TORIBIO, Colombia – The residents of Toribio, one of the many Colombian towns that has suffered for decades due to the armed internal conflict, this week experienced a normal day on the first day of the cease-fire putting an end to the 52-year war between leftist guerrillas and the government.
With no electricity as the day broke on Monday due to a lightning strike that knocked out the power, local residents, many of them survivors of crossfire between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, rebels and the Colombian army, awaited the start of the first day of the cease-fire after almost four years of peace talks.
At midnight on Monday, when the bilateral and definitive cease-fire took effect, the only light in the town was that at the Manolo discotheque.
With its own generator and located three blocks from the police station, at the Manolo people downed aguardiente and beer and discussed the Sunday soccer match, and only occasionally did any talk of the peace plan crop up.
“The sun will come up and we’ll see,” one of the Manolo patrons told EFE regarding the cease-fire, with another chiming in just after midnight to say “OK, it started a few minutes ago,” although the exchange was interrupted by a conversation in one of the Indian languages of this southwestern province of Cauca.
The mayor’s office was still closed early Monday morning, and the only local official up and about on the first day after the cessation of hostilities was the indigenous councilor.
The main recommendation for adults and children alike was to remain calm, with parents continuing to warn their youngsters of the dangers of crossfires and explosions, as in the past.
But now – after more than 100 attacks attributed by Colombian authorities to the guerrillas over the past three decades, including a July 8, 2011, bus-bomb attack targeting the police station and killing at least three people, wounding about 100 and damaging dozens of houses and buildings – tranquility is beginning to take hold along these steep streets.
Instead of helicopters and scenes of combat, the town’s 1,080 students and young people have begun drawing images of “normal” life, the local school principal, Rosbita Gomez Rengifo, told EFE.
And despite a history of pain, peace and relaxation are also returning to the police station, the same one destroyed several times in rebel attacks but where now the breeze is moving the rosary beads hanging from a cross placed in memory of Mayor Luis Alberto Hernandez, who died in the bus-bomb attack.