Last night Colombians celebrated the historic conclusion of their decades-long armed conflict with the formalization of a comprehensive peace accord in Havana. After years of negotiations, the country can now begin the long process of disarmament, reintegration, and reconciliation for tens of thousands of FARC soldiers and countless innocent victims who were swept up in the country’s brutal civil war. Across the nation, celebrators took to streets and plazas waving white flags and shedding tears of joy as the announcement was broadcast live from Cuba, but as many other post-conflict nations can attest: this is where the real work begins.
Indeed, the challenge of reintegrating rebel soldiers who have in many cases spent the majority of their lives fighting will be difficult on a number of fronts. Combatants on both sides have long been programmed to view one another as enemies, while the general population often harbors deep resentments against those they view as responsible for the traumatic conflict. To boot, FARC soldiers will have to navigate an abrupt transition from the guerilla’s nomadic, rural lifestyle back into a more stable existence in the country’s towns and cities.
Luckily the country has been pilot testing innovative programs for a number of years now and won’t be caught unprepared for the tumultuous aftermath of peace. As part of the accords, rebel fighters will be provided a basic income just shy of the minimum wage for two years, at which point further assistance will be available to those who choose to pursue higher education. In addition, innovative programs like Ventana para la paz will combine technology and entrepreneurship by giving ex-combatants a virtual marketplace to sell goods and services and promote their small businesses.
Throughout the country, an expansive network of industrial job training programs, back-to-the-land agricultural initiatives, and even music and sports programs for child soldiers will also contribute to the massive reintegration effort. Meanwhile, private citizens and NGOs are also doing their part, and in the case of the foundation El Cielo Para Todos, contributing to the equally important process of reconciliation.
Run by young Medellín-born chef Juan Manuel Barrientos, El Cielo Para Todos invites ex-combatants from all sides of the conflicts to train as cooks in the kitchen of one of Barrientos’ two world-renowned restaurants. At El Cielo, soldiers shed their fatigues and work side-by-side with former enemies to cook up some of Barrientos’ signature molecular dishes while participating in “forgiveness and reconciliation” sessions.
Over nine years, the initiative has provided invaluable job training for numerous participants, with some staying on as permanent employees, but more importantly, it serves as a living example of how even the most bitter of enemies can recognize their common humanity. Now, as the country moves forward into a future full of possibility, El Cielo Para Todos and initiatives like it will finally have the opportunity shape a lasting peace.