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He arrived, shook hands with me and sat down beside me. He began drinking juice. At times his eyes looked up to see me. Each movement he made was like in silence. I had just finished interviewing Ricardo Téllez, better known as Rodrigo Granda, one of the delegation heads of the FARC in negotiations with the Government of Colombia in Havana. I had proposed to Tellez that he help me to convince him to an interview. “I will introduce you, and he will decide. He has never done an interview in his life, and I think they have never taken a photo of him”, he tells me.
I ask him how he feels. “Good, even though I need my land, my jungle”, he answers barely opening his mouth, and to taste the juice again. In truth this man is a typical campesino: reserved and taciturn in talking to strangers.
Miguel Angel Pascuas was born on November 20, 1940 in the city of Neiva, in the South of the country. Since the first lights of the sixties he joined the guerrilla struggle. He was among the 52 men and three women who faced the onslaught of 16 thousand soldiers, advised by American specialists, in the Marquetalia region, the southwest of the country. On May 27, 1964, in the midst of the military onslaught, he became one of the founders of the FARC, although only two years later it would take that name. “It is said that I am the last member of the founders who is still active, but there is also Jaime Bustos. There are other marquetalianos, but they have retired due to old age or illness.”
For some 25 years he has lead the Sixth Front of the FARC, one of the most belligerent and strategic. He has in check the powerful official Armed Forces, because he has managed to take the confrontation very close to Cali, the country’s third city.
Trying to break his apparent indifference, he says that it was the first time in my life that I am surrounded by so many dollars. Those present look at me intrigued. “For the head of Téllez the Colombian Government offers several million. And for Pascuas the United States State Department gives 2.5 million, and the Colombian Government one million”. I notice that Pascuas prefers to look at the juice and stir it.
I suggest the interview. With an incredible economy of words he tells me that he has not much to tell. I insist. He agrees, but with one condition: it must be in an open space. He doesn’t want to be closed up in a room. “Still I can’t get used to sleeping in a room, or in that bed. I have very sensitive ears, accustomed to the noises of the mountain. At dawn I hear no noise from the animals of the jungle, only trucks that pass, and that disturbs me. When I am in the wilderness I go to bed on the frailejon leaves and other herbs. And if it is a warm area I use a hammock and a mosquito net. All open field. You cannot imagine the tranquility that one feels in the jungle, in the country”. I tell him that I can’t imagine it, and for me mosquitoes make me panic, even though I grew up in a very poor neighborhood plagued with them. With this I get a smile, although I think he mocks me. The result however is that he accepts to chat with me a few days later.
“I’m going to fight and fight to take power until health and life allows me. We would like it to be by political means, and that’s why we have insisted on talks with the Government. I wish we could form a political party without them killing us, as they did with the Patriotic Union. Remember that they assassinated like five thousand of our brothers and sisters. Therefore we realized we had to strengthen militarily. For the current negotiations we cannot make the mistakes that we made during those carried out in the Caguán [between 1998 and 2002, NdA]. We were carrying out big military thrusts, managing to inflict great defeats against the enemy. With del Caguán we were confident, and when the enemy breaks they ram with great force, they had been prepared for the war. That is when the so-called Plan Colombia arrives, directed and armed by the gringos under the pretext of the war on drugs, but it was designed to finish us. But one accommodates to the new tactics and strategies of the enemy. After each battle or bombing we analyze to decide how to respond and move forward.
“How do I feel to be one of the most pursued men? I feel very good. I’m not afraid, because I am already accustomed to it. Sometimes my health bothers me due to old age, but to lead I don’t have a problem. They have never injured me, in which I consider myself very lucky as I have participated in many battles and have taken many populated areas. I’ve seen compañeros and compañeras die. I’ve had to load as well as bury them so that the enemy does not seize their corpses for their celebrations and propaganda ploys. I have had to sometimes sleep beside them until the enemy went away. On several occasions I have had to hide for several days, with the army very close, looking for a way out of encirclement with my troops.
“When I hear they accuse us of being terrorists it does not affect me, because one knows that we are fighting for a just cause. It is true that the civilian population is suffering from the development of this war, although we strive to protect them. The army claim that we take shelter among the civilian population, but I wish they told the truth: when we have them on the run they hide in schools, homes and hospitals. They are cowards. It is not us who set up police and military positions within local populations.
“Unfortunately every day the war is closer to populated areas, to intermediate cities. And the army represses and kills villagers because they say they are our collaborators. The people see our arrival clearly, but yes they fear the repression of the army. The truth is that if we have managed to get so close to the big cities, such as Cali, it is because we are not terrorists; it is because we have an important part of the population on our side, without being combatants. It is impossible to advance in a revolutionary war without political work with the population, without a domain of territory.
“A week before leaving for Havana, the army set out to encircle me to try to capture or kill me. It was in an area where I had to find the representatives of Cuba and the International Red Cross so that I could be transported. When the helicopter was coming with them on board we took all the necessary precautions, because the army could again plagiarize the Red Cross emblem, as they did to rescue Ingrid Betancourt, although it is considered a war crime. It is that this State cannot act cleanly, despite other countries being guarantors.
“Just imagine that to leave the country to go to Cuba, and then to Oslo to inaugurate the talks the Government asked Interpol to withdraw orders for international capture which several of us have. On their return from Oslo the Government returned to ask for our capture again: when in Cuba and Norway these orders are ineffective. Is that logical? Is this honesty before the guarantor countries involved in this process? I know the enemy well and its master, the United States. They just want us to surrender on our knees, but they are not going to achieve this. We are here to negotiate another Colombia for the majorities, not to surrender or sell out. Be assured they will not succeed. I hope that now the Government is sincere with its intentions and we achieve agreements that put us on the path of dialogue for peace with social justice.”
Translation: Oliver Villar.
Hernando Calvo Ospina is a Colombian journalist now residing in France. He is a contributor to Le Monde Diplomatique.