Read part 2 here
Read part 1 here
The Norwegian government´s sense of responsibilty was shown when it was time to determine our route to return to Colombia. The experience of the travel towards Norway convinced them to avoid stopovers in any country. The possibility of fuelling the plane in Havana ended up being discarded when they found the way to travel from Oslo to Bergen in the west of the peninsula in order to fill the gas tank again so that we could travel directly to Bogota in a semicircle that would allow us to fly over the Atlantic Ocean, passing through the south of Iceland and then taking south, parallel to the coast of America and its hundreds of kilometers. This route also involved saving us an hour of travel, so we landed in the Colombian capital at 11:30 p.m.
Just like when we had left the country, the sole ID card was sufficient to comply with the immigration procedure, one we didn’t even do ourselves as it was the UNIPEP officials -a police unit specialized in our security- who took care of it.
We have to say that both at the entrance as well as at the departure from the country, the authorities and the various employees of the airport were extremely kind to us. When we returned to the hotel where we were staying, we knew that we had to get up early to travel to Melgar by road, in order to attend the closing event of the balance of activities of the FARC component in the Monitoring and Verification Mechanism, which was held in a club located in the outskirts of the city.
That morning we understood how traffic is in the capital of Colombia. Even though our caravan avoided the most crowded roads, it took more than an hour to exit the city.
Once again we were able to appreciate the warm welcome and the spontaneous joy of the people at the places we visited. On the voyage from Caño Indio to Bogotá, the helicopter had made a stop in Bucaramanga, and we were transferred to the airport in order to use the bathrooms and take some refreshment. Several taxi drivers on the outskirts of the airport, after staring at us for a few minutes, finally decided to approach us.
Filled with emotion, they greeted Timo, and they argued among each other when taking turns to take pictures with him. They congratulated us and wished us the best of success. The same thing happened again with the club staff in Melgar, as it had happened in Norway at the end of each act and as it has been repeated every time the FARC leader turned out somewhere.
How wrong were those who at the beginning of the process assured us that nobody wanted us in Colombia. Once the balance was approved and the closing event had taken place, we had some time to get into the pool to remember old times.
In Melgar we met again with commanders and guerrillas who we had not seen for many years, and we had the opportunity to know others who we had never met before. It was an excellent occasion to ratify the excellent state of mind of our militants, just as to reaffirm the immense ties of affection that -apart from ideological and political identity- unite the great FARC family.
Years ago we were all in the middle of the war, while now we were laughing and joking at the expense of the armed helicopter that flew over the area, performing manoeuvres for the courses of the neighboring School of Lancers of Tolemaida. In these courses they often make gunshots, machine gun blasts, and launch rockets to land, in a macabre ritual that we all had known too well while in the jungle when those helicopters were pursuing death. It is fair to stop squandering resources in a war that came to its end.
At dawn we returned to Bogota, to fulfil a historical and cultural commitment: Lizandro Duque is completing the editing of the documentary he is preparing for television on Commander Alfonso Cano, and had obtained an exceptional engagement from the National Secretariat of the FARC. They would all meet in one place to look at the six chapters that compose the documentary and make the final recommendations. Only the magnitude of the documented character could explain a meeting like this. The documentary series also narrates the history of the FARC, particularly its last 35 years. Only late at night we were finally able to return to our hotel.
On Sunday the 18th we finally had a break. We had to wash and iron the used clothes, and organize personal things that had been left aside. Timo, in turn, argued with the leadership of the FARC that he needed to spend a few hours organizing his affairs. Everyone wants Timo to participate here and there at some event in Bogotá, but he is still the head of the FARC and is responisble for the internal life of the organization, which cannot be neglected at such a crucial time for us. In addition, his presence in the capital is ideal to attend to outstanding issues with our people who find themselves busy in one or another task in the city. One has to meet with many of them. And even take advantage of the day to buy some things.
I then take the opportunity to request to be allowed to go and visit my mother at nightfall. I am aware of the immense happiness that she feels when we see each other, even if she is almost ninety years old and suffering from Alzheimer. I also feel an immense joy when I embrace her, to see her smile of happiness and share a few hours by her side. I also met with my sister and a brother, as well as with a nephew and other relatives.
On Monday I had to meet an Irish journalist for an interview; he needs to prepare a documentary about peace in Colombia. I visit him in his apartment in Chapinero, a neighborhood in Bogotá. He is waiting for me at the door of the building and while we wait for the elevator he tells me somehow embarrassed that when he rented the flat, he didn't know that a tragedy had taken place there. When he found out, there was nothing he could do. He tells me the tragedy is related to the crime of a girl who was raped and murdered by one of the flat’s previous tenants. I remember immediately the case of Juliana: I had read about that when I was in Havana. Actually the world is small. At the reception, I had seen the sea of closed-circuit security screens of the building. It seems impossible that what happened could have happened without anyone noticing.
I have lunch in the neighborhood in the company of one of my brothers who kindly invited me. An excellent opportunity to remember so many episodes of our past life, as well as to learn about family life in the new times. Almost everyone that's in my mind looks as they did more than thirty five years ago, when I left the home to look for new beginings.
