EL DIAMANTE, Colombia – They come from all over Colombia. Most are peasants, some are indigenous or black, but all of the FARC rebels gathered here have one thing in common: faces marked by war.
“War, for me, means fear. The fear that someday I will have to die,” 18-year-old Esnaider told EFE. “My hope is to see people smile.”
These rank-and-file members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, fear a microphone more than a rifle or an airstrike, and it takes an effort to make them understand that there are people who want to hear their words.
The fighters have gathered in El Diamante to formally ratify the accord their leaders have negotiated with the Colombian government for an end to 52 years of conflict.
Many of the rebels speak with the limited vocabulary of people who barely had the chance to go to school, often resorting to the terminology they learned as part of their political education inside the FARC.
“Why should we have to be divided by class warfare?” asks Anderson, 24.
Alexis, a man of indigenous appearance who has spent nearly a third of his 25 years with the FARC, said that “war is a very difficult thing because it is to the death.”
“The war has been something very extreme, outside of normality. War has been the worst thing,” 19-year-old Jineth said. Her comrade Jazblei – a grizzled veteran at 30 – agrees, saying that the conflict has brought only “exclusion, hatred and much selfishness.”
“It has destroyed the life of many Colombians,” Jazblei says.
The desire for peace is palpable among the insurgents at the encampment in the Llanos del Yari, a largely empty savannah that separates the provinces of Meta and Caqueta.
The pact was initialed last month in Havana, the venue for the negotiations that began in November 2012, and is to be formally signed next Monday in Cartagena.
Colombians will go to the polls Oct. 2 for a referendum on the agreement.