CONEJO, Colombia – “Instead of a rifle in my hands, I want to carry a flower,” sang the guerrillas of the FARC’s 59th Front at dawn on Jan. 1, celebrating their first New Year at peace in northern Colombia after 52 years of armed conflict.
At a camp located near the village of Conejo in the Caribbean province of La Guajira, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas welcomed the New Year with the certainty that it would be the last time they would be out in the bush with rifles, a celebration that EFE was able to attend.
The festivities included a roast pig, chicken, fritters, sweets and chocolates, along with dancing and traditional Colombian tropical tunes.
At midnight, when the nation was welcoming 2017, the rebels got together for group embrace and gave each other their best wishes for the coming year.
Silfrido Mendoza, the alias of a 38-year-old rebel who has spent 24 of those years with the FARC, told EFE that being able to celebrate this first New Year’s when they are just about to demobilize “is a dream that at last is (here) and marks a point of departure so that from here on a firmer peace can be consolidated.”
“This was our hope all the time and finally it’s arrived,” he added at the camp where the guerrillas are gathered to await orders to move to the normalization transition zone in Pondores, near Conejo, where they will lay down their arms and begin the shift back to civil society.
These zones – 20 in all, around the country, along with six smaller camps – are where guerrillas must congregate to demobilize, but logistical problems led the government and the FARC to postpone that event until January.
“We think that with the support of Colombians we can achieve the dream of peace we have and toward which we’re working,” Mendoza added.
He confessed that he was hoping to reunite with his parents very soon, not having seen them for 22 years when, due to “army pressure,” he said, he had to join the FARC to “save his life.”
Meanwhile, another rebel calling himself Elio Duran told EFE that before the signing of the peace pact with the government, when clashes with the army were frequent, the rebels also celebrated New Year’s, but not with the calm that prevailed on Saturday night.
“As Colombians, we’ve always followed the traditions: we celebrate, we make tamales, fritters, custard, ‘sancocho’ stew at midnight and we wish each other Happy New Year,” Duran said.
He added that although the rebels have been fighting for years, now they are moving away from illegality and are “a political party and we’re going to continue with our political struggle” to achieve “social change that allows a better way of life.”