This week Dateline visits the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia turning former drug traffiicking camps into eco-tourism.
How do some of the world’s most notorious guerrilla fighters integrate back into society after putting down their guns? The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are attempting to make their former jungle camps a tourist haven, and using a YouTube channel to tell their stories.
Eighteen months since the FARC guerrilla’s signed a peace deal ending one of the world’s longest -running guerrilla insurgencies, this Tuesday, Dateline reporter Evan Williams travels to Tierra Grata, Colombia, to meet some of the former revolutionaries as they try to figure out what a normal life might look like.
In decades of war, seven million people were displaced and 250,000 killed – most of them by the right-wing paramilitaries fighting for the government against FARC. At its height FARC had 20,000 fighters and is thought to have earned $300 million a year from extortion, bank robberies, taxing and trafficking cocaine and kidnapping for ransom.
No longer able to rely on drugs, extortion and kidnapping to fund their cause, they’ve come up with the kind of business solutions popular amongst 21st century millennials – eco-tourism and their own YouTube Channel.
Dateline visits a FARC camp where, instead of forcing people to pay ransom to leave, they’re charging tourists to get in. It’s meant to be a tourist destination, but for these FARC fighters it’s their ticket to making a new kind of living.
“The idea is that people have the full experience of the activities we performed in our daily routine, of the way we used to live when we were combatants,” former FARC guerrilla Lucas tells Dateline.
“Most Colombians only knew about the conflict through the mainstream media. We want people to see it from a different perspective, from another angle. So they can have a full understanding of the conflict and be able to make a critical analysis of what happened and why.”
An online news service set up by ex-FARC fighters, New Colombia TV, is continuing the FARC agenda by