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After Five Decades of Civil War, Colombia’s Healing Begins

A peace accord has ended the fighting [between the Colombian Army and FARC rebels]. But the countryside is littered with landmines, and criminal gangs are growing. 

 By Alma Guillermoprieto. Photographs by Juan Arredondo

This story appears in the JAN 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine.

In Bogotá I talked with a prominent Colombian senator, Antonio Navarro Wolff, in a shabby office with a crowded waiting room barely large enough for a hermit and a phone system that looked like it was set up in 1980. Navarro Wolff, once a governor of Nariño, is something of an expert in posconflicto, given that he was a leader of the former M-19 guerrilla organization. His group demobilized successfully, and he has kept abreast of the many peace talks that have taken place over the years.

I asked him which post-conflict task the government should take on first, in light of budget and personnel limitations: Land restitution to campesinos evicted from their holdings by paramilitaries? Education and resocialization for some 7,000 demobilized guerrilla troops? Exhumations and identification of Colombia’s tens of thousands of “disappeareds”? Mine clearing?

“The principal, most urgent, question is only one,” Navarro Wolff answered. “Who is going to occupy the land abandoned by the FARC? The government or the new criminal bands?”