EL CARMEN DE BOLIVAR, Colombia – A Colombian peasant who was repeatedly driven from his home village by paramilitary fighters and lived in exile in Spain for five years hopes a peace agreement with leftist rebels means those dark days are behind him.
“I’m committed to peace. I always have been,” 69-year-old Luis Torres told EFE in El Carmen de Bolivar, a municipality in the northern Colombian state of Bolivar, referring to the peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas that is now in the implementation stage.
His hardships began in 1998 when he was forced to flee El Salado, a hamlet in El Carmen, after paramilitaries arrived in the area and accused him and other peasants of aiding the FARC.
He returned for the first time in November 2002, two years after the Feb. 16-19, 2000, massacre in El Salado perpetrated by fighters under the command of paramilitary chief Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, alias “Jorge 40.”
More than 60 people were killed, 38 of them in the hamlet’s public square, recalled Torres, who is known as Don Luis at the agricultural research center in El Salado where he works part-time.
He returned of his own accord with 100 other displaced persons – 92 men and eight women – but was forced to flee a second time in 2005 after being newly accused of being a FARC collaborator.
It was then that several Colombian and European non-governmental organizations helped him relocate to Europe, where he lived in several cities in Spain and even gave talks on the Colombian armed conflict in Geneva and Amsterdam.
But he returned to Colombia during the Christmas holidays in 2010, arriving in his home village on Jan. 1, 2011.
Don Luis founded an organization known as the Association of the Displaced of the Salado Bolivar (Asodesbol) and has never left, save for trips related to his activity as a community leader and more recently his work for the Semana Foundation, which is helping rebuild that territory.