The dusty unpaved streets of La Fila run down the hillside amid lush vegetation, overlooking the verdant mountain range of this region known as the balcony of Tolima, in central Colombia. More than two hundred ex-combatants of the FARC guerrilla, today disarmed and turned into a political party, are reintegrating into society in this rural area near Icononzo, where dozens of children have been born in the five years that have elapsed since the signing of the peace agreement. It is a day of celebration, but not for the anniversary of the agreements. In the community restaurant, one of many modules that rise in the middle of the town, they prepare with red balloons and Spiderman posters the fourth birthday of Dylan, one of the so-called sons of peace, which already number in the thousands throughout the country .
The demographic explosion in the ranks of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia began to take shape at the end of the negotiations between the guerrillas and the Government of Juan Manuel Santos, in 2016. “Dylan represents everything to me. It is the first child. To start with, teach me to be a mom. On the mountain where did you learn to be a mother? ” says Andrea Anacona, a 36-year-old ex-guerrilla, as the first guests are already scampering on the cement floor and the explosion of one of the balloons interrupts the conversation. Although she did not know it, she was already two months pregnant when she arrived in La Fila from the camps in the Yarí savanna, in the southeastern part of the country, where the last rebel arms conference was held. “At that time they had already said that we could have children, because the process was already taking place,” he recalls. Years ago, she had been marked by the abortion that a commander had forced her to undergo at seven months of gestation, and since then she has wanted to have a child. “The majority of ex-combatants already have two, three. The least is one ”, he laughs.
During half a century of armed conflict, women who belonged to the FARC were prohibited from becoming pregnant. Those who did, were forced to abort or, in the event of giving birth, to give their babies up for adoption. Since they laid down their weapons, there has been a baby boom. The children of the peace signatories have become a source of illusion to move forward with the implementation of the agreement. Although the numbers are not precise, the phenomenon is evident. In the absence of official government figures, more than 3,500 children under the age of five have been born, according to data from the defunct guerrilla. In a symbolic example, about twenty of them are part of the Hijos de la Paz Choir, of the Bogota Philharmonic Orchestra, which is presented this Wednesday in the Plaza de Bolívar, in the heart of the capital, in one of the central acts of the fifth anniversary celebrations.
La Fila, decorated by countless murals, is one of the twenty areas in which the ex-combatants concentrated to leave their rifles, which later gave way to the Territorial Spaces for Training and Reincorporation (ETCR, or former ETCR, in government jargon) . These communities are still home to some 3,000 of the 13,000 ex-guerrillas in the process of reintegration, as many have moved to cities or other places. In Icononzo, reintegration continues despite difficulties. The State has already bought the land and some productive projects have taken off, such as La Roja craft beer, coffee crops or the clothing workshop. They also have a music school funded by the United Nations. Other spaces have opted for tourism, such as Miravalle, where the ex-combatants became guides of rafting, or Pondores, where they recreate the guerrilla camps for tourists. The presence of children is felt in all of them, and in many they have opened nursery schools.
That of Icononzo was baptized as Magic Mountain. They raised it in the original house on the farm where they established the ETCR, but it has not been able to reopen during the pandemic due to problems with the refrigerator, water supply and a gas leak. With capacity for a dozen babies, it was already small. They are building a new “care center” for fifty children under the age of five. The older ones walk five kilometers to attend the school in the area, but the parents ask the authorities to set up their own school. “I have not seen here any kind of mistreatment of parents with their children, on the contrary, they overprotect them,” says María del Rosario Villareal, the person in charge of the nursery, who did not belong to the guerrillas, but has always felt welcomed in the community. Regarding the rebound in the birth rate, he timidly points out his own theory: “I imagine they wanted to make up for all the lost time.”
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Dogs, chickens and roosters who crow at all hours abound here, as in much of rural Colombia. Also the stories about different types of maternity wards. “We all started to reproduce. The experience has been very beautiful because that is the illusion of every human being, ”says Janeth Morales, a 37-year-old single mother, as she paints a mural at the health post accompanied by her daughter, who is turning three years old, and another child dressed in a miniature shirt of the Colombian national team. She joined the FARC at the age of 15 and was a nurse in the mountains. “In arms you should not have children. Imagine one with a rifle in her hand and a Chinese under her arm [niño]”, He points out, although he proudly says that he managed to receive three newborns in the middle of the negotiations and today they are in perfect condition. Very attached to her daughter, she would like her to be a nurse, although she does not want to impose her tastes on her, only that she has the opportunities that she did not have.
Within the ETCR, which is an hour down a difficult road from the urban area of Icononzo, no babies have been born yet. But almost. Lida Perafán, 42, broke water when she was a month pregnant and had hers in the back of an escort’s car, because she did not reach the hospital. After almost a year, he is healthy. “I just wish he didn’t go to an armed group, not to the army or to the police. Or rather, no weapons, ”he says in front of the garment workshop where he works every day. Peace for the children of those who knew the war.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.