Possibility: Rebels with a job

From The Optimist Magazine
Fall 2015

“A new day begins. I am sure of who I am, although there are people who still don’t understand. To find solutions, war is not the way.” These are the first lines of the song “Pido Perdón” (“I Apologize”), made by a group called La Iguana and two Colombian ex-guerrillas who are participating in a government reintegration process, helping former fighters to start a new life.

In Colombia, tens of thousands of men and women have been fighting for left-wing rebel groups and right-wing paramilitaries for decades. Most of them are involved in the oldest and richest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC).

Peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC have raised hope that one of the longest armed conflicts in Latin America might soon come to an end. Colombia’s civil war has lasted more than five decades now. More than 220,000 people have been killed, and 6.7 million have been officially recognized as victims. When peace becomes a realistic option, the next big challenge for Colombia is how to manage the demobilization of all these combatants, some of whom have spent their entire lives as guerrillas.

The Colombian Agency for Reintegration (ARC) has been running a successful reintegration program for the past 12 years. Since the program started in 2003, about 57,000 combatants have demobilized, and 84 percent of them have taken part in ARC. Today, about 27,000 ex-guerrillas are part of the governmental programs, which has special branches in about 120 municipalities.

Alejandro Eder, ARC’s director, explained at a meeting of the Americas Society how difficult it can be for combatants to return to society. “Many members joined the armed groups when they were still young, and they were asked to carry around a machine gun from a very young age onward.” Most of them spent the better part of their teenage years fighting. Many are illiterate, suffer from psychological trauma and need to learn to rebuild their social networks.

When people first demobilize, they spend a few months in special government houses. After that, they go through several programs for education and rehabilitation. There’s one exception: when research shows that the guerrillas have committed serious crimes against civilians, they will need to go to prison first. In the end, the agency can try to help all of them find a job. The agency spends around $2,500 a year per ex-combatant. Today, 91 percent of those who participate in the program say they are happier than when they were in rebel groups or part of the paramilitaries.

Peace talks between FARC and the government are ongoing but have not led to any conclusive agreements. The good thing is, if the talks come to an end, ARC is ready to support these disenfranchised fighters as they move back into society. | Elleke Bal

Solution News Source

Possibility: Rebels with a job

From The Optimist Magazine
Fall 2015

“A new day begins. I am sure of who I am, although there are people who still don’t understand. To find solutions, war is not the way.” These are the first lines of the song “Pido Perdón” (“I Apologize”), made by a group called La Iguana and two Colombian ex-guerrillas who are participating in a government reintegration process, helping former fighters to start a new life.

In Colombia, tens of thousands of men and women have been fighting for left-wing rebel groups and right-wing paramilitaries for decades. Most of them are involved in the oldest and richest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC).

Peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC have raised hope that one of the longest armed conflicts in Latin America might soon come to an end. Colombia’s civil war has lasted more than five decades now. More than 220,000 people have been killed, and 6.7 million have been officially recognized as victims. When peace becomes a realistic option, the next big challenge for Colombia is how to manage the demobilization of all these combatants, some of whom have spent their entire lives as guerrillas.

The Colombian Agency for Reintegration (ARC) has been running a successful reintegration program for the past 12 years. Since the program started in 2003, about 57,000 combatants have demobilized, and 84 percent of them have taken part in ARC. Today, about 27,000 ex-guerrillas are part of the governmental programs, which has special branches in about 120 municipalities.

Alejandro Eder, ARC’s director, explained at a meeting of the Americas Society how difficult it can be for combatants to return to society. “Many members joined the armed groups when they were still young, and they were asked to carry around a machine gun from a very young age onward.” Most of them spent the better part of their teenage years fighting. Many are illiterate, suffer from psychological trauma and need to learn to rebuild their social networks.

When people first demobilize, they spend a few months in special government houses. After that, they go through several programs for education and rehabilitation. There’s one exception: when research shows that the guerrillas have committed serious crimes against civilians, they will need to go to prison first. In the end, the agency can try to help all of them find a job. The agency spends around $2,500 a year per ex-combatant. Today, 91 percent of those who participate in the program say they are happier than when they were in rebel groups or part of the paramilitaries.

Peace talks between FARC and the government are ongoing but have not led to any conclusive agreements. The good thing is, if the talks come to an end, ARC is ready to support these disenfranchised fighters as they move back into society. | Elleke Bal

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