Former guerrilla leaders are prepared to apologize for their crimes after Colombia’s Minister of Justice Juan Carlos Esguerra called for approximately 10,000 demobilized members of leftist armed groups to contribute to the reparation process Tuesday.
“As people who received a legal pardon we are willing to do whatever it takes in terms of symbolic reparation, forgiveness and everything else,” said Antonio Navarro Wolff, former commander of demobilized guerrilla group M-19, who went on to serve as Bogota‘s governor secretary before resigning in March.
“[Demobilized guerrillas] have been pointing out how profitable the demobilization is, how it is infinitely better to change the country from within than by outside institutions and how they opened the age to legitimacy,” said Esguerra in a letter to the Executive Committee for Attention and Reparation to Victims.
Reparation “must be a commitment to maintain the struggle for peace and democracy,” said Leon Valencia, who demobilized from the guerrilla group Corriente de Renovacion Socialista. In 1994 the group, made up of former ELN members, signed an agreement with the Colombian government to become the Nuevo Arco Iris Corporation, an NGO headed by Valencia that supports efforts to end armed conflict in Colombia.
“With an apology, I think everyone will have done their part. Through [Nuevo Arco Iris] we have been promoting community reintegration processes, plans for housing, schools and productive projects,” he added.
The former commander of the ELN, Gerardo Antonio Bermudez, alias “Francisco Galan,” also supported Esguerra’s request for apologies. “The government’s idea must be translated into a new idea of home and peace and those who were violent offenders must be committed to not repeating [their crimes],” he said.
The Victims and Land Restitution Law, which went into effect in January, allows victims of violence committed by left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and state officials after 1985 to claim financial compensation. It also allows for displaced people to reclaim land that was obtained through intimidation and force by illegal armed groups. Critics — including the United Nations — have condemned, the bill citing ongoing violence against displaced farmers seeking to reclaim their land is preventing its successful implementation.