Independent journalist Nico Bedoya has been in Colombia covering developments related to the guerillas of FARC, who have been fighting the Colombian government since the 1950s.
He followed the rebellion through its violent stages, towards the UN peace deal, and into the current education strikes stemming in part from U.S. influences on the peace deal policy, during the restructuring of different peace zones.
In Part One of his conversation with Evening News Director Zelos Marchandt, Nico spoke to the intricacies of Colombian politics following the American Government’s “war on drugs,” as the majority of FARC fighters transition to non-military roles .
Trancription of Part One of In Depth with Nico Bedoya.
>>The last time we were talking we were mentioning uhm, news had gotten to me of a couple kidnappings that sort of seemed to upset the peace deal that the Farks have made with the U.N. Has there-any progress on that particular incident?
>>Well I had heard of one kidnapping in particular. South of where I am. Of a businessman, but as of yet I mean, I don't think there's any annulation with the peace deal or the peace deal with the Fark and you know there's a whole number of armed groups in the country still so any one of them could've been responsible for the kidnapping. But uhm, but I mean as far as the Fark’s consent I don't think they have anything to do with it. So it hasn't really complicating the peace process as such.
>>That's good. So how many dissidents are there in comparison to those Farks who have agreed to the U.N. peace deal?
>>I can only speak regionally because as you know there's like several key regions as far as the Fark and the conflict are concerned. All with their different dynamics. Uhm, here in the Ituango we've had close to I think 13 deserters out of a group of 250 or around 25,300 fighters. Uhm, and I mean which is actually like a good because compared to like for example the paramilitary process when they demote us in 2006 which were the arch nemesis of the Fark. I mean you desertion rates of 40%. So relatively speaking we're doing okay. I mean you know, these desertions you know, were to be expected to a certain point. Uhm, but I mean and those mostly happened also in the beginning of the process. Most of them happened around 2-3 months ago. Uhm, now it's been-I mean, now that things have settled down and that progress is being made on the camps and their judicial uh, like their legal status, uhm, desertions have slowed down.
>>How many zones are there in Columbia?
>>There's 26 zones uhm, spread out throughout the country. I mean here in the region that I am, there's around like, 4. 4 zones and in the municipality that I am in, there's one. And each zone corresponds like with a front or a block or two fronts. It's basically where they've exerted their influence and where they've mostly uhm, kept territorial control is where the camp troy sounds are. Now I'm remembering what you're talking about, the kidnappings. Down south, this is now the southern part of the country. I'm more in the north of the country. But in a certain part of the country, I believe that it looked like a tourist or two tourists, they were going down the river and uh, Fark dissidents had had like, taken them hostage. Or kidnapped them. Uhm...Uh, I'm not really that well versed in what happened down there but I think I've-I'm pretty sure that they've been released already. Uhm..
>>I do remember hearing that but I was referring to uhm, Hershel Lopez. Or excuse me Herledly Lopez being recently kidnapped. I'm not aware of which zone that he's from or what area of Columbia, but that's news that we've received.
>>Right. I'm pretty sure that was in the south of the country. Close to the border with uh, Ecuador.
>>Uhm, but yeah that was dissidents and so they had nothing to do now with the actual Fark. You know, they're dissidents and [inaudible] group. The Fark has since disowned these dissidents and so they don't act in the name of the collective of the moment and that they uhm-
>>Why would dissidents feel like they need to go off on their own and kidnap people?
>>Why would they go off on their own?
>>Uh, money. [laugh] I mean a lot of, well, there's a few theories. One is that they didn't believe that the government would comply with the peace accord and so that uh, you know basically that the-what happened in previous peace negotiations was gonna happen again and since that uhm, you know they'd start getting tilled off slowly and without the guns and so they didn't want that. The other theory, or like you know, both of them combined is the coca trade. The drug trade. And so being so involved in moving that much money uhm, you're not gonna leave that power and that-all those riches that easily.
>>Hmm. Is there a connection between the Columbia legalizing or working to legalize cocoa as uh, an actual uhm, none-cocaine farming substance? And in terms of like, the money, there's been lots of reports about cocaine still being a huge issue in Columbia and whether that might be the reason dissidents don't want to actually join this peace deal is for like you mentioned, the money. And the fact that they might have to be earning less or conforming to a more, well I don't know, non-militarized way of life in the drug industry?
>>Well I think here in Columbia the government is still pretty far from legalizing just because they follow the lead on the United States in that aspect. Uhm, they're not going to go against their biggest patron. Uhm, so the government even though it heavily supports new approach to the drug war, they're not gonna deviate from like U.S. policy. Uhm, here in the Ituango just about like two weeks ago the first meeting was held between representatives of the government and the Fark Gorillas with the communities uhm, where cocoa has a big presence to start being-well to start talking about uh, substitution of holistic crops. So under the peace accord, what the government is doing is it's offering this package to farmers. So basically incentivize them to voluntarily to change, or like stop growing cocoa and switch to other crops.
