LA MONTAÑITA, Colombia – Felix Salcedo lost part of his left arm while handling explosives as a FARC guerrilla, but can still use his right arm to fumigate a pineapple plantation in the mountains of southern Colombia.
Salcedo, 38, is among 250 former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) gathered in the hamlet of Agua Bonita, one of 26 areas designated by the government as spaces of training and re-incorporation for rebels who demobilized as part of a November 2016 peace accord.
The new community, named Hector Rodriguez in honor of a deceased guerrilla, is located in a rural area of La Montañita, a municipality some 35 kilometers (21 miles) from Florencia, the capital of Caqueta province.
The settlement consists of 60 dwellings built of concrete and cellulose.
Salcedo works for the settlement’s main economic venture, the pineapple plantation, while others among his comrades, such as Gloria Mora, are learning to cultivate yucca, plantains and tomatoes in the fertile soil of Caqueta.
“Some of those here were already farmers,” Mora, who spent 22 years with the FARC as a nurse, told EFE. “I come from the city. Now we start a new life we are learning agriculture.”
Besides farming, the settlement offers former combatants opportunities to learn trades such as carpentry and shoemaking.
While government institutions have overall responsibility for the effort, private citizens have come here to donate their time and expertise to ease the fighters’ transition back to civilian life.
One of those public-spirited people is Richard Camelo, a young man from central Colombia’s coffee-growing region who prepares ex-combatants for work as carpenters.
“I believe in the change, in their commitment. I believe in a new Colombia at peace,” he says when asked why he’s here.
“They come from 5 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon. They want to focus on an enterprise and that effort is what motivates me. They are the best people one could hire,” Camelo says of his students.