After working as a nurse for the FARC, Elva Fuentes tricked the guerrilla group to save the life of her daughter. Elva and her family became victims of a persecution that turned them into nomads, on the run throughout the country.
“Having no place to live and constantly moving like a nomad is terrible. You have no stability, no neighbors; you have nothing.” These are the words of Elva Fuentes, a 51-year-old Colombian woman who, like many women in the country, is a mother head of household and displaced but also an ex-combatant.
Elva was a member of the FARC for 14 years. She ended up being the nurse for the Eastern Block of the FARC almost without even realizing it. “I worked as a nurse in a town called Labranzagrande. There wounded fighters from the FARC and ELN would arrive, and I had to take care of them. Later, they asked me to care for the wounded in nearby villages, and from there to the [guerrilla] camps, and before I knew it, I was in over my head with them. There were even orders for my capture and I had no other option than joining the group. I ended up being the lead nurse for various FARC fronts,” she added.
One of Elva’s sisters raised her children while she worked in the mountains to cure those wounded in combat. “One day a guerrilla commander asked me to cure the children of a family who collaborated with the guerrilla. I felt some affection for the boy and it was easy for me to make him one of my own. But my 14-year-old daughter feel in love with him, and he ran off with her to the guerrilla,” Elva recollected.
Elva stated that at that moment in her life, everything came crashing down because she did not want her children to be involved in anything related to her life. Also, her daughter got pregnant. “I started to think every morning about how to get her out of there, to save her and my grandchild.” Her blue eyes glazed over as she spoke due to the tears she could not hold back.
Chased by the FARC
Elva negotiated with one of the guerrilla commanders to be able to get her daughter out of the group. She promised to keep working as a nurse for the guerrilla as long as necessary if the commander let her daughter go and have her baby (which is almost totally prohibited for women in the group).
The commander let her daughter leave the guerrilla, but Elva did not stay with the armed group. Once her grandson was born, she took advantage of a trip to Bogotá to demobilize. “I went to an office of the Army, and there I entered into the reintegration program. A sister of mine had told me about the program and so I went. I got my daughter as well and she also demobilized. That’s when the persecution by the guerrilla began.”
For years, Elva, her children and her grandson lived like nomads, moving from one part of the country to another, running from the death threats they regularly received. After years of running, she was able to create a stable life in the eastern plains of Colombia.
There she has a house and lives with her fourth son, who is seven, and who did not have to live the drama of war, displacement and persecution like his other older siblings. “This boy has lived all the good, full of love, not like the other three,” Elva said while showing a photo album of her children and grandchildren.
Elva’s outlook on life is now one of hope. She is about to finish her reintegration process in her new town, where she works by helping the elderly and handicapped people. “I guide them; I go with them to appointments. You cannot compare yourself with a person who does not have of all their functions. They are at a disadvantage for so many things: people do not give them work; their health is delicate; and so I help them,” Elva highlights. She also has been participating in a program called “Women Promoting Peace.”
“When people ask me if I regret what I did, I say no. I did not kill anybody nor was I ever armed. I ended up in the guerrilla because I was a nurse in a town that suffered a lot of violence. I went to war to save lives,” Elva points out. As she speaks, she touches the photos of her children and her grandchildren. She dreams of them being able to grow up in a country with peace, where they do not have to live on the run, constantly persecuted wherever they go.
Article by Angélica María Alzate Benítez