On a hot rainy day in August 2013, a group of young Colombians were celebrating the completion of a playground project in the village of Villarrica, Tolima. The project was funded by a nonprofit, Fundación ECCO, which I founded to encourage youths in rural areas affected by violence to develop leadership skills and engage in the democratic process.
After the celebration was over, a 12-year-old girl named Yaneth approached me. With scores of her peers looking on, the girl began to shake and cry. I took her aside, and she told me that a week before, a FARC lady [a recruiter, many of whom are female] had “taken away” three of her friends after school. She said that the lady had come back for her, and that she was terrified. Sobbing, Yaneth implored me: “Please, I don’t want to join their team!” My only recourse was to take down her full name and her mother’s phone number and alert the Colombian equivalent of child protective services, the ICBF. A few days later, an ICBF representative told me that she had called Yaneth’s mother about the FARC recruiter threatening her daughter. According to the ICBF representative, Yaneth’s mother said that there was no problem. She most likely feared retribution for saying otherwise.
As it happens, Yaneth and her mother will likely soon have a FARC recruiter as their new neighbor. On August 25, the Colombian government and representatives of the guerilla group signed a peace agreement in Havana. The agreement stipulates that safe haven camps (zonas de distensión or zonas de concentración) for demobilized FARC fighters must be established around the country, within which neither the Colombian army nor the national police will have jurisdiction. The locations of these camps were announced in late June, per a mandate by the Juan Manuel Santos administration. As it happens, Villarrica is one of two municipalities in the state of Tolima which will “host” one of these camps within its
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