.

Timo smiled with content and turned the station button until he found music of his liking, quickly going back to sleep until five-thirty in the morning. At that point he decided to get up, somewhat embarrassed, to continue his work of directing the FARC. He had fully regained his strength and lucidity.

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His most recent journey had begun on Sunday, June 11, when he boarded the helicopter that came to transport him and his companions to the city of Bogota, where at six o'clock on Monday morning, after a short stop at the El Dorado airport, he boarded the flight to Oslo, Norway, where he had been invited by the government of that country in order to attend the fifteenth edition of the Oslo Forum, a meeting of different world personalities dedicated to studying the experiences of mediation and peaceful settlement of the world's most serious conflicts. The 13-hour flight would have a stopover in Santa Maria, one of the islands of the Azores archipelago, only to refuel, and then continue without interruption to its final destination.

The attentiveness of the Swiss stewardess of Indian origin deserves to be remembered. Besides the three meals during the day-long flight, she frequently offered us refreshments, and even wine, drinks and whatever liquor we wanted. Timo laughed with surprise after his return to Colombia, when he read an "exclusive information" article by Semana magazine, according to which during the flight to Norway, the FARC Commander had demanded to be served a plate of lechona, a traditional Colombian meal, which had thrown the crew in a panic until they were able to satisfy his desire. A ridiculous invention of the magazine, with which it undoubtedly intended to show the country, in a pejorative way, how peasants the FARC are, which, if true, would not embarrass us at all given our popular background, but which nevertheless reveals the class character of the article, and the discriminatory sense of their articles when they refer to the type of people who do not have their style.

In Santa Maria there was an unforeseen delay, caused by some search carried out by the Portuguese police, who thought it was strange that a private flight of a Norwegian airline had left Colombia with mysterious passengers. Functionaries of the police and the Norwegian chancellery, who were escorting the guests, got off the plane to clarify the matter in the airport offices, while Ricardo Téllez, Victoria Sandino and other occupants made jokes about. Once matters were cleared, they returned to the aircraft and the flight continued without any further alteration.

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It had to be 6:30 in the afternoon in Colombia when at 1:30 the plane landed at Oslo-Gardermoen Airport in the Norwegian capital. From the air its travelers had seen the incredible illumination of the city and its avenues with amazement, as well as the multitude of towns and suburbs showing their nocturnal lights, as if by some strange inversion the star studded sky had landed on earth. Without delay the passengers of the flight left the airport to board the vehicles, we saw a near full moon, perhaps a little dwindling, flashing with prodigious size in the sky.

One could think that she, the moon, the responsible for the opaque luminosity that we perceived in the surroundings, in a strange night that did not seem such, at least not how Colombians are used to live it. It had been too many hours for Timo without smoking a cigarette, so he asked the kind Norwegian officials who welcomed us if there was a chance to smoke. They positively replied, in Norway one could smoke in any outdoor space, as it was forbidden to do so in any enclosed space. Then, the first photographs were taken with cell phones, making sure to keep the pines and the moon in the background. After throwing the cigarette butts in the ashtrays, we were transferred to the Losby Gods Hotel located in the outskirts of the Norwegian capital.

Before getting there, we saw a revealing phenomenon. The night, which had barely begun somewhere after twelve came to an end well before three in the morning; it was incredible for us. The summer day lasted almost twenty-two hours and the night only two. Plus there were the seven hours difference. It was explained to us that in winter the opposite happened, there was practically no day, November, December, January and February passed in a permanent darkness, under deep cold and incessant rains. Even for the Norwegians, that was too much.

When we arrived to the hotel and the rooms, very luxurious rooms, we had trouble getting to sleep. It was not yet three o'clock in the morning, and it was daytime, too early in Colombia to go to bed, plus the light from the windows prevented the mind to assume this was sleeping time. We had to be ready in the dining room at 7:30 in the morning. The atmosphere there was that of a Babel Tower: sitting at the elegantly prepared and distributed tables, were men and women of all races animatedly chatting. The most common language was English, which none of us spoke, except from "good morning" and "thanks", and the most common dress was a suit and a tie, and appearances were as diverse as the languages.

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Americans, Europeans, Iraqis, Libyans, Somalis, Nigerians, Yemenis, Cypriots, Turks and others. Everything was served in a buffet, and I mean everything: meats, fish, poultry, eggs, seafood, sausages, dairy products, salads, sauces, and fruits of different types and places or origin. The same applied to the three daily meals that we were offered during the days we spent there. The food tasted wonderful, and choosing anything meant giving up other delicacies, we wanted to try everything.

The Oslo Forum imposes a rule of confidentiality. In dealing with the conflicts they are involved in, the participants and guests, many of them located on opposite sides of the confrontation, are completely free to express their ideas and opinions. This makes it possible to get closer to the situations and realities that could facilitate a work of mediation, while getting to know the unilateral impositions of the great world powers, which are always condemnable. The general conclusions can be talked about later, but after making a pledge: none of those present can say who said what, it is prohibited. This is to ensure the utmost freedom for those who speak.

The sessions of the fifteenth Oslo Forum dealt with issues such as Southeastern Europe's stability threats, a renewed reconciliation agenda for Somalia, the multiple dimensions of the conflict in Nigeria, the challenges of reconciliation in Iraq, the peace process in the Philippines, the dilemmas of popular ratification of peace agreements, the interests in Syria, the resurrection of the dream in Southern Sudan, the situation in Cyprus, the situation in Yemen, and what most interested us, a plenary session on the Colombian case, bringing peace to the practice.

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On Tuesday, June 13, the Opening Plenary took place between 9:45 and 11 in the morning with the participation of John Kerry, Kofi Annan and several prime ministers, chancellors and ambassadors. Each diplomatic representative had the right to bring a companion. It was a good surprise see that Timo was allowed to attend with four more companions. As is often the case in such events, it is very important to hold informal bilateral meetings. It must be said that the FARC delegation was able to make the most of it, thanks to the help of Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende, who facilitated multiple meetings. These include meetings with Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, Jeffrey Feltman, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Relations, Johnatan Powell, Director Of the Inter Mediati Foundation, Theresa Withfield, official responsible of the Policy and Mediation Division of the Relations Department of the UN, Benito E. Tiamzon, representative on the Negotiating Panel of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, as well as representatives of the Syrian government.

The recognition that all of them gave to the FARC's commitment to achieve peace in Colombia is worth mentioning, as well as for our consistency in order to sign a Final Agreement, and for our determined willingness to comply with the agreement. They also offered their collaboration to ensure the implementation of the Havana Agreements.

Norwegian Foreign Minister, Borge Brende, not only facilitated a press conference with Timo and the main Norwegian media, which was transmitted by the mainstream media of Norway, but he also met with us, together with several officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the purpose of jointly examining the possibilities of action of his government as a guarantor of the peace process and the agreements.

END OF PART ONE

Read part 2 here

Last modified on Thursday, 29 June 2017 13:50
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