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COLOMBIA
The “baby boom” of the FARC
Susan Abad
4/3/2017
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Once strictly prohibited, pregnancies among female guerillas shot up as the peace process took shape.

In the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) they no longer count the dead but new lives. The Colombian government calculates that some 300 female guerillas are pregnant and about 60 infants have reached the concentration areas in the arms of their mothers who have switched their backpacks for diaper bags.

“We no longer lose sleep for the fear of a bombing raid; now it is because of the crying of babies,” tells to Latinamerica Press, Camilo, the father of little Yuldrei, born six months before in the Caquetá jungle while waiting for the signing of the definite Peace Accord between the FARC and the Colombian government that at last, after four years of negotiations and some snags, was finalized this past Nov. 24.

The Accord that brings to an end more than 50 years of an internal war with this armed group, will allow for the return to civilian life to some 14,000 combatants and militia, of which, according to estimates by authorities, 25 percent are women.

The preparation by the guerilla members to take on their new role in society started in parallel to the peace process in November 2012 and got more serious as the accord became more of a reality. Thus, in mid-2015, when in the FARC “we felt that the peace process had moved forward, we thought about being more flexible regarding internal disciplinary issues, and it was like an explosion: pregnancies shot up,” Mauricio Jaramillo, alias “El Médico” (The Doctor), one of the FARC commanders, said in a televised interview.

“It was great news,” says Yamile, the mother of Yuldrei, who confesses that, at 24, she wanted to have a baby “and establish a family.”

Forced abortions
But maternity was not always a reason of joy in the FARC. Pregnancies were prohibited in the camps. In the best of cases the female members were allowed to have their babies, but only on the condition that once the baby was born he/she was to be turned over to a relative. Those who opted for this option did not get to see their children at all.

However, according to various allegations, the regulation was applied to others with brutal harshness. The report “Sexual Violence as an International Crime Perpetrated by the FARC,” published by the Department of Human Rights of the Sergio Arboleda University, declares “that  until 2011, nearly 1,800 female guerillas were forced to have abortions.” All of these procedures would have been performed under minimal hygienic conditions in the middle of the jungle.

The Prosecutor’s office considers that there is “sufficient information to show that forced abortion was a policy of the FARC, founded on the idea to force women combatants to abort in order to not lose them as an instrument of war.” One of the 150 cases being investigated by this governmental office is of the female guerilla identified as Lorena, who states that after regaining consciousness, Miler, the nurse who had performed the abortion, showed her “a coca [small container] with the little pieces of the fetus that he had extracted and told me to look at it so that I would not get pregnant again.” The young girl was five months pregnant then.

The FARC claimed that abortions were voluntary. “We were in an armed conflict that imposed many limitations on us, so one of the requirements when we joined was not to have children,” Jaramillo says. However, Elda Neyis Mosquera, alias ‘Karina’, ex commandant of the 47th Front, admitted before the Justice of the Peace tribunal that she herself, during her term as a guerilla, had practiced at least three abortions.

Reproductive health
The government of Spain approved on Jan. 27 the extradition of Héctor Albeidis Arboleda, alias “El Enfermero” (The Nurse), accused by Colombian authorities of having practiced, between 1998 and 2004, 300 forced abortions to female guerillas, many of them underage girls, and with pregnancy terms of up to eight months.

The culpability of the FARC leaders in this subject will be determined by the Special Justice of Peace — alternative criminal-justice process — covered in the Accord.

Meanwhile, the dynamic keeps changing. Richard Arias, a guerilla nurse, recalls that: “In our medical activity during all that time, we had never trained to deal with these cases. It is our turn now to study to be able to treat pregnant women and deliver babies.”

The situation is that now that they are in concentration areas, where they will turn in their weapons and where they will prepare until June in order to re-enter civilian life; abortion, even if they chose that option, is prohibited.

“Right now women combatants have the same rights as any Colombian woman. And this allows them to have an abortion under three circumstances: when there is a malformation of the fetus, when there is a risk to the life and health of the mother, and when the pregnancy is a result of sexual violence,” Alejandra Coll, a lawyer with Women’s Link Worldwide, tells Latinamerica Press.

Coll states that “the problem is that in the place where these guerilla women are for the time being, there are no sexual and reproductive health services available. This is the reason why we are asking that they pay attention to the problem of reproductive health of these women and that they be allowed access to these services.”

In a press conference, Admiral Orlando Romero, a delegate of the government in the monitoring and verification mechanism (MMV) of the cease fire and hostilities, made up by one delegate of the government, one of the FARC and one of the United Nations, announced in early February that “a transitional area will be created next to the camps, with health and breastfeeding services so that infants can be cared for.”

However, this has not happened yet and Yuldrei, who traveled the 125 miles from her birthplace to the concentration area in the arms of her parents, is living, as are the other children of these guerilla women, in makeshift tents made of sticks and a roof made of fabric.

“The only difference with the camp shelters is that here we have mattresses,” Yamile says. —Latinamerica Press.


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FARC female fighters head to concentration areas with their babies in their arms. / Oficina del Alto Comisionado para la Paz
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