Designing an autonomic process of reincorporation: The "La Fortuna" Cooperative of Mutata
The peace accords, with respect to the process of reincorporating1" FARC-EP insurgents into society, basically involve a combination of cash incentives (90% of the minimum wage for two years11), vocational training, and individual or collective productive projects through cooperatives in which the State provides 8 million Colombian pesos (approximately 230 Euros) of seed capital to each ex-insurgent. Additionally, the peace accords include “incentives to farming and to the solidarity and cooperative economy” through ECOMUN (Acuerdo General 2017: 16). By the middle of 2020, approximately 130 cooperatives had been established in areas where ex-insurgents were located; these cooperatives are intended to provide farm products, agricultural supplies, handicrafts, and services — for example, related to culture, tourism, trade, communication, and video production. To have a more detailed summary of the different moments of the reincorporation process, see Figure 3.1.
Signature of the Peace Agreement
Mobilization of the FARC-EP troops to the ZVTNs (Temporary Normalization Zones)
Start of disarmament process
Foundational Congress of the new political party, Revolutionary Alternative Force of Colombia - FARC
Transformation of the ZVTNs in ETCRs (Territorial Spaces for Training and Reincorporation)
End of disarmament process
Delivery of the Unique Assignation of Normalization (2 million COP) to the ex-insurgents
Delivery of the Basic Allowance (90% of the minimum salary) to the ex-insurgents for a period of 24 months
First productive project funded by the
ARN (Agency for Reincorporation and
Normalization) in Icononzo, Tolima
Foundation of ECOMUN. First general assembly of ECOMUN
End of 24-months' period of Basic Allowance
Transformation of the Basic
Allowance to the Monthly
Allowance for an undefined period (90% of the minimum salary)
Expedition of the resolution No. 4309 "By which the route of reincorporation is established"
Approval of the first housing project for ex-insurgents. Resolution 934 "By which the Colombian government gives 461 subsidies for housing"
FIGURE 3.1 Key moments of the reincorporation process of ex-insurgents of the FARC-EP. Author elaboration
Following the signing of the peace agreement in Colombia, in January of 2017 the 58th guerrilla front was instructed to settle in the Gallo vereda (rural district) in the municipality of Tierralta, in the Department of Córdoba (see Figure 3.2). In October of that year, 60 of the approximately 100 members of this group (including 20 women) decided to move to a rural area in the municipality of
FIGURE 3.2 The arrival of the 58th guerrilla front to Gallo. Courtesy of Lilia Tavera
Mutatà, in the Department of Antioquia, where they created a NAR. As Rubén Cano - the front’s former commander - told us, this was due to several factors: their general distrust in the Colombian government, considering the absence of infrastructure in Gallo (see Figure 3.3) to support reincorporation; the legal impossibility of developing economic endeavors due to environmental restrictions; the existence of paramilitaries in Córdoba; lack of electricity and potable water; and the existence of better social and material conditions in Mutatà, where the guerrillas had a strong influence during the war. As a consequence of this decision, the State temporarily suspended food supplies to the group, reinitiating supplies almost a year after relocation.
In Mutatà, the group bought 21 ha of forest and agricultural land using a collective fund of one million pesos per member, which came from the State at the beginning of the reincorporation process. This land is located in the San José de León vereda in a rural area of the municipality of Mutatà, 230 kilometers from Medellin - the capital of the Department of Antioquia. They chose this land because it included the right to use water from the river and because of its proximity (2 km) to the main road that leads to the towns of Chigorodó, Mutatà, and Apartadó.
Upon settling, they distributed the land into three barrios (neighborhoods). Each of the escuadras (crews) they formed as guerrilla fighters designated one delegate to form a team to distribute the land among ex-insurgents. The design of the farm includes collective spaces such as the community house and the school and several small plots for fishing ponds. Similarly, they chose a collective 2 ha plot at the foot of the mountain for growing food (see Figure 3.4). Most of the ex-insurgents formed families after the signing of the peace treaty, and some now have children who are part of the community.
FIGURE 3.3 Lack of infrastructure in Gallo. Courtesy of Maria Quiroz
FIGURE 3.4 Overview of the farm. Author photo
Once each community member (or family)12 was allocated a plot of approximately one-third hectare, each family designed their home, and collectively built their wooden houses, beginning with those families with children or people with special needs. A team of five people felled trees located on their plots or nearby and distributed the lumber among all families, while approximately 10
FIGURE 3.5 Improvised wooden beds (Caletas). Courtesy of Maria Quiroz
ex-insurgents built the houses. While their homes were being built, they lived in plastic huts with improvised wooden beds (caletas) such as they had used in the mountains during the war (see Figure 3.5).
