A group of veterans of the FARC rebel group in Colombia reflect on five years of peace and community building in a locality called Tierra Grata, which translates to “pleasant land”.
A cooking pot boils over an outdoor log fire at a rest area in the Serranía del Perijá, in Colombia’s mountainous rural north. More than 100 people, including former fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebel group known as FARC, their families, local people as well as Colombian National Army soldiers, work together on the edge from a precipice.
They haul three-inch-diameter pipes over nearly nine kilometers of steep terrain as part of a project supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to improve the supply of water.
It took months of hard work to lift the pipe, put it in place, bury it and connect it to a local river that provides a reliable water supply.
“The most beautiful thing I remember is how the army, our former adversary, the community, former rebels and local authorities worked together, no matter what past separated us.“, says Yarledys Olaya, an indigenous Barí woman, who spent 20 years fighting for the now disbanded FARC rebel group.
FARC guerrillas waged a half-century civil war against Colombian authorities, which officially ended with the signing of a historic final peace accord in 2016.
A new life in a pleasant country
Yarledys Olaya is one of approximately 13,000 ex-combatants who have committed to peace in Colombia and started new lives in places like Tierra Grata.
“I imagine my future here, I imagine myself growing old,” she says. “This process has not been easy. In the past, we have seen our comrades being killed. But personally, it allowed me to start my family, to be able to spend time with them, and to open my house to my daughters.
“This is why we want to continue building and betting on peace. Not only for the rebels who have been reintegrated into society but for a collective peace for the country.”
In nearby San José de Oriente, residents feared that when ex-combatants arrived in the area violence would resume, but minds changed when they brought just peace and a willingness to work on community projects.
Yarledys Olaya arrived in Terre Grata in November 2016 in a truck with 120 other guerrillas, most of them armed. She wore a camouflage uniform, boots, a black T-shirt, and carried a backpack and a rifle slung over her shoulder; she covered her face with a green scarf not wanting to be identified.
“There was a lot of mistrust. I felt that we were reserved, surly, and that the locals looked at us differently.” It was two months before, the peace agreement between the government and the FARC had been signed.
“It wasn’t a personal decision, it was a collective decision,” she says. “I said to myself, let’s continue but live life in a different way. The good thing is that I no longer had to see my comrades fall, which is normal.” during a war.
It was an isolated place; an old farmhouse stood next to dense vegetation, including the native frailejones plant. Land had been cleared to make way for the construction of a reintegration camp; all around were Colombian army and police personnel.
In a nearby area, the United Nations had erected tents where experts who had monitored the ceasefire checked the laying down of arms. Between March and September 2017, the UN mission in Colombia received 8,994 weapons from FARC throughout the country, including Tierra Grata.
Six months were spent building the camp which provided 158 accommodations. Ex-combatants were supposed to undergo a reintegration process there and then move on to a more permanent place, but most of them had nowhere to go and so stayed.
Daughters of War and Peace
Today, Tierra Grata is a formalized village inhabited by some 300 people, both ex-combatants and family members. Some were born there, others joined their families.
Yarledys Olaya left her newborn child, Yacana, with a relative when she joined the FARC and was reunited two months after arriving in Tierra Grata. Two years later, she gave birth to another daughter, Yaquelín, one of 65 children, born in the new colony.
“Yacana is my daughter of war and Yaquelín my daughter of peace,” she says.
Yarledys Olaya continues to work on community projects, building permanent structures and bringing water and electricity to the village. “As women during the war, we played a fundamental role,” she says, “and now, in this new moment, we are helping to build peace., because we feel that this process is ours; that’s why we are ready to bring our last drop of sweat to this future.”
SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions
Sustainable Development Goal 16 recognizes that conflict, insecurity, weak institutions and limited access to justice remain a significant threat to sustainable development.
It aims to reduce all forms of violence and deaths caused by such violence. It focuses on ending child abuse, exploitation, torture and trafficking.
The United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia was established by the United Nations Security Council in 2017 to support the peace process in Colombia.
He worked closely with national authorities and former combatants to promote progress on reintegration and security issues.