San Vicente del Caguan, Colombia April 14, 2001
In main plaza in San Vicente a billboard facing the town church reads:
"Plan Colombia: The gringos supply the arms and Colombia supplies the
Vicente del Caguan, Colombia, April 14, 2001
The billboards which greet visitors to the guerrilla-controlled county
of San Vicente del Caguan come in differing versions but with a singular
message: "No to gringo intervention in Colombia."
So I am a little surprised when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(known as the FARC) greet me exactly in the manner I've come to expect
from other Colombians--with questions about my perceptions of their
country, their people, their problems.
I find Colombians to be proud, with strongly held if sometimes guarded
opinions. Sometimes their curiosity about my views is to determine if
I pose a potential threat or an opportunity. Generally the interest
is also passionately and palpably genuine.
In these and other ways I find the FARC to be deeply Colombian. In much
of Latin America, people co-exist in realities that are centuries apart.
The rigors of peasant life in frontier villages like San Vicente del
Caguan in some ways more closely resemble the hardships faced by westbound
settlers in the early 20th century United States than the lives of yuppies
in Bogota, New York or Paris in 2001. FARC ideology reflects this Colombian
reality. It is an amalgam of revolutionary ideas
from the 19th and 20th centuries--from Bolivarian nationalism to Marxism-Leninism.
The camp where I spend the night is located far from the front line
battlegrounds. The more than 500 troops who have come here from differing
fronts in the war will get a little R & R
and some education workshops during their brief stay. Although there
is no tension, the atmosphere is rigorous. The FARC express varying
levels of uncertainty and distrust in the peace process and a firm belief
in maintaining security through military discipline.