Colombia’s Guerrillas Come Out of the Jungle
Carlos Antonio Lozada, a FARC commander, tries to guide his former fighters back into society.
22 mins read
Carlos Antonio Lozada’s young fighters now search for their families on Facebook.
Photograph by Nadège Mazars for The New Yorker
Last September, Carlos Antonio Lozada, a commander of Colombia’s FARC guerrillas, returned home to a jungle encampment in the vast wetland region called Yarí. He had spent the past two years in Havana, staying in a villa near Fidel Castro’s home, while working with other guerrilla leaders and Colombian diplomats on a peace agreement to end the FARC’s fifty-two-year insurgency—the longest in the Western Hemisphere. His time there had been gruelling: an endless succession of arguments, proposals, and counterproposals, with painful testimony from victims of both sides. “It was non-stop,” Lozada told me. At last, though, on August 24th, the two sides reached an agreement. When Lozada’s plane touched down, los camaradas—his fifty-odd personal bodyguards, young men and women who had been with him since they were little more than children—greeted him on the airstrip with a song that they had composed. “They made me cry,” he told me. “Toward the end of my time in Havana, all I could think about was being back here. The FARCis my family.”As Lozada told me this, he was sitting in a thatched hut in Yarí, which has long been dominated by the FARC, sipping Old Parr Scotch.
Communist guerrillas are not known for their fashion sense, but Lozada, a limber man with a shaved head and a small paunch, has a dandyish streak. In Havana, he wore loud tropical shirts and suède loafers. In Yarí, he favored T-shirts in hot pink, canary yellow, sky blue. With such bourgeois tastes, Lozada is an unlikely seeming Marxist revolutionary. But, at fifty-six, he is the youngest member of the seven-man secretariat that governs the FARC.By the terms of the peace treaty, which he had helped negotiate, some seven thousand FARC fighters will submit to a process of transitional justice. In exchange for full confessions and reparations to victims, those who committed war crimes will receive “restorative sanctions,” which offer the possibility of community work rather than prison.
The FARC will become a political party, and, before long, former guerrillas will be able to run for public office.Lozada, who has spent decades shuttling between jungle outposts and Colombia’s urban power centers, is a crucial leader for the FARC as it tries to reëngage with the world. But his history also creates complications. The Colombian government has tried several times to assassinate him, most recently in 2014, when an air strike on his camp killed three of his comrades. The U.S. State Department has a $2.5-million price on his head, accusing him of trafficking hundreds of tons of cocaine to raise funds for the FARC, and of murdering hundreds of people in the process. When pressed for details of his guerrilla activities, Lozada, obeying a long-established instinct for self-preservation, likes to reply with a revolutionary maxim: “You own your secrets, but your words enslave you.”
When I visited, Lozada had spent the previous two weeks helicoptering around the country with a Colombian Army general and a group of U.N. officials, inspecting spots where guerrillas can meet and surrender their weapons. Earlier that day, he had spoken to a group of young fighters, and told them to prepare for peace. Sounding delighted, and a bit incredulous, he kept repeating, “The war is over.” Most of the combatants had been living as fugitives in their own country, and were now contemplating a return to towns and families they had not seen in years. At a nearby farm, Lozada had set up a satellite Internet connection, and he marvelled at its effect on his young fighters. “That’s all they talk about: getting on Facebook to find their parents, and making WhatsApp calls,” he said. That afternoon, the mother of one girl who had run away to join the FARC ten years earlier arrived at Yarí unannounced. When she found her daughter, she broke down. “For ten minutes, no words came,” Lozada said. “She just sobbed.”
But, after half a century of vicious conflict, family reunions do not necessarily portend an easy political reconciliation. Lozada looked out from the hut where we were sitting. Past a detachment of bodyguards, in the open kitchen of an adjacent farmhouse, guerrilla cooks stoked a fire to prepare the evening meal. A dark-green expanse of jungle stretched to the horizon. The scene was deceptively peaceful. Concealed behind the tree line, the guerrillas had war-ready camps, with trenches to foil a ground invasion and bunkers to protect against air raids. Los camaradas were readying themselves for peace, but they could also return to war if they had to, for it was war, after all, that they knew best.