So in this meeting, 300 to 400 farmers went. Uhm, all which are you know, dedicated to growing cocoa and are involved in some way in the cocoa economy to hear the proposals of the government. And it ranges-the proposals the government gave was uhm, you know uh, one million pesos which is roughly what like, 300-400 dollars a month for the first year. So basically have them-give them some money while they're doing the substitution. And then a one-time payment around 600-700 dollars to start a new project or you know, to grow either cocoa-I mean I'm sorry, cacao. Uh cacao beans or coffee or you know, fish farms. A bunch of like, alternatives.
Uhm, and also uh, they're telling the communities to organize and start proposing community-oriented projects whether that be uh, improvement of roads, schools, and that type of stuff. So right now there-it's an interesting process because like, all these community [inaudible] organized and I think in about another month it's gonna be the next meeting where the communities are gonna uhm, basically tell the government what they've want and what kind of conditions that the government needs to guarantee so that they switch from the cocoa. Because as you know, these farmers grow cocoa not out of desire, but out of necessity. Uhm, it's a very marginalized community and cocoa has been their own way of income really or generating [inaudible] and providing for their family, so.
>>So just to be clear, and forgive uh, forgive my ignorance and probably ignorance of some of my listeners but uhm. The cocoa, is that not the same as cacao?
>>Cocoa is the front of uh, of the cocaine is derived from. Coca, c-o-c-a.
>>Okay just making sure [laugh].
>>So one is like a little plant that grows about like a meter high, and the cacao is a tree that you know, is like 2-3 meters high and is one of the most uh, liable options that's for a lot of these farmers. Because of the good price and and it's uh, possibility of commercial evasion. So that's being one of alternative that's being proposed. And uhm, it's called the National-uh, the Hoists? It's called, *speaks in Spanish* so it's like a national program that's being implemented all across the country where there's coca. Uhm, aka, the plant that cocaine is derived from. And they are basically going to these communities with this offer and the communities either take it and get all these incentives in terms of uh, capital, development, infrastructure or they reject it and they get forcefully eradicated anyway. So it's not much of a choice but it's something.
>>How's everyone doing in your zone in terms of returning of some semblance of non-militarized life?
>>Well I mean, the effects of the peace have been very [inaudible]. I mean, I came here two years ago for the first time and that was quietly even though I was still in the [inaudible] negotiation. The Fark were still controlling the territory and saying who gets to come in, who gets to go out. Like, now we have uh, like a lot of people from outside are coming because before you get like the Fark-you got to ask the Fark for permission to go anywhere. Now anyone is free to go around as they wish. Uhm, you know more-uh, less insecurity in terms of combat between the Fark and the government. Uhm, more insecurity in terms of that uh, common crime is rising because the Fark used to be the law and order and so now with them gone, you have robberies, uh micro-trafficking and all that skyrocketing. But I mean in terms of in general I mean the effects of the peace deal have been quite good. Uhm, people you know are uh waiting. Waiting to see how [inaudible] and veterans peace deal actually gets implemented. Uhm, because as of right now even though that process is in implementation is everything the peace deal has been slow. The peace deal has over uh, 200 pages. Uhm, all of them imply you know pretty big changes for the country, so. But I mean in general we've been good. Actually, just two weeks ago the-after the U.S. came to visit this town, the first time when an ambassador comes here. Uhm, granted it was under very heavy security but, he came nonetheless and so that was interesting. I mean in general it's been good. I mean people are [inaudible], you know when you come in to-when I came the first time at least you felt you know, kind of this really heavy, heavy feeling in your gut like you know, you're just walking into a conflict. But now people come here and they don't feel that from what I've heard, so.
>>That's wonderful. How long do you plan to stay in Columbia?
>>Right now I have probably next year. I'm gonna still be here.
>>Has your life changed much since the Fark has been disbanded a little bit and people are returning to a normal way of life?
>>Well I mean, I've gotten to know the fronts here pretty well. Uhm, and so it was good in the sense at like in the peace deal you had to cease-fire so people weren't killing each other. And you knew who to go to if you wanted to get stuff done, or if you had to complain or if you had you know. Like I said, they were the law and order.
>>Uhm, now it's kind of-everything's more in limbo. I mean, it's been good. Me personally, since a lot of my-just been documenting the peace process, kind of dicey because I mean I was-I had good relations with the front while they were in control. And now that they've de-mobilized, new armed groups have come into the territory. Uhm, and those-they're a lot more tricky to deal with. It's been quite the experience.
>>I'm sure. [laugh]
>>Definitely makes you feel alive.
>>[laugh] I like how you put that.