WHEN THE FARC was a guerrilla army, among its many illegal sources of income was the kidnapping and ransom of tourists. It started disarming in 2016 but is still making money from tourists in a more peaceful way. In Camp Mariana Páez in Meta province, about eight hours’ drive from Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, visitors can “live like a guerrilla” with 260 demobilised FARC members. “This is not the first spot you will see on TripAdvisor,” says Michael Soto, a visiting student from the University of Minnesota. But for tourists who want to explore “territories that haven’t been run over by paved roads and buildings, this is as good as it gets”.
The Jardín de la Montaña (Mountain Garden) Hotel is among several ventures in the settlement started by ex-guerrillas who are trying to make a living after the group reached a peace agreement with the Colombian government. That has not been easy. Many are illiterate and have few skills beyond knowing how to fight and survive in remote forests and caves. When former FARC members sought work outside the settlement, reluctant employers told them, “Oh, no, you’re an ex-guerrillero. You, no,” says Luz Marina Giraldo, a founder of the tourism venture.
Under the terms of the peace accord, the government is supposed to provide ex-guerrillas with education to high-school level, housing and support for startup ventures. But these benefits have come slowly, and some demobilised guerrillas are still waiting. Many get little assistance beyond a monthly stipend of about 700,000 pesos ($220). Most of those who do work are bodyguards at the National Protection Unit, responsible for the safety of Colombians facing violent threats, or are employed by the mine-clearance programme. Part of the problem, says an agent of the National Reincorporation Agency, which is tasked with integrating former fighters into society, is that ex-guerrillas are accustomed to following orders. They find it hard to motivate themselves. Camp Mariana Páez is not immune to such post-conflict lassitude. Just 40 people are in a government-sponsored training programme. Some former fighters while away their days playing billiards, drinking beer and listening to ranchera ballads.
But the mood in the camp seems to be brightening. Thirty-eight children have been born there since the conclusion of the peace agreement. The settlement grows fresh vegetables and raises pigs and chickens, enriching a diet that consisted mainly of rice, beans, maize and yucca during the war. Foreign NGOs are providing capital to the camp’s startup ventures, including the Amasando Sueños (Kneading Dreams) bakery, which employs women, disabled people and the aged. The manager is Yesenia Quintero, who joined the guerrillas at 14. Patrons converse over the squawking of pet parrots and wails of babies.
Hopes are high that the hotel, which will accommodate up to 60 people, will benefit from a boom in ecotourism that is taking place in parts of the country where fighting has stopped. It has power and cold-water showers. Guests who want the full “guerrilla experience” can bathe in rivers and wash their own clothes. Laying landmines and studying Marxism are not among the activities planned.