Before Lozada was born, his parents lived as farmers in an area of central Colombia called Marquetalia—a mountainous, inhospitable frontier that for the Lozada family was a haven. Like other settlers, they had come in search of land and a respite from the country’s conflicts. For more than a decade, Colombia’s two major political parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives, had fought a brutal civil war, which killed at least two hundred thousand people and became known simply as La Violencia. In the late fifties, the two parties put an end to the conflict by agreeing to alternate terms in power, in a coalition called the National Front. All those outside the Front—especially those on the left—were effectively shut out.
In Marquetalia, a charismatic peasant named Manuel Marulanda organized a group of Marxist-Leninist partisans, dedicated to fighting the Front. As fears of a Cuban-style revolution grew in the capital, the government struck back, shooting and bombing. Marulanda recalled, “The state expropriated farms, cattle, pigs, and chickens from us, as they did with thousands of other compatriots.” In the early sixties, the government, backed by the U.S., sent in thousands of troops to attack the area, where the residents were guarded by some forty armed men. Marulanda and his followers fled, and, in hiding, they founded the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—the FARC—to carry out a war against the state.
By then, Lozada’s parents had escaped to Bogotá, where his father worked as a pushcart peddler and his mother sold arepas. Lozada was born there in 1961, one of six children; his given name was Julián Gallo. His father was a member of the Communist Party, and family conversations revolved around Marxist theory, Cuba, and the Soviet Union. He joined the Party’s youth wing when he was fifteen. Soon afterward, he attended an antigovernment demonstration, and was beaten by the police and jailed for a month. Like many of his peers, he became radicalized. “Armed struggle was the order of the day,” he said. His parents warned him against joining the FARC: his mother objected on religious grounds, and his father told him that a city boy wasn’t suited to guerrilla life.
Against their wishes, Lozada dropped out of school and headed for the countryside to join the guerrillas. He can still remember the date: October 20, 1978.Lozada went for training to a FARC stronghold in a mountainous area of the Valle del Cauca, and was quickly sent into combat. The first seven or eight months—hiking through the mountains, sleeping on the ground, and eating whatever could be scrounged—were excruciating. He suffered bouts of malaria and considered quitting, but he eventually acclimatized. After three years, the FARC sent him back to Bogotá and put him in charge of the organization’s urban networks, which infiltrated universities and unions to recruit new members, gathered intelligence, raised funds, and, occasionally, launched attacks. Lozada remained in the urban underground for nineteen years, calling himself Arnulfo, or Omar, or Alberto, and telling people he met that he was a taxi-driver, a shopkeeper, or a peddler. To avoid scrutiny, he found, it was best to live in apartment buildings, where neighbors ignored one another. Even so, he changed apartments frequently. When I asked if it was awkward bumping into friends from old neighborhoods, Lozada said that no one ever seemed surprised. “It’s what people do in cities,” he said. “They move all the time.”
The life he described sounded claustrophobically circumscribed, but Lozada told me that his main regret was not finishing school. At one point, he took exams and obtained a high-school diploma, but because of what he called the “dynamic” of his guerrilla duties he was never able to attend university. In his free time, he listened to boleros and salsa and read, returning often to Mario Vargas Llosa’s “The War of the End of the World,” a fictionalized account of a rural revolt in Brazil, led by a charismatic figure called the Counsellor. On days when he wasn’t working, he liked to cook for a small circle of friends. He brags about his asado, Argentine-style barbecue, which he learned from a “ladrón internacional”—an international thief—who helped his cell run a check-kiting scheme that secured them millions of pesos.
Lozada is vague about the specifics of his work for the FARC, but he said that his primary responsibilities were “financial and military.” Guerrilla armies have few viable sources of funding, unless they are supported by foreign governments, and, he said, “We were always looking for ways to make money.” The FARC sustained itself by taxing merchants and ranchers in areas of the countryside that it controlled. More controversially, it took hostages and kidnapped people for ransom.
