(Translated by Deryn Collins, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Gilbert Vargas is a guerilla in the Teófilo Forero column. He has spent twelve years in the insurgent movement. When he was ten years old his mother took him to San Vicente del Caguán so he could get to know the other reality on his country. What he saw he liked. The discipline, the weapons, and the guerrilla formations awoke his interest. He fell in love with everything the FARC represented.
By Óscar Durán
September 22, 2016
Gilbert is a guerilla in every sense of the word. Since he was 13 years old he began to go to different guerilla camps where they explained what he had to do to be accepted by the FARC. In the beginning it frightened him; he was scared of the unknown and did not have confidence in what the future held for him which also frightened him. Eight of his closest family had been or were part of the guerrilla movement. Uncles, brothers and cousins had decided to take up arms as a way of life, a means of employment and revenge for some tragedy. What surprised him most was the military organization.
There they spoke of class differences, social injustices, the elite, the bourgeois, the oligarchs, of Lenin, Marx, Engels, of everything guerillas had always spoken of. It was clear there was much poverty in his family. His mother lived in Neiva, cleaning houses and taking in laundry for employment. He studied; he did not have many toys and never knew his father. The decision seemed made; he wanted to continue to live in the jungles of Colombia. “I understood that the life of a guerilla is very hard. My family had lost a lot of blood in this war. This is what we give in this fight to make Colombia a better country. In the army, soldiers also die, they also contribute to this war,” he says whilst playing with the stem of a small plant. He is not shy, he speaks with confidence, he believes in what he says and does, but admits it is time to stop such barbarity. Since he became a guerilla he was clear that he wanted to be one of the best. He quickly stood out and within three years he was part of the mobile column Teófilo Forero, one of the most heard of and feared. “The fame of this column was not for nothing, an average of eight to ten thousand soldiers of the Fuerzas Especiales del Ejército de Colombia (The Colombian Armed Forces) searched for them. The media and the State, in general, helped to increase the fame, but we did nothing different to other fronts and companies,” says this 6-foot-tall guerilla.
This column is commanded by Hernán Darío Velásquez, alias ‘El Paisa,’ who the authorities claim was the head of the attack on the El Nogal Club in Bogota; of the assassination of the members of the Turbay Cote family and the kidnapping and assassination of the Luis Francisco Cuéllare, ex-governor of Caquetá. He was also named as leading the massive kidnapping in the Miraflores Building in Neiva and the massacre of nine councilors in the municipality of Rivera, Huila. “He is a normal man, the guerillas like him as they know he commands very well. He moves in military circles and politics without problems. Now that he is here promoting peace, it has to be believed. He is the kind of person who does not need to lie to have the people like him,” confesses Gilbert, although he knows the crimes committed were done in the framework of a dehumanizing and perverse conflict, in which everyone had some responsibility.
During the conflict Gilbert felt that had lost and had won. Now with the serenity of the bilateral cease fire and the tranquility of being at the national conference of the FARC, he accepts that in the war he was frightened of the bombings by the Air Force. “If one did not know how to control their own mind the bombings were very scary.
“One went to bed knowing that at any moment a plane would arrive and drop an enormous amount of bombs on us. Up to 16 or 17 bombs have been dropped on a guerilla camp,” says Gilbert.
And it is true, if it is difficult to know precisely how much the State bombing the FARC cost, everything depending on the intensity and the duration of the combat, which can be checked in the study “Las cifras de la guerra y de la transición,” (Numbers of the War and the Transition) realized by the “Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la Paz” (Indepaz) and “La Agencia de Comunicaciones para la Paz” (Acpaz), is that the war was not cheap. According to the investigation, the average cost to the state with reference to the war was $7.6 billion per year, which means 22,000 million pesos a day.
“One day we were sleeping in the “caleta” (bed or camp bed), and suddenly we heard the bombing. The earth trembled. One only knew they had to pick up their weapon and run. I threw myself into a trench and felt the sticks, stones, and things flying over my head. When I fell into the stream I felt my lips were very dry, perhaps because of the gunpowder. Your mouth takes a while to get the saliva flowing again. It is completely messed up,” he says using gestures with everything he says.
Today everything is very calm. On the way to the conference, Gilbert verified at first hand that the agreements and the chance of reaching peace were possible. With him, a group of almost 100 guerillas were going in the direction of El Diamante, when they met a group of 300 soldiers that were on guard at a point between Caquetá y Meta: “I thought of the words of President Santos. I was very scared and panicked. We sent an emissary dressed in civilian clothing to say who we were and where we were going and why we had to pass by there. We passed by the soldiers and greeted them. Some of the military raised their hands in greeting, others no. The Major greeted us and said, ‘You think differently than us, but today nothing is going to happen. Go on.’ After passing by and when we were at a distance I realized that I was trembling,” Gilbert confessed. Gilbert Vargas is still a young man of humble origins. He has dreams and aspirations. He wants the peace process to have a happy ending and because of this he has begun to prepare himself in things distinct from weapons and military strategies. For the past year, some orthodontists have been taken to the camps to teach him and some of his ‘comrades’ about dentistry. He feels he knows something; he likes it and wants to perfect the techniques. So far 38 mouths with dental problems, of guerillas and the local people, have passed through his hands. “I already have my instruments and I am working to become a good dentist. I watch videos to try to see what I have to do to prevent causing hurt to the patient”, he concludes with a smile.
For the moment, tomorrow on the 23rd of September the guerilla conference will finish and there will be statements, definitely, in favor of what was agreed in Havana. The plebiscite will be held on the 2nd of October. The responsibility is now for all the Colombians who must not be indifferent to the size of this responsibility. It is in our hands to make men like Gilbert Vargas continue to think of dental surgery and no longer about ways to hurt or kill any Colombian in the future.