Now it is a long list of nephews and grandchildren, of divorces and new unions, of deaths and diseases. Time does not stop, I am now an uncle and grandfather that many want to meet. I must admit that when I say goodbye I feel a deep desire of crying. So many years of affection have been taken away from me because of the war. Now I can only replace them for a couple of hours stolen from work and an intense farewell hug, always under the covert observation of the security guard who closely cares for each of my steps.
We will see each other again, brother, hopefully someday we will have the opportunity to be together more freely and with a wider circle of family and friends. He left happy, because he also had the satisfaction of being personally introduced to Timo and was very impressed by him. He also had the opportunity to shake hands with so many members of our organization who were waiting for their turn to talk to the leader. I note that he greets them with sympathy and I confirm once again my impression: when people know us, they are taken by us. The bad press we had for years begins to dilute without remedy.
I know that I must write about what is happening, but the rhythm of the activities and the tension that they originate prevents me from concentrating. I try to watch TV but I find it unbearable. The Colombian channels are dedicated to broadcasting hours of images of the triumph of Nacional [soccer team] in the local championship. And to speculate for hours about the possible perpetrators of the attack in the Andindo Shopping Mall. I am struck by the bitterness of many interviewees and journalists who insist on relating the attack with the signing of the peace accords. The president of an important guild uses the microphones to invite the international community to stop welcoming terrorists and stop treating them so well in their countries. The consequence of that, he affirms, are these attacks, the multiplication of terror in the country.
I understand he is referring to us and our trip to Norway. I feel outraged and hurt that important people persist in this attitude of intolerance and distortion, but I understand that this is politics. It is up to us to teach the country the other side of reality, in a frank inequality with the version of the dominant powers. The news shown on television are an injection of hate and that is not an accidental phenomenon, it corresponds to a premeditated purpose. There are many things that need to be changed in order to live in a decent country.
On Tuesday we have to make some arrangements for the next day's agenda. In the afternoon we went to the SWAT school of bodyguards in Facatativá, where the first group of more than three hundred guerrillas complete their security preparation course. The place is a cold spot, which reminds us of our seasons in the moors. It drizzles frequently and an icy wind feels like it breaks the bones. There we found our people, doing exercises in the training area. Our arrival inevitably alters the planned order. All the commanders and staff who work in the school go out to greet Timo with clear respect and admiration.
He is the head of the FARC, the guerrilla who has signed the peace, the heir of Manuel Marulanda, Jacobo Arenas and Alfonso Cano, who suddenly appears surrounded by police escorts to greet his people that are being trained. Everyone wants to shake hands with him, talk to him at least a few words, they are amazed and pleased. There is no doubt that the FARC has an impact, no need to say it. Our people, most of which happened to have a cold, are quickly gathered in an internal yard in strict military formation in order to listen to the words of the leader. It was impossible to say all that we wanted to say, there were too many people listening. In few minutes our people are briefed about the main things related to our trip to Norway. And then we go and shake hands with each and every one of them.
The main character is Timo, no doubt about it. Everyone wants to hug him, ask him to give them a selfie, a photo with them at his side, an instant of attention. It is the men and women of the FARC preparing for a new life. I know some of them. From the Jorge Briceño, South and Magdalena Medio Blocs. Meeting them in such a different context is moving. I exchange a few words with some of them, they are determined. Despite everything and despite the adversities of the climate, no one considers the course to be harsh.
John tells me that after so many sacrifices in the movement, one more is nothing. They will go ahead, sure. Leaving the place is not easy. I think Timo must have posed for at least half a thousand photographs. As in Melgar at the meeting with the FARC-EP family, this time under a penetrating cold, there are many emotions. It has cost us to a lot to get here, to obtain the respect we now enjoy, to discover in the eyes of those who see us for the first time a glitter of such a big admiration. The tasks awaiting us are hard, difficult, in the midst of poisonous bad information and dirty tricks of all kinds. But we will go forward, no doubt about it.
On Wednesday we rise early in Guaimaral. The manager of Helistar, a high school graduate from San Bartolomé like me, with whom I exchange fraternally about it, leads us personally to the helicopter after giving us instructions. We return to Caño Indio, to the Transitional Zone El Negro Eliécer Gaitán, in the suffocating atmosphere of Catatumbo. The day is miraculously clear and we have no problems getting there.
We are welcomed by guerrillas. Here the lay down of the totality of weapons has almost concluded. I talk to Yolima, a guerrilla that is very dear to me. She tells about how the day before she had to hand over her gun, and how much bitterness she was. She was crying secretly until late night hours.
In her view, those weapons should not have been removed from the Transitional Zone until the government had effectively fulfilled all its commitments. She still lives in her guerrilla cove, subjected to the inclement weather, because the promised houses have not yet been completed. And that's the least of problems when we look at most important things that are still missing, she says. I remind her that no one said that this would be easy.
The FARC has always lived in the struggle, and we will continue to do so. The governmnet must respect their pledge, there is no other possible alternative. That's why we are getting ready to enter into the political arena. There are those who bid on our failure, a little in the line of those who are making life impossible for us. They don't bother us.
We just have to go around the country, leave our message to the world, to know, as we have just verified, that we are not alone, that a true human flow supports us.
Our struggle is not the struggle of the FARC, it is the struggle of the people of Colombia, of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, of the peoples of the Third World.
We open a trail in the tangle, we move towards a better world. Nobody will be able to stop us.
Caño Indio, June 22, 2017