In the late eighties, Lozada went to Ecuador with a group of guerrillas to kidnap a wealthy narco-trafficker linked to the Cali cocaine cartel. At the narco’s mansion, Lozada stood guard while the others broke in, grabbed the man, and dragged him into a waiting car. As they sped away, the narco’s bodyguards began shooting; Lozada shot back, and then followed his comrades on a motorbike. The getaway car didn’t get far down the road before the driver lost control and crashed into a passenger bus. As Lozada raced toward the crash, he saw the narco emerge from the car and disappear into the forest. Inside the car, he found the driver dying of his injuries, and two comrades in the back seat bloodied and in shock. Lozada tried to help them escape on foot, but they were surrounded by uniformed men; behind the bus they had crashed into was another bus, full of Ecuadoran soldiers.
In custody, Lozada protested that he had simply been a bystander. But when the police found his Colombian identity card, they grew suspicious. He found himself seated in an interrogation room, hands cuffed behind his back, facing two men wearing black hoods over their faces. One of them produced two wooden bats. “There was a big one and a small one,” Lozada recalled. “The guy with the bats said, ‘O.K., so which one do you want me to use to get the truth out of you?’ I said, ‘Neither?’ The man said, ‘O.K.,’ and left the room. He returned with a really huge bat, and showed it to me. It had ‘Neither’ written on it.” “It’s mostly mouse weight.”
I asked Lozada what happened next. “He started to beat me,” he said bluntly. Finally, Lozada acknowledged that he was a guerrilla but claimed that he was from a different Colombian rebel group—one that had already entered into peace negotiations with the government. With the help of a canny lawyer, he served just two years in an Ecuadoran prison, and then returned to work in Bogotá, though with a major difference: his first child, a son, had been born while he was in prison.
The Colombian attorney general has accused Lozada of terrorism. The military claims that he is responsible for a bike bomb in a police station; a car bomb in a military school; an explosion in the Hotel Tequendama, in Bogotá; and attacks against politicians. The Colombian media have linked him to an attack on the Presidential palace of Nariño, in which a rocket went astray and killed at least ten homeless people. (Lozada denies all the charges.) The FARC,justifying its past use of violence, has sometimes referred to a Communist principle that calls for “a combination of all forms of struggle.” In Colombia, the rhetoric on both sides has often served as cover for unrestrained brutality.
In the mid-eighties, a FARC commander named Javier Delgado and another officer formed a splinter faction and began accusing their fellow-guerrillas of being spies. In one horrific episode, they chained a hundred and sixty-four fighters—including close friends of Lozada’s—and methodically beat them to death. “They even filmed some of it,” Lozada said with disgust. Eventually, FARC commanders came to believe that Delgado had been co-opted by Colombian military intelligence, as part of a larger operation to cause internal strife. When I asked Lozada what had happened to Delgado, he said, “He died in jail,” adding, “He was strangled with a guitar string.”
As the conflict dragged on, successive Colombian governments held peace talks, but the state did not always operate in good faith. In the mid-eighties, the FARC agreed to call a truce and to recast itself as a political party—only to see thousands of its loyalists murdered by government death squads and paramilitary vigilantes. But the FARC did little to maintain moral superiority; at one point, it was kidnapping as many as three people a day, including landowners, military officers, tourists, congressmen, even a Presidential candidate. Some were held for years, in appalling conditions. Eventually, the FARC moved into Colombia’s booming drug business, levying taxes on coca growers and cocaine traffickers. After a new round of peace negotiations failed in 2002, the fighting became more vicious; Lozada moved from Bogotá to the jungle, and began leading combat operations.
That year, a new President was elected, on a promise to crush the FARC: Álvaro Uribe, the scion of a wealthy ranching family in Medellín. Uribe’s father had died in a botched kidnapping attempt, which he attributed to the FARC; in response, after he entered politics, he helped organize a series of armed self-defense groups. Many grew into right-wing paramilitaries, allied with drug cartels and landowners. The paracos, as they were called, operated across the country, massacring civilians suspected of guerrilla ties, sometimes in close coördination with the Army: one favored method of instilling terror was to chainsaw people to death in public.
