MESETAS, Colombia – Oswaldo Sanchez, whose brother was killed in the country’s armed conflict, is one of 253 former members of the FARC guerrillas in central Colombia who believe that peace is possible and so, amid assorted difficulties, he has decided to raise fish for export.
Although he formerly carried a rifle for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), now he occupies himself preparing what in the future will be a cooperative that is starting to offer products on the market to allow former rebels to re-integrate themselves into Colombian society.
“It hasn’t been easy,” said Sanchez while leafing through a notebook in which he keeps records of the fish-raising project he plans to launch with 27 other ex-rebels in central Meta province, where 253 former FARC members are making the transition from the bush back to society.
Despite the faith that he has in the peace agreement signed by the FARC, which has now become a political party, Sanchez said that he, like other former guerrillas, decided to get to work without help from the state, which he says is not fulfilling the peace agreement but trying to nullify basic aspects of the accord.
For instance, he says that the government has not fulfilled its promises regarding making land available “because without land there’s no work and you can’t develop any of the productive projects that people have in mind.”
“We’re tired of waiting. We’ve gotten to work. Some decided to plant cassava, bananas, citrus, avocadoes, raise chickens and pigs, and us – (fish such as) black pacu and tilapia – with resources contributed by former combatants,” Sanchez said, although he added that he prefers not to speak about his past.
He said, however, that he regrets not being able to make more economic progress, noting that the projects, some of them still on paper, are being undertaken on a farm of 35 hectares (about 88 acres) that he and his colleagues are leasing for 700,000 pesos (about $235) per year.
In any case, he feels that down the road the members of his group are going to transform the region into an “adventure tourism” spot since the area offers beautiful landscapes, rivers and “everything that’s needed for that.”
In that regard, the former rebels are getting the support – at least verbally – of businessmen in the area who want to see them “producing ... legally.”
“What they’ve done in the area wouldn’t have been possible without government help,” said a local textile businessman who was held captive by the FARC for 29 days and did not want to give his name.
He said he prefers to see the FARC members operating legally and as a group of people “who can be helped to produce” and so he is not afraid to visit the area, where he said some of the people who held him captive might be living.
“If we want a reconciled country, it’s better to forget the past and look to the future,” he emphasized.