While building the houses, each family also prepared their agricultural plot, in most cases clearing virgin forest. In these plots, they removed many stones and prepared the soil for planting mainly plantains and cassava, and they constructed reservoirs for fish and sheds for chickens and pigs. Once most of the homes were built, they began to build a road covering approximately 2 km (see Figure 3.6) between the main road and their village with the help of construction materials and equipment supplied by the municipality (Misión de Verificación de la ONU en Colombia 2019, May 29).
In their new territory, 60 ex-insurgents and their family members (a total of 80 people) from the Gallo vereda formed the “La Fortuna de Mutatá” cooperative to serve the organizational demands of enacting its reincorporation process. Currently, the cooperative has 65 associates (including 13 women and 14 members who were not insurgents). Its board of directors consists of a president, treasurer, secretary, and two advisors, as well as their substitutes. The cooperative also has the following committees: education, oversight, road construction and maintenance, crop agriculture, poultry raising, and fishing.
The community leaders are Rubén, Ferley, Adriana, and Nader (some of them belong to the board of directors), who previously directed the guerrilla front and were easily approved by the ex-insurgent community. According to Adriana, the leaders’ role has been “fundamental to understanding collective
FIGURE 3.6 Aerial picture ex-insurgents working on the road. Author photo
work (...) Going to ask for services representing an individual is not as powerful as representing a collective”. When speaking of Rubén - who is not on the cooperative’s board but rather is a moral leader - she told us: “We know he’s not going to abandon us. He fights for us. He doesn’t work for himself; he wants the people to be OK”.
Although Rubén is not the cooperative’s president or manager, due to his natural leadership, humbleness, commitment, experience in the war, and honesty with the community, he is held in high esteem. He points out that such a position must be won. Labor legitimizes leadership and authority; no one who has not successfully carried out a variety of community tasks such as farming, building houses, or constructing roads can assume a position of authority. Thus, labor practically legitimizes leadership and authority. In his experience, Rubén exhibits three traits of good leadership: speak the truth, lead people to success rather than failure, and listen to the people rather than ignoring them. In assessing his leadership difficulties, he explains:
Human beings are difficult to lead. There are cultural differences depending on the region. In addition, the enemy has tried to divide us not only to win our grassroots supporters but also to force our leaders to make mistakes. Some of our people associate abandonment [by some of the cadres of the FARC] with the accommodation of other leaders living comfortably in the cities. The enemy is everywhere and benefits from our mistakes (...) People value leaders who accompany them more than those who just give orders.
The cooperative’s board of directors works as a consulting service. While they listen to and analyze problems, only the Assembly has the authority to make decisions; the board of directors only implements these decisions. Thus, decision-making, planning of relocation, and development of the cooperative are collective processes. As Ferley states, “The community discusses matters and places the final seal on decisions made”. The cooperative’s board focuses on collective productive projects, member education, and legalization of the cooperative, as well as relations with government agencies, national and international NGOs, the FARC political party, and other actors. According to Ferley, two basic qualities distinguish their cooperative from those of other ex-insurgents’ communities: democracy and good leadership - exemplified by Rubén and his network of contacts in the region of Urabâ, including grassroots organizations, which help him achieve a variety of objectives. Meanwhile, Soranyi highlights discipline, unity, cohesion, and democracy as the community’s most important values.
Adriana notes that in assemblies and other meetings, problems and conflicts among members are addressed by a reconciliation council or the community as a whole, seeking a democratic solution by consensus. One guerrilla practice still used to help solve conflicts is the Leninist practice called “criticism and self-criticism” to identify and censure members’ mistakes and faults. During wartime, this practice was grounded in guerrilla ethics and statutes, and it now appears to be regulated by the community’s common sense.
For a more comprehensive description of the process of designing and implementing this autonomic process, we use the emergent concepts of “awakening”, “learning”, and “producing” developed by the Educational Committee of ECOMUN (for which the first author has been carrying out an action research project) as part of a collective academic process of analysis of the general experience of ECOMUN cooperatives. These concepts are used here as sub-processes of this design for the purposes of description.