As President, Uribe negotiated with the paracos, even as he escalated the war against the FARC. One of his schemes, which offered rewards to soldiers who killed guerrillas, led to the murder of more than two thousand civilians—a campaign that became notorious as False Positives. With the aid of a multibillion-dollar U.S. program called Plan Colombia—which included financial and intelligence assistance, a fleet of Blackhawk helicopters, and a contingent of American advisers—Uribe began landing decisive blows. During an Army attack in 2007, Lozada was shot in the back. Unable to walk, he crawled through the jungle as soldiers combed the area for survivors. In agony, he contemplated ending his life, until he was rescued by a guerrilla named Isabela. In Yarí, he lifted his T-shirt to show me the ugly scar on his back.
In 2010, Juan Manuel Santos, Uribe’s defense minister, became President and continued the crackdown. But Santos, unlike Uribe, hoped to be seen as a peacemaker. The following year, he sent officials to meet with the FARC and offer to negotiate. The guerrillas, losing influence and membership, agreed. Around the same time, the Army located the FARC’s new leader, Alfonso Cano, a former anthropology student who had taken charge after the elderly Marulanda died. As Santos told me in an interview, one of his generals called and said, “Mr. President, we have Alfonso Cano surrounded. Should we proceed?” Santos, who is said to be an astute and ruthless poker player, said that he had to make a quick decision:
“We had begun our talks with the FARC, and I didn’t want to ruin them.” But, he reasoned, if the FARC commanders were talking it must be because they were weakened by the strikes. Cano’s death wouldn’t change that; it could even help. “I thought about it for a minute and then told the general to proceed,” he said with a jaunty smile. “And it worked out.”
A wind whipped across the Yarí plains, and the sky darkened. In the distance, lightning flashed. Lozada told me that the weather reminded him of the borrascas, tropical storms that terrorized guerrillas in the forest. “You look up and watch the trees swaying, falling, and wonder which way you’re going to run,” he said. “You look for the biggest trees to get behind. Comrades have died in some storms, and also from lightning strikes.”
The guerrillas I spoke to didn’t seem to question their way of life. Many were the children of peasants and had never been to a town; all they knew was the jungle, the Yarí plains, and the occasional farm hamlet. Lozada, gesturing toward his security detail, said, “Many of these young fighters joined the FARC because the paracos killed their parents.”
During my visit, Lozada was often accompanied by a friend named Chepe, a husky man in his early thirties, who mirrored Lozada’s style choices: shaved head, T-shirt, fatigue trousers, rubber boots. Chepe explained that he was the son of the FARC’s former military commander Jorge Briceño, a swashbuckling character known as Mono Jojoy. After Chepe was born, in a guerrilla camp, Jojoy sent him away for his safety, and he had been raised by surrogate parents in Bogotá. When he was ten, they swore him to secrecy and revealed his true parentage, then took him to briefly meet Jojoy. Later, during one of the intermittent periods of peace talks, they took him again, and this time Chepe, who was then sixteen, wanted to join Jojoy in the forest. His surrogate parents, weeping, begged him to return with them, but Chepe insisted. Adapting to guerrilla life wasn’t easy; he was a city kid, educated at an élite Catholic school. But, like Lozada, Chepe eventually settled in. He and his father acquired the habit of going to sleep very early and getting up at 2 A.M. to read the news and study together.
When Santos became President, he designated Jojoy as a primary target of his campaign against the FARC. He knew that Jojoy, a diabetic, suffered from swollen feet, and when intelligence services learned that a pair of custom boots was being made for him they arranged through a double agent to have a U.S.-supplied microchip inserted into the sole. The boots were delivered to Jojoy, who began wearing them with evident relief. Soon afterward, at two o’clock in the morning, a military plane bombed Jojoy’s compound, obliterating him instantly but sparing Chepe, who had slept through their customary meeting. Lozada, who was a few hundred yards away during the bombing, became a kind of father figure to him.Lozada had a second child, a daughter, in Bogotá, but neither child showed any interest in following him into the FARC. He couldn’t fault them—they were urban kids, raised by their mothers. Still, their lives hadn’t been free of risk. Both had, at one time, been evacuated from Colombia for their safety, after the intelligence services began trailing them. In Havana, Lozada saw his children for the first time in twelve years. He told me proudly that his daughter would soon graduate from high school, and that his son had attended medical school in Cuba.
