She misses being a guerrilla, but this former FARC fighter is starting a new life back home
At the bottom of a cement glen, by the banks of the canal, there’s a tiny store that sells green plantains, cola and cigarettes. But they are out of plantains.
The woman who tends the store, who goes by Xiomara, often has to fight the urge to run away. She compares the desire to escape to something taking over her body.
“I’ll be fine and then from one minute to the next, I want to get out,” Xiomara says. “I just want to go. I want out. I need to leave.”
When she gets this way she lights up a smoke and maybe watches some TV.
“I want to leave. And I can’t, because I have a home now,” she says.
Up until recently, Xiomara was a guerrilla combatant, for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. She fought in what is the longest active war on this side of the planet — for 52 years the Marxist FARC rebels have clashed with the government. The conflict left 260,000 dead, terrorizing Colombians for years with forced displacements, kidnappings, gruesome torture and disappearances.
Earlier in October, a slim majority of Colombians rejected a peace deal that had been negotiated over the last several years. Both sides are back at the negotiating table now, and there is a temporary ceasefire.
Women played a central role in the peace process, and Colombia was praised around the world for its groundbreaking inclusion of the needs and concerns of women. The peace accord promised to create a gender subcommittee to investigate war crimes of a sexual nature, it promoted land rights of peasant women and the negotiations put the voices of female victims front and center.
However, many women still rejected the deal. Some said they wanted harsher punishments for guerrilla members. Others feared it would give Marxist rebels too broad a role in the government.
Should they manage a new peace accord, the government will have to figure out how to better serve women like Xiomara: There are over 17,000 active guerrilla fighters, and an estimated 40 percent are women. And they have an especially harrowing time returning to civilian life.
Xiomara’s store is in the city of Florencia, at the edge of the Colombian Amazon, in a neighborhood where thousands of families are squatting, displaced by the armed conflict. In between customers, she reminisces about when she first became a militant.
She was 14. She didn’t tell her friends or her family that she was leaving.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I loved guns. I figured I would join the police, or the army. But to join them you have to study, and I was really poor. So the easiest thing was … the guerrillas. It didn’t require you to study,” she says.
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