In this case study, awakening involves the ex-insurgents realizing that they must develop their collective path of reincorporation. As Rubén emphasizes, “If we do not seek solutions to these difficulties by ourselves, then we could fail”. Awakening implies recognizing the elitist nature of those in power and the expressed interest of the current far-right-wing government and its supporters, who wish to “shatter” the peace agreement.13 Critical of the policies designed to implement the peace agreement, Rubén questions the fact that the
ZVTN was located in Gallo, arguing that the location was apparently chosen to “lead us on the road to failure”. They decided to leave Gallo during the Santos administration. When they realized that the peace process was being threatened, they decided they should rapidly take action. Adriana Tabera - former commander of the 58th front and cooperative member - expresses her mistrust of the Colombian government:
[W]e were worried because time was passing (...) We have to take advantage of the basic stipend we have now. We have to do everything to survive, because if we believe that the government will give us eight million pesos, or land, or houses (...) you know the government isn’t going to fulfil its commitments.
However, ex-insurgents differ in their perception of these problems and their necessary responses. Their perception of the fragility of implementation of the peace accords also generated discussion, debate, and tension, and decisions were made. In fact, in August 2019, a group of ex-guerrillas guided by the former leader of the peace delegation to Havana, Cuba - Ivan Marquez - again took up arms, reviving the FARC-EP in response to what they called a “betrayal of the peace treaty by the Colombian government” (FARC: Iván Márquez, exjefe 2019; 158 excombatientes retomarán 2020). Whereas the current leadership of the FARC perceives that implementation of the peace treaty has confronted “difficulties”, others - including Rubén - express concern regarding “obstacles” such as stagnation of the reincorporation process and other transformations promised by the peace treaty. Ferley similarly warns that the government’s intention is to “mamar” them (from the term “to breastfeed”, implying the intention of tiring them out). However, Rubén, Ferley, and most of the ex-insurgent population continue to be involved in the reincorporation process. “We do not trust the Colombian government, but we do believe in the peace process”, says Rubén.
However, community members remain optimistic. Rubén stresses that the role of the United Nations has been to demand fulfillment of the agreement, and he emphasizes that despite current stagnation, the peace process will not fail: “We have already set roots with the local population and we believe in the commitment of some national and international sectors in defending the peace process”. Bladimir also highlights the need for raising awareness among the ex-insurgent population so that they continue to struggle for fulfillment of the accords. Adriana emphasizes that lack of access to land is a critical problem: “So many ex-guerrilleros do not have land. At least we have a place to live, but the rest have nothing”. She proposes, “We have to resist. We cannot leave new generations with the failure of this process”. Nader concludes:
Whether or not the peace accords are fulfilled, we will continue forward. The only thing we request is that they [the government and paramilitaries] not prosecute us or kill us. That is enough. If we fall two or three times, we wake up two and three times.
Awakening implies recognition of the reality of the current stagnation of the reincorporation process and of the need to prepare themselves to face the worst possible scenario - in this case the Colombian government exercising almost total carelessness of the reincorporation process.14 Ferley describes the La Fortuna community’s perception of the government in this manner: “We have said to our people: ‘We cannot bow our heads if the government does not fulfil its commitments’. We also cannot keep expecting father government to resolve our problems”. Thus, awakening implies raising awareness that being autonomous could be more effective in the reincorporation process than simply asking and waiting for international cooperation or State support. However, this does not exclude the possibility of receiving economic support at some point. It has to be clarified that this search for autonomy is not a mere consequence of the current situation in the territories; rather, it also represents traditional practices of the guerrilla in the territories in a time of war in which they sought to solve community necessities by their own means (Cortés 2017).
Awakening also entails moving out of the comfort zone, which in this case involves breaking informal norms and defying government expectations. When the community decided to leave Gallo, government agencies were not prepared to accept such a decision to the extent that they initially banned the community from moving until it was pointed out that ex-insurgents had the same mobility rights as any Colombian. However, the decision to move had negative consequences for the entire group: disruption of services such as food supply, healthcare, and security provided by the Colombian army, and accompaniment by Colombia’s Office of the High Commissioner for Peace. However, other services such as vocational training programs and the work of the Reincorporation and Normalization Agency continued.
Another interesting aspect of this community’s awakening that indicates autonomy is that no highly knowledgeable political actors from the FARC Party advised the community to make a certain decision. People made critical life decisions based on the knowledge they acquired during the war and thanks to the political ability of Rubén s team of leaders. As Rubén described, “We did not call Pastor1’ to ask for permission. We called him just to inform him about our decision”. The community realized that, at this stage of post-insurgency, they must make decisions by themselves without waiting for instructions as they did during the war. Later on, this community, as well as other ex-insurgent communities, began to interact with other national organizations such as ECOMUN without losing their autonomy, and they generated connectivity within a network of like-minded communities.