In a camp near Yarí, young guerrillas, waiting to be reintegrated into Colombian society, lived in a way that their peers in Bogotá would have found unimaginable. They woke up at four-thirty every morning to muster and perform calisthenics, chanting FARC slogans, and finishing with the Colombian national anthem. Then they did chores: cooking, bringing in supplies, chopping kindling for the cook fire, or lugging sacks of sand to spread on pathways to dry out the jungle mud. Every morning, a married couple from Bogotá delivered political lessons: Lenin and Che and highly ideological explanations of the World Trade Organization. In the afternoon, the fighters played volleyball, and in the evening they watched movies in an underground earthen bunker. When I asked what they wanted to do with their lives when peace came, the answer was, invariably, “Whatever the Party asks of me.”
On September 26th, President Santos and the FARC’s leader, who goes by Timochenko, signed the peace treaty in a ceremony in Cartagena, as thousands of Colombians looked on and cheered. In Yarí, Lozada had organized a conference for guerrillas to vet the treaty—the FARC’s final summit as an armed organization. For a week, hundreds of delegates discussed the terms, and in the evening danced to cumbia bands. In a culminating moment of “FARCstock,” as reporters dubbed the conference, a chorus of white-clad guerrillas gathered onstage to sing the “Ode to Joy” before a jubilant crowd. At the end of the week, the guerrillas voted to ratify the accord.The deal, though, had to be approved by national vote—effectively, a referendum on whether the FARC fighters should be readmitted to Colombian society.
Álvaro Uribe, the former President, who is now a congressman, led a campaign against the deal, describing it as a “surrender” that would reward the guerrillas for their violence. In an op-ed, he warned that if they were allowed to participate in politics “FARC kingpins who ordered massacres, kidnappings, child-soldier recruitment and extortions will now run for mayors and governors of the regions they victimized.” Although the FARC and the government agreed that both sides had committed war crimes, Uribe demanded that former guerrillas be tried under different conditions from government soldiers. (Uribe might also have feared being brought to justice himself, because of his long-standing association with paramilitary groups.)
The country was tired of war, and polling suggested that the proposition would pass easily. Instead, on October 2nd, the Colombian public rejected it, by a sliver-thin margin—fifty-three thousand votes, out of thirteen million—in what became known as el Brexit colombiano. But Santos was encouraged by the approval of the international community. On October 7th, the Nobel committee announced that it would award him the Peace Prize for his “resolute efforts” to end the civil war. A couple of weeks later, Queen Elizabeth held a reception in his honor at Buckingham Palace. At a subsequent gathering, attended by Beefeaters and liveried trumpeters, I asked Santos if he would be able to negotiate a new deal before the Nobel ceremony, the following month. “It’s going to happen,” he said, and winked.“We don’t sell anything. This is the corporate office.”On November 12th, Santos and the FARC announced a “new final deal”—which Santos, who controlled a majority in Parliament, was able to push through without a referendum. They offered a few concessions, including tightened language for the sentencing of guerrilla leaders, but ignored demands that the FARC be banned from political participation. As Timochenko said, “The reason we agreed to lay down our arms was on the basis that we could enter politics.” For its part, the FARC acknowledged, after years of denials, that it possessed a deep reservoir of funds—presumably acquired through kidnapping, extortion, and drug trafficking—and promised to turn over the money to compensate war victims.
That week, Lozada flew by military helicopter to join the rest of the FARC’s secretariat, in a walled Catholic center at the foot of the mountains that abut eastern Bogotá. The guerrillas were supposed to remain sequestered, but Lozada ventured out to an upscale shopping mall in the city, where he stopped by a clothing shop called Arturo Calle, the local equivalent of Brooks Brothers. Shadowed by bodyguards from the Interior Ministry’s Special Protection Unit, he wandered among mannequins and racks of clothes, picking out a gray blazer, a mauve shirt, and a tie. On November 24th, when Santos and the secretariat signed the new peace accord, Lozada wore his new jacket and tie.
