Sandra Ramírez: The vast majority of our party remain in peace

Ex-combatant and current senator for the political party of the FARC in Colombia was in Ocupa Política, Recife, where democraciaAbierta spoke with her about her story and her perceptions of the recent declarations by Márquez that he would be taking up arms once more. Español, Português

Manuella Libardi
6 September 2019, 12.01am

The movies we watch on television are saturated with touching stories of humble people who break unimaginable barriers to achieve success.

The story of Sandra Ramírez is one of those stories. But her rise as a peasant girl from Colombia to a public government official is, in fact, a testament to the neglect and failures of our Latin American leaderships. Her is surely a story that Hollywood would refuse to tell.

Born under the name Griselda Lobo in the Andean region of northeastern Colombia, in the department of Santander, Ramírez dreamed of being a doctor as a little girl. But her reality denied her that possibility from the very beginning. The current senator, daughter of small farmers, grew up in sugarcane, cocoa and coffee plantations, where she began working to help her parents when she was a child.

Ramirez’s biggest inspiration was her dad. She says her father was an incredible doula and healer, with intimate knowledge about local plants. Loved by everyone in their small community, their home was where people went when they got sick.

After all, there were no hospitals around and the health of the population was at the mercy of the goodness of the community. With that example close to her heart, Ramírez wanted to devote herself to medicine. However, her family did not have the resources to send her to college.

Ramírez found another way out. At age 17, she joined the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). At that point, Griselda Lobo assumes a new name and enters illegality. Through the guerrillas, she was able to study and graduate as a nurse. At last, Ramírez managed to practice the profession she dreamed of as a child. In addition to nursing, the FARC also gave Ramírez the incentive to study photography.

For women and men of the countryside, guerrillas represented an alternative to the life that the state denied them.

“What I am today I owe to the guerrilla organization that formed me, that built me, that taught me criticism, self-criticism, and the responsibility of accomplishing a task,” Ramírez said.

This group of rebels does not represent the more than 3,200 members dedicated to peace and to ensuring that the promises of the agreement are fulfilled

Ramírez, who was elected senator in 2018 by the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force party, believes that the armed struggle was the only way Colombian rural workers found to have their demands heard. Without this conflict, the Colombian state would never have considered sitting at the table with the peasants and committing to fulfill certain promises, as it happened in Havana where the peace agreement was signed in 2016.

Last week’s news once again shook the country and the entire region, and threatened the peace agreement. On Thursday (29), a group of 20 rebels, led by former guerrillas Iván Márquez and Jesús Santrich, announced that they would return to the armed struggle, citing "betrayal" of the agreement, signed in November 2016.

According to Rafael Malagón, ex-guerrilla and manager of Ecomun, the national cooperative of former FARC combatants, this group of rebels does not represent the more than 3,200 members dedicated to peace and ensuring that the promises of the Agreement are fulfilled.

"The FARC remains in the peace process," Malagón told democraciaAbierta. "The news involves only a small group of dissidents that did not want to continue complying with the agreement and that failed to comply with the rules and discipline of the FARC party".

One of the most imperative demands that the FARC brought to the table in Cuba was the need for rural reform. Through what was negotiated in the agreement, Colombia has the opportunity to become a more egalitarian society, especially for rural populations where the state does not have a strong presence, Ramírez believes.

“The armed struggle, the armed resistance gave the Colombian people something very, very important that will change our country, that is already changing it, which is the agreement. The agreement itself represents a transformative power”, Ramírez said.

Much of the challenge facing rural populations in Colombia is the lack of affordable transportation, since public schools in rural areas are scattered throughout the territory. One of Ramírez government propositions is to expand the roads that link the rural territories. She also seeks to create legislation for reduced transport fares for low-income farmers.

Returning to arms would represent a setback after ensuring a seat at the table that allows the FARC to express their demands and dissatisfactions

“You can have schools that offers basic education, but if you don't have transportation, if you don't have food, it as if you don't have anything”, says Ramírez.

For Ramírez, her position in the Senate represents a unique opportunity to institute the changes she wants to see in her community and others in a similar situation. The FARC sees the agreement as a great achievement for their movement and for what they fought for during more than 50 years that shattered Colombia, Malagón said. Returning to arms would represent a setback after ensuring a seat at the table that allows the FARC to express their demands and dissatisfactions.

“They made that decision but the vast majority of our party remains at peace, and we will continue to urge the state to fulfill the commitments of the Havana agreement,” said Malagon.

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