Colombia’s largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), is one of the world’s longest-running guerrilla insurgencies and turns 50 on May 27.
This first-person account is part of a series of articles looking at the FARC’s half-century war against the Colombian state and views on the ongoing peace process between the rebels and government in Cuba.
BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Francia Ibarguen was gang raped by rebels from Colombia’s largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2011 while on her farm in Colombia’s western province of Choco. Ibarguen, 58, recalls the ordeal, having to flee her home on the Pacific coast and the discrimination she has faced as an Afro-Colombian woman in the capital Bogota.
“It was the time of the 'lulo' or little orange fruit harvest three years ago. I was in the field one afternoon at my small farm picking the tropical fruits to sell at the local market.
“Suddenly a group of around 10 men appeared. My two brothers were policemen in the area and at first I thought it might be a group from the local police. But as the armed men approached, I realised from their camouflage uniform that they were the FARC. Some had face paints they use to hide in the jungle.
“One man from the group started yelling at me: ‘What are you doing talking to the police? What are you telling them?’ I think they thought I was an informant, which made me an instant target for them.
“The group split up. About six went towards my house and started chasing after my chickens and pigs. I started to complain and said they couldn’t just take away my animals.
“Four men from the group stayed behind. They started to punch one side of my face and my ribs. They forced me onto the grass. Two men held me down, gripped my hips and hands so I couldn’t move. That’s when it started, the rape. They each did what they wanted to my body. After one finished, another would start. The eldest was about 40 years-old. They continued to punch me during the rape.
“In the group, there’s always the most evil and beastly one, the one who behaves like a wild animal. And there’s also the one who feels ashamed. There was one man who said: ‘That’s enough, just leave her alone now.’
“If there had been just one man, perhaps I would have been able to fight back. But when you’re being held down, it’s impossible to fight back. I felt helpless, the humiliation is terrible. My body still feels fragile and battered even though it has been three years since the rape happened. I get headaches on one side of my head and still have abdominal pains.
“Luckily my three daughters were living with my relatives in a nearby town and weren’t there when it happened.
“The very next day I fled. The only way to get from one village to another is by canoe along the river. I left behind my farm, animals and lovely house with its five bedrooms. It really hurts leaving everything behind.
“I loved the freedom I once had of being able to grow what I needed to eat and then sell what was left over at the market. I had a good life. I never went hungry and I had a small income. I really miss the life I once had.
“I eventually ended up in Bogota hoping to get a job. Life in Bogota is so much harder and it’s difficult to survive. You can’t just grow the food you want here and go to the river when you need water.
“I’ve had to beg for people to rent me a small room. Several times, after seeing an advert I’ve phoned up to ask about renting a room. But when I turn up and the owners see I’m black, they say the room has just been rented out. I know that’s not true. That’s the discrimination we face. The stereotype here is that black people don’t pay rent on time and that they take drugs.
“For many months, I was afraid to leave my room and walk in the streets, especially in the dark at night. I would lock myself up and not speak to anyone. I closed myself off from the world.
“I don’t feel any sexual desire. I don’t want anyone to touch me. I can’t have a proper relationship with a man, so I don’t think I’ve got over what happened to me.
“I’ve officially registered myself as a displaced victim of the conflict with the government. But I was too ashamed to declare myself as a victim of sexual violence and no official asked me why I was displaced.
“I’ve joined a group of women who are survivors of sexual violence. Being part of the group, I feel less lonely and I’ve made friends. Getting just a hug from someone who is listening to me and knows what I’m going through really helps.
“I don’t believe in the peace process the government is having with the FARC in Havana. While they talk in Havana, the fighting and killing continues.
“I don’t ever want to go back to my home after what they did to me.
“I believe those who have committed harm, like those who hurt me, will be punished and pay in the end. God will see to that.
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