In a Yarí camp, a senior FARC commander named Mauricio talked to me enthusiastically about his fighters’ career options. They could be park rangers, he said, or guides for ecotourists: “We know the jungle better than anyone.” For years, Mauricio’s fighters have operated in the vast national park of Chiribiquete, an area that has been inaccessible to most Colombians because of the war. On his laptop, he showed me photos of guerrillas posed against dazzling backdrops: rivers, jungle peaks, ancient cave paintings. With the enthusiasm of a boxing fan, he showed me a video of a captured ocelot sparring with an anaconda.
At the U.N. building in Bogotá, Lozada told me that the FARC secretariat had appointed him to lead the former militia’s new “productive sector.” After decades of fighting for Marxist ideas, he is now trying to devise “economic projects that, in coöperative form, can help sustain the group.” Along with ecotourism, he has been considering bus and trucking services, agriculture, ranching, and the arts. But many Colombians despise the FARC, and it will be difficult to persuade employers to hire ex-guerrillas—especially when jobs are already scarce. In other Latin American countries, similar reconciliation programs have largely failed; ex-combatants who couldn’t find regular employment returned to militias. For some of Colombia’s former guerrillas, drug trafficking might provide the only available work. “It’s a problem,” Lozada said. “Unless they have a very strong ideological understanding, some will be vulnerable to the appeal of the narco world.” Most people I talked with anticipate that, based on previous demobilizations, about ten per cent of the former rebels will resort to crime.
In Colombia, though, a government technical institute, with branches around the country, has agreed to train former guerrillas as plumbers, electricians, or carpenters; in the demobilization camps, they will learn animal husbandry and farming. The peace accord calls for a sweeping program that will set aside millions of acres of land for peasants, and provide assistance for agricultural projects.
Most of the fighters have no formal education, other than the political training provided by the FARC. Still, Lozada hopes that some of them can go on to white-collar careers. One morning, he went with his bodyguards to visit the Universidad Distrital, a state college with a eputation for left-wing activism. Years before, he had infiltrated the college in order to recruit cadres. Now he was asking whether the school would allow his former guerrillas to complete their education there; if time permitted, and the peace held, he was thinking about going back to school himself.
Chepe, Lozada’s young friend, told me that his schooling had been interrupted when he left Bogotá as a teen-ager, and he was eager to finish it. The approach of peace had made him curious about his former classmates, and he had used the recently acquired Internet access to look some of them up. One friend, whom he found through LinkedIn, had told him that he worked in forensic medicine, and asked what Chepe did. Chepe replied that it was a long story. “What was I supposed to say?” he asked. “Guerrillero of the FARC?” Lozada said that a Colombian Army general involved in the peace process had invited him to join LinkedIn. He had tried, but had been stymied by the online membership form. “It asks you for ‘curriculum, professional contacts and qualifications, and references,’ ” Lozada exclaimed, erupting in a fit of laughter. “Job description—commander for the FARC! References—Timochenko!” He had tried to skip the questions, but he kept receiving the same message, in English: “Turn Back.” He and Chepe laughed hysterically, and when they regained their composure, Chepe said, “I think we’re a ways off from using apps like LinkedIn.”
“We’re still not sure how we’ll maintain this big family once the armed struggle ends,” Chepe said. “All we really know, though, is that this is the moment for peace. War hasn’t achieved the changes in Colombia that we fought for. We are totally against the economic model of the country the way it is. With peace, we still hope to be able to change the state.”Lozada was more circumspect. “We have a Marxist way of interpreting society, but that doesn’t mean it’s our only reference,” he said. “As to what our new model will be, that’s something we have yet to invent.”
