Commentary. ‘People who think differently than the ruling oligarchy have always been assassinated in this country,’ he once told me.

A Colombian guerrilla murdered, a country without peace

Commander Wilson Saavedra’s view on the peace agreements between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia seemed to be inspired by a Gramscian pessimism of the intellect combined with an optimism of the will: “I am convinced that a political solution for the conflict is possible, I am optimistic. But changes to the institutions of this country are needed. We must have the guarantee that we will be able to take part in politics freely, without the fear of being murdered, persecuted or threatened.”

On May 14, two assassins murdered Saavedra, the former commander of the now-demobilized Colombian guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, People’s Army (FARC-EP), bringing the number of former guerrilla fighters murdered after the peace agreement signed on Nov. 26, 2016, to no less than 130 across the country.

Back in 2016, in the period between the referendum that rejected the first peace agreement and the official signing of the final agreement, at a time of great uncertainty in the negotiations between the government and guerrillas, I met and interviewed Jorge Enrique Gonzalez Corredor, officially known as Wilson Saavedra. The then-commander of Front 21 of the Blocco Occidentale Alfonso Cano told me about his fears and hopes for a peaceful future, and about the difficulties of the transition from a long period of armed struggle to a political struggle.

Saavedra joined the guerrillas ”because it was necessary,” nearly 35 years ago, when he was little more than a child. “At that time, taking up arms was the only way to protect life.” He wanted to stress that he had lived his whole life as a revolutionary, because one must “fight for life and dignity. The government and the media have always portrayed us as monsters, at least here in Colombia, but I want people to know that we are revolutionaries, that we are fighting for a more equitable society, where everyone can have access to healthcare and education.”

That does not erase the fact that in its 40 years of history, the FARC guerillas have been responsible for the kinds of errors, and horrors, that happen during wartime. “But we always had a good relationship with the local communities. We know how the farmers are living, and the people who earn a dollar a day, without access to clean water or electricity,” Saavedra told me. He was one of the guerilla leaders who were the most active in pushing for dialogue between the government and the leaders of the FARC. He was hoping for “a peace with social justice,” while being aware of the risks and responsibilities that came with negotiating with the government.

“People who think differently than the ruling oligarchy have always been assassinated in this country,” he said. “Paramilitary activity has made it impossible to engage in politics freely in Colombia, and if we finally end up signing these agreements, I hope that the state can guarantee our right to life. But I am afraid—for myself, but most of all for my men. I am the one who is leading them towards surrendering their weapons, towards making themselves vulnerable, and their survival is my responsibility.”

When we spoke, we couldn’t have known that just a few days later, on Nov. 26, 2016, then-President Juan Manuel Santos signed a historic peace agreement with the FARC-EP, which was celebrated around the world. The agreement brought the now-former president a Nobel Prize for Peace, while for many former guerilla fighters it brought death. The guarantees that were agreed have not been respected, neither by the past government nor by the present one, led by Iván Duque.

Now, a little more than two years since our long talk, we can do nothing but commemorate another FARC leader who believed in the possibility of a peaceful path for the country’s future. Just a few days before the signing of the peace agreements, this man, who grew up in the forest with a gun in his hand, was telling me: “I am optimistic. I know that we will get to a situation where we are without weapons, where we can engage in politics legally, expressing our humanity.” He was not granted any humanity by his killers.

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