It all happened very quickly. The men, dressed in military fatigues, stormed the church. They said the guerrilleros were coming. They said, “Everyone, hurry up.” They said they had cars waiting outside.
The churchgoers obeyed. One by one, they followed the men they believed to be the army. In reality, they were the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, better known as the Farc. My cousin was in that church and that’s the day she was kidnapped.
This happened to affect my family but it’s really just one of the hundreds of thousands stories you’ll hear about the victims of the 50-year-old conflict between the guerrillas and the Colombian government. Sometimes the bad guys are paramilitary groups, sometimes they’re the rebels; the victims remain the same. An estimated six million people – 12 per cent of my country’s population – have suffered from land theft, terrorism, displacement or kidnapping in this neverending internal war.
Colombia desperately needs reconciliation. That’s what Juan Manuel Santos, the current president of Colombia, has banked on with the current round of peace talks, initiated in 2012. His main re-election argument is that he needs to finish what he started. But for many, including former president Álvaro Uribe, once a Santos supporter, he hasn’t been hard enough on the Farc. Santos’s main opponent, Óscar Iván Zuluaga of the right-wing Centro Democrático party, has called the talks a hoax and said he will immediately suspend them unless the rebels agree to a unilateral ceasefire.
Many Colombians agree – so much so that Santos is no longer the favourite in election polls. But the fact remains that Colombia has never been this close to ending the Farc war. Only days ago, government and Farc negotiators announced they’d reached an agreement on how to curb Colombia’s drug industry. Rebels have vowed to end all ties with the drug trade and join forces with the government to push farmers to replace their coca plantations with legal farming produce.
The talks have been far from perfect and it’s hard to see what will happen with the Farc once they join civilian life again. How do you mute decades of violence? Still, I can’t help but think it would be a terrible mistake to end the dialogue now. My family has been directly hurt by the Farc; my uncle will be in debt all his life after paying to have his daughter released. But putting an end to the talks means more violence, more displacements, more kidnappings, more hurt. Give Juan Manuel Santos a second chance.
Daphnée Denis is an associate producer for Monocle 24.