On a blustery night, after the peace agreement became final, Lozada and Timochenko were driven in armored S.U.V.s to a television station in downtown Bogotá, to appear on a talk show called “Semana en Vivo.” As their bodyguards fanned out, the station’s staff waited excitedly to greet them. It was an unprecedented event in Colombia: two guerrilla leaders, who had been at war with the state for decades, sitting down to discuss their plans. As people tuned in, the host, María Jimena Duzán, looked at Twitter on her phone and exclaimed, “We’re trending!” Seeing her guests’ confusion, she chuckled and said, “That’s a good thing.”
On the show, Lozada and Timochenko spoke of the threat of renewed violence. A few months earlier, one far-flung rebel unit, linked to drug trafficking, had announced that it would remain in the jungle, rather than join the peace process. More pressing, as the FARCwithdrew from territory, the paramilitary narco-gangs were moving in, killing as they came. A pamphlet had circulated in San Vicente del Caguán, a town near FARC territory, bearing a stencilled machine gun and the insignia of the fearsome paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia. The text read, “We have arrived . . . and have come to stay,” adding that the group’s purpose was to purge the town of FARC supporters. Three local peasant leaders had been shot, and left-wing activists accused the mayor, a follower of Uribe, of ordering the murders. (The mayor denied involvement.) According to human-rights observers, more than seventy such activists were killed last year, inspiring fears of an extermination campaign. “A culture of violence has been formed,” Timochenko said. The society itself needed to change.
Part of that change, of course, is reckoning with the FARC’s own violent acts. Lozada will eventually have to appear before a tribunal and confess to any crimes he committed. When I asked if he felt sorry for anything he had done in the war, he gave me a long look and said, “The exercise of violence always gives one pause.” Like his colleagues, he had come to regret the FARC’s ties to the narcotics trade. “We know that it helped delegitimatize us, and we have concluded that without a doubt it did us great harm.” Despite this, he said, his revolutionary ideals allowed him “to live with peace of mind.”
His greatest regret was for lost comrades. In 2012, the Army bombed a camp where Lozada was training officers, and thirty-nine of his students were killed. “That day was one of my worst in the whole war,” Lozada said, with tears in his eyes. “To lose so many comrades all at once like that, you never get over it.” He lamented that it had often been impossible for the guerrillas to bury their dead with dignity, or even to mark their graves. The FARC and the government have agreed to build three monuments to the war, made from the melted-down weapons of the guerrillas.
Duzán, the host, wondered how the guerrillas imagined their new lives. Timochenko mused that it would be nice to be in an apartment building inhabited entirely by former guerrillas, to keep the family together. The FARC and the government have established a deadline of May 31st for final disarmament, and, in recent months, FARC fighters have been moving from their forest hideouts to demobilization camps, in a motley procession of buses, jeeps, and motorized canoes. Female guerrillas have come carrying babies, and families have brought jungle pets: monkeys, pigs, river otters, and coatis. Lozada’s camp, shared with a few hundred of his fighters, is three hours outside Bogotá, in an area that was friendly toward the peace process. From there, he travels frequently to the capital for “political work.” In August, the FARC will announce the creation of its political party; in the meantime Lozada has been invited to expound his views at academic forums and at the Bogotá Book Fair. Buoyed, he said, “In a few years we’ll be openly involved and active in the political life of the country.”
When I asked Lozada if he still considered himself a guerrilla, he nodded and said, “We will carry on with the guerrilla way of life and way of interpreting things. But one begins to be aware that there is a new way of doing things.” He explained, “I’ve begun to realize that I can now go and visit my family, for instance, without fearing that something might happen to me at the hands of the state—and this is creating a new expectation of how life can be.”When the show ended, station employees rushed to pose for selfies with the guerrillas. Then Lozada and Timochenko left to celebratewith a few friends in a walled parking lot, encircled by their bodyguards. Timochenko smoked a cigarette, and he and Lozada sipped Scotch from plastic cups. Lozada introduced a young woman standing nearby—Milena, his compañera—and pointed to her bulging stomach. She would soon be giving birth to their child. Lozada beamed proudly, and the guerrillas raised their cups in a toast. “Al futuro,” they said. “To the future.”