As Peace Looms, Rebels In Colombia Ponder the Future
The AP made a rare visit to a secret camp in Colombia's jungle to see how the rebels are preparing for a possible end to the fighting.
Members of the 36th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, trek to a new jungle hideout in Colombia's Antioquia state on Jan. 6, 2016. After President Juan Manuel Santos traveled to Cuba in September and shook the hand of the FARC's top commander, both sides feel confident enough to predict a final deal as early as March. If a peace deal arrives, this generation of FARC guerrillas would be the first to abandon its stated aim of overthrowing the government and instead fight for their ideals at the ballot box.
Alexis, 24, trims Juan Pablo's hair. As a commander of the 36th Front, one of the most active units in a half-century of bloodshed, Juan Pablo has spent 25 years plotting ambushes and assembling land mines but has never been to the movies, driven a car or eaten in a restaurant. A mixture of pride and trepidation about the future is common among the FARC's roughly 7,000 fighters, many of whom, like Juan Pablo, come from poor rural upbringings and struggle to imagine life outside the highly regimented ranks of the guerrillas.
Juan Pablo, center left, walks with his comrades. As peace talks between the guerrillas and the government near conclusion in Cuba, the 41-year-old is thinking about a future outside this jungle hideout. His dream: to return to the poor village he left as a teenager and run for mayor.
Juliana sits with her boyfriend Alexis at the group's jungle hideout on Jan. 4. "Inside the guerrillas we don't touch money, everything is given to us, from medicine to cigarettes. That's why there's no dependency," explains Alexis. "Between us there's just love."
With the aid of head lamps, rebel fighters prepare a breakfast of rice, beans, sausages and coffee. The day begins around 4:30 a.m. inside the temporary camp, home to 22 rank and file fighters, four commanders and two dogs. All rank and file are expected to share in kitchen patrol.
Yira Castro, a mid-level commander, rubs moisturizing cream on her face. Castro is a mother of sorts to other female rebels who in the FARC have found a sense of empowerment they say is lacking in macho Colombian society.
After three decades in the jungle her loyalty is absolute. She says that if peace does arrive the first thing she'll do is take a trip alone with her boyfriend, a fellow rebel.
Rebel fighters bathe in a creek near their camp. The rebel fighters share all facilities on equal terms. Many of them are couples and share sleeping quarters.
Cindy wraps her gun in a mesh fabric to protect it from humidity and rain after a routine cleaning. Cindy is a field medic and she joined the guerrilla group when she was 18. "If there is peace with the government, we will have to take up politics, teach the people and later reunite with family after so many years," she said.
Juliana, 20, rests after a trek. Like many of her comrades in arms, her path to the FARC was born as much from personal tragedy as political ideology. She fled an impoverished home at age 16 and followed in the footsteps of an uncle after being raped by her stepfather.
Harrison drags the carcass of a hog to an open fire, where they will singe it to remove body hair. The animal will be enough to feed the 26 members of the group for several days.
Oscar mends a pair of pants while his "socia," Gisell, rests in a hammock. Inside the rebel organization, the idea of "socia" arose because the man cannot offer material wealth, so the girlfriends of the male rebels are referred to as a "socia" or partner.
Marcela stands at the edge of a brook as she prepares to bathe.
Decades of fighting between guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and the armed forces has, according to government figures, left a toll of more than 220,000 dead, some 40,000 disappeared and over 5 million driven from their homes — the largest displaced population of any country after Syria.