The awakening of ex-insurgents determines their aspirations. Most speak of a future stage in which they will have everything they need. Bladimir expresses, “My dream is to work united to make productive projects work”. Others express their dreams in terms of access to education and land and living a dignified life (buen vivir). Many expect that, within a decade, San José de León will become a municipality recognized by the state. They also have great expectations of being successful in their productive projects, and most hope to avoid being employed, so as to have the freedom provided by autonomy.
We understand learning as a sub-process of designing an autonomic process of reincorporation by which ex-insurgents carry out a variety of activities to acquire technical skills in order to develop their entrepreneurial capacities, obtain a job, or in general, earn a living. Learning also involves “reusing” knowledge acquired during the war - or learning to adapt and apply it - to survive during the reincorporation stage. Upon asking Rubén what they learned as insurgents, he states,
We learned so much, to the extent that if we had not learned how to sleep under a piece of plastic and manage in the rain, in the swamp, we wouldn’t have become accustomed to these conditions in San Jose de León. Living under extreme conditions helped us deal with the temporary conditions of our new space (...) People who came here said that this place was not adapted to human beings, but people who have been in the war know very well that these conditions are normal. We know that a piece of plastic is our house (...) The knowledge we have was useful during the war and is still useful during peacetime.
In general, ex-insurgents have a wide variety of knowledge and skills, including traditional medicine, basic construction, social work, social organizing, surviving difficult climatic conditions, making clothes, radio operation and other forms of communication, cooking, discipline, and collective work. Members of the La Fortuna cooperative highlight that unity, teamwork, planning, democracy, organization, management, independence from the government, and the capacity to work hard are their principal skills.
When the State, NGOs, or other international agencies provide training - for example, basic education, vocational training, or in cooperativism -community members participate and make use of what they feel they need. As we witnessed in other ex-insurgent communities, at the beginning of the peace implementation process, such training appeared to be attractive and many people participated, but over time, some tired of traditional models of learning, as such educational models (for example, sitting inside in front of a teacher) were different from their way of “learning by doing” in the guerrilla. Furthermore, ex-insurgents found most of the training to be impractical due to a lack of infrastructure to put it into practice. This led to a loss of motivation and optimism regarding reincorporation. Nevertheless, interviewees highlight that the Confiar cooperative from Medellin,1*’ ECOMUN, and the government’s
National Learning Service (SENA) provided them with valuable practical knowledge.
Ex-insurgents learned other types of knowledge “by doing”, without receivingspecific training. Building houses in San José de León was just such a case of ex-insurgents learning from experience.
As part of this learning process, ex-insurgents needed to make individual and collective decisions and to earn a living. This is expressed by Rubén: “We now have to seek a daily wage for our clothes, to go to the doctor by ourselves (...) Our people were used to these things being resolved by the cadres”. Ex-insurgents therefore learned to no longer place their lives under the charge of their former commanders. During the war, boots, clothes, food, and weapons were somehow provided by their commander however they could, but in most cases, no one worried about earning a living. Ex-insurgents learned to earn a living in different ways depending on context and the internal arrangements of the ETCRs. In some areas, where former commanders had to go to urban centers to attend to political responsibilities, ex-insurgents felt abandoned and were forced to learn to make decisions by themselves. In other communities - such as that of the cooperative San Jose de León - as they did not feel abandoned by their leader, they assumed this process more slowly and in an “affective” manner. In such contexts, ex-insurgents put the “communist” qualities of their highly respected and even beloved commanders to the test. Thus, some ex-insurgents experienced a sort of “emancipation” involving personal and collective autonomy as well as a redefinition of their imaginarles of their former commanders. Such was the case of the troops led by commander Byron in the Meta region;17 his troops redefined their perception of him, rating him low due to their feelings of abandonment.
Rubén and his team also learned to encourage community members to participate in developing their cooperative and in decision making, empowering them by making them more aware of their important role in the cooperative. As Ferley stated, “Here, the leadership was multiplied. We are no longer a small group of leaders; we are now a collective”.
In general, the role of the cooperative assemblies in the learning process was first to guide the community in deciding what knowledge they wanted to acquire, who would provide them with training, and who should take any given education program. Second, assemblies helped the cooperative to define norms to promote harmonious coexistence within the community as insurgents did in the past in rural areas (Cortés 2017: 70).
