May 11, 2021

Thirty years of a lesson not learned

“The FARC did not want to learn from our experience.” Vera Grabe, an ex-guerrilla of the M-19, laments the absence today of the lessons left by the insurgent group 30 years ago in which she militated after leaving her arms. A historic agreement that remains the utopia of a peace that does not land in Colombia.

In the shadow of the peace process with the FARC, signed in November 2016, the South American country walks on a thread of pending promises and the rearmament of some dissidents that committed themselves, in August 2019, to refound that guerrilla. Two different processes that unveiled the challenges of a country that has never left its spiral of violence.

“There is an attitude that these agreements had to be left behind and there was no way to open learning, not to do the same but to do better,” he laments in an interview with Efe Vera Grabe, one of the main leaders of the missing Movement 19 April (M-19).

The peace agreement signed by the Colombian Government and that guerrillas showed on March 9, 1990 the viability of a negotiated solution to the armed conflict and opened a halo of hope in the country, although just a few days later, its leader, Carlos Pizarro, I was killed.

The insurgent group, an urban guerrilla, noted for the spectacular nature of its armed actions: the theft of more than 5,000 weapons from a military canton, the seizure of the embassy of the Dominican Republic, the theft of Simón Bolívar’s sword or the bloody assault to the Palace of Justice that shocked the country.


The forgotten lessons of the peace process with the M-19 should have served Colombia, said Congresswoman María José Pizarro, daughter of the murdered leader of the Movement, who blames the Government for the breach of what was agreed with the FARC.

“What we should have learned, and perhaps we have not done as a society, is the need to protect and shield agreements and forcefully reject murders, such as my father’s, as those who are living today demobilized of the FARC or the social leaders who are being killed, ”he laments.

The signatures of the peace processes, both of the M-19 and the FARC, fulfill the two guerrillas’ desire to break through in politics, renouncing weapons as a means to defend their projects, their ideology.

“There was a very strong political formation issue within the M-19 and a decision of the entire demobilization organization no matter what happened,” emphasizes Pizarro, who now does politics for the leftist List of Decency, strong opponent of the Government of the Colombian president, Iván Duque.

After three decades of peace with the M-19, three years of uncertainty with the FARC, and failed talks with the ELN, Colombia continues to fight against the dynamics of a war that now rages against its social leaders and human rights defenders.

“It is always a risk to be in the war, what is happening is serious, it is very complicated that there are no conditions, but they keep playing,” says Grabe, who, given the history of cystic violence in Colombia, confesses not to believe in the “absolute peace”.

“I do not believe in absolute and total peace, that we will finally reach peace, that is not real, and in Colombia less,” he affirms. I believe in imperfect peace, in the peace that is being built. ”

Grabe, who once demobilized arrived at the Colombian Congress, remembers the key that allowed the M-19 to get rid of weapons: “the ’eme’ was romantic but also realistic, and thought about viable and possible things: that’s why when we started to see that war was no longer the way, we left. ”


The signing of the agreement was carried out in a simple ceremony at the Casa de Nariño, headquarters of the Colombian Executive, and was led by the then president, Virgilio Barco.

On the part of the M-19 and with a hat in hand he signed Pizarro, murdered 47 days after he left his arms when he was a presidential candidate, and was accompanied by Antonio Navarro Wolff, who assumed the leadership of the political faction of the Movement after his death.

As the FARC did decades later, the M-19 handed over the weapons to the Government in a soccer field located in the indigenous hamlet of Santo Domingo, in the southern department of Cauca. An act that had as observers six delegates of the Socialist International.

The peace agreement was bold, creative and also a pioneer in contemporary Latin America, says Navarro, protagonist of current Colombian politics.

“Led by Carlos Pizarro, we decided to negotiate alone and in fact, on March 9, 1990, the first peace agreement of Colombia and contemporary Latin America was signed,” he recalls in an interview with Efe.

From his desk at the headquarters of the Green Alliance party, of which he is the leader, Navarro considers that this agreement “was successful, so successful that in the elections of the National Constituent Assembly (1991) a third of the constituent era of the Alliance Democratic of the M-19 ”.

“It was a historic moment because we made the Constitution that will be 30 years old too,” adds the politician to whom a grenade tore off his leg and severely affected his larynx in an attack suffered in 1985, when he was still a guerrilla.


With the experience accumulated in clandestine life and politics, Navarro, the last of the leaders of the M-19, believes that the agreement signed by that guerrilla and the one reached between the Government and the FARC have differences and similarities.

In his opinion, the difference is that the M-19 had the acceptance of all sectors of the country but “instead with the FARC there has been a systematic opposition since the time of negotiation; in our case everything was resolved in a pardon and participation in politics. “

Although peace is still bogged down in the regions of the country that have suffered most from the ravages of the conflict, those who successfully closed an armed struggle cycle today are optimistic about the challenges of the reinstatement of former FARC guerrillas.

“What I do say to those of the FARC is to keep the word bent, people end up rewarding those who keep the word bent,” says Navarro, who recalls that in order to attend the closing phase of negotiation he had to go through Part of the country disguised as a priest.

Two decades raised in arms taught the M-19, as Grabe recalls, “that peace finds many routes.”

“The M-19 laid the groundwork for a further demobilization of the FARC,” Pizarro concludes, “and I wish it had been many years before that an unnecessary bloodshed would have been avoided.”


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