Indians of the Nasa Wes’x ethnicity in the mountains of central Colombia made peace with the FARC long before the final peace accord that the government is about to sign with that guerrilla group, and this week marks the 20th year they have lived in their post-war era.
On July 26, 1996, the Nasa Wes’x, tired of the war they had launched agains the FARC to defend their ancestral lands, signed what constitutes the only peace treaty in force with that rebel group.
Battles were fought for 35 years in Gaitania, a village in the Central Andes that forms part of the Planadas municipality and is considered the birthplace of the FARC.
During that time the Indians suffered 35 deaths, 11 wounded and more than 100 widows and orphans. There might have been more, according to those who remember it was there that Manuel “Tirofijo” (Sureshot) Marulanda founded in 1964 what is now the oldest guerrilla group in Latin America.
Convinced that bullets were never going to create an understanding, the Indians accepted the offer of rebel commander Jeronimo Galeano and began negotiations in 1994.
“I had been hunting down guerrillas for a long time, armed, because I was full of bitterness,” recalls Bernabe Paya Cupaque, whose mother Herminia was slain in the 1980s.
Locals well remember that incident, which unleased a time of bloodshed in Gaitania because Herminia was the wife of then indigenous Gov. Justiniano Paya.
However, Paya Cupaque acknowledged that Jeronimo had a “deep understanding” of the Indians’ political structure, which made it easier for the two parties to get together.
After two years of talks, an “end of violence” was confirmed in a document that also expressed “respect for Nasa Wes’x rules” while banning the “bearing of arms” and “forced recruitment.”
So today Gaitania, once known in Colombia as a land of “bandits,” grows “the best coffee in the world,” according to a 2008 international competition.
Or as the Nasa Wes’x Indians would say, “Whoever insists on war does not enjoy the privileges of peace.”