Ex-FARC communities also made a point of learning about cooperativism and solidarity economies. However, no comprehensive study of the myriad of solidarity economy practices (Gibson-Graham et al. 2013, Miller 2010) among ex-combatants exists. Although the guerrilla movement had formerly used practices such as barter, care economy, and alternative currencies, initially, all efforts were focused on legalizing their cooperatives and establishing productive projects, without incorporating other solidarity economy practices.
Although ex-FARC cooperatives are involved in quite a few solidarity economy practices, they still have an excessively optimistic view of entrepreneurial, market-oriented schemes sold to, and naively accepted by, FARC-EP’s delegation during the Havana peace talks. In our opinion, this naivete can partially be attributed to FARC-EP’s lack of understanding of daily life in urban areas - a life which differs radically from the necessity of making ends meet so characteristic of the Colombian countryside - as well as to their apparent lack of awareness of the mechanisms by which neoliberalism impacted the Colombian economy. Cases of small ex-insurgent businesses — such as “La Roja” artisanal beer company in the municipality of Icononzo, department ofTolima and “La Montaña”, a manufacturer of bags produced in the municipality of Anori, department of Antioquia - that have been publicized as successful by the mass media (Forero 2019) have thus far not provided a steady income for those involved. However, these not yet successful business attempts are also part of the learning process by which ex-insurgents understand the logic of neoliberal markets. They bring about a change in attitudes, not only developing a pragmatic approach to earning a living but also reformulating the praxis of the solidarity economy to involve more radical practices, which - as in the case of La Fortuna - include agroeco-logical production of their own food and building their own homes.
A third sub-process of designing autonomic reincorporation processes (depending on the context) involves community members using their labor to produce goods and services for self-consumption and the sale of overstock. Initially, all community members focused on working collectively to build their houses and set up common spaces. Following this, collective labor began to give way to family and individual efforts to improve their families’ plots and productive projects.
One issue discussed collectively was the division of labor; each member decided in which productive line (road building, agriculture, poultry raising, or fishing) they wished to work. Each of these areas was organized by a committee. In early 2018, they agreed to collectively work one day per week in their respective areas, and they designated a few people to feed the animals and care for the crops daily. Those who are unable to participate in the collective workday for whatever reason must pay a penalty fee to the cooperative. Women were complaining in recent assemblies regarding the amount of work they have to carry out, especially because, in the guerrilla, they used to do the same activities that men did, and considering that some women work additionally at home doing childcare, housework, and in family-productive projects, the community decided that the collective workday would only be compulsory for men, and single women who do not need to carry out these activities may join voluntarily. In addition, women (and some men) formed a gender collective to learn about and discuss feminism and new masculinities. In the near future, the community expects to implement several mechanisms to promote gender equality.
Planning of family economic activities (such as poultry production at home and backyard agriculture, among others) is not collectivized but rather depends on free will. As of October 2019, there were 55 fishing ponds - nine of which are collective - with a total of 42,000 fish; 5 ha of plantain, cassava, and vegetables; 600 chickens; and nine pigs. Food provided by the government’s reincorporation food supply program supplements their family and collective food production. Each family provides their basic food supply and may sell overstock in nearby small towns with the support of the cooperative. The community has several small businesses such as a grocery store, a pub, a cooking gas store, and several small family-owned handicraft or clothing stores, all of which contribute to the local economy.
The municipality pays a teacher from elsewhere to teach the children in a school built by the community. While healthcare is provided by government agencies, it does not compare to the former guerrilla healthcare system in which a physician was always available for the troops; currently no community members possess medical knowledge.
Considering that the ECOMUN cooperatives have had little profit, they have not fully discussed the distribution of profits. However, in the case of La Fortuna, members have agreed on some general guidelines. First, as the State supplies a monthly stipend to ex-insurgents, they initially decided that no one should receive additional wages from the cooperative; however, this was recently modified in an assembly, allowing a few people to receive a small daily wage or a percentage of production for caring for the poultry or the crops. In this case, Ferley and Rubén support the idea of voluntary work by community members, especially given that a minimal stipend is provided by the State. Ferley emphatically states, “We cannot create a cooperative and believe that the cooperative is going to immediately resolve our economic situation; we first have to strengthen it”. Second, once sales of overstock increase, the cooperative may begin to pay more people. Third, earnings from collective projects should be reinvested in collective needs (maintenance of productive infrastructure, tools, supplies, etc.). Finally, those goods produced by families may be sold directly through the cooperative, raising the sale price to benefit the cooperative.
Finally, discussing the benefits of autonomy, Rubén speaks of the advantages of not having a boss: “We work if we want to. If the day is rainy or too sunny we are not obligated to work. This is independence”.