Last Thursday the Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, and Timoleón Jiménez (Timochenko), the head of Las Farc, the largest guerrilla organisation in this hemisphere, decided to sign a truce to put an end to 60 years of conflict.
It was a bloody war that took the lives of 220,000 Colombians, according to the country’s Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica. Those who died were mainly poor people and innocent civilians. More than six million were displaced from their lands and forced to go to the cities, and an authoritative number for those “disappeared” is still unknown. The office of attorney general has said that 45,000 people were disappeared, but according to the International Committee of the Red Cross the toll is higher: 100,000.
For Colombians, the peace accord is not only the best news in years, but a miracle that not even the novelist Gabriel García Márquez could have imagined. After 30 years of unsuccessful negotiations, Colombians became so pessimistic that we took for granted that this war would never end. We thought we were condemned to live with perpetual conflict.
We even drew a red line between cities and the rural territories, as if this country was torn apart. Cities became safe havens when the Colombian army, Latin America’s largest, managed to push the rebels back to their jungle strongholds, and rural Colombia became off-limits for generations of citizens who never dared to go outside the cities. The Farc never was defeated, though, and the war became a way of life.
Nevertheless, miracles sometimes happen. And last Thursday, President Santos and the Farc wrote a new chapter of this country’s turbulent history, finishing a conflict that felt like part of our DNA. After four years of peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba, this finally was the moment Colombians were expecting.
For many of us that had suffered years of violence, 23 June was not only a time of joy, but also of mourning for victims and survivors. When I saw Santos and Timochenko signing the truce, I went back 30 years ago to my sister Silvia, also a journalist, killed while she was shooting a TV documentary for Channel 4 in 1990.
Silvia was doing a story on a peace experiment in the small town of Cimitarra, in the north-east, which was besieged by the drug-paramilitary militias on one side and Farc guerrillas on the other. The project was led by a group of peasants, the Association of Campesinos of Carare. My sister was killed in a massacre perpetrated by the paramilitary squads. I thought about the victims when I watched Santos and Timochenko shaking hands. I wished that they were here now, along with all the victims of this absurd confrontation. It took us another 30 years to come to the current truce, after thousands of deaths on both sides.
The only regret I have at this turning point for Colombia is that we didn’t come to terms earlier with the Farc. We could have saved many lives: my sister would probably be alive.
For President Santos, this truce with the Farc means not only a political victory over the rightwing opposition, led by the former president Álvaro Uribe, but also a place in history. The most outstanding fact is that he pulled this peace deal off with only 20% voter approval. Someone in the plane back from Havana told me that Santos wasn’t governing as he is doing for the polls, but for history. His next step is to convince a polarised country that, although this peace we are about to build may have its flaws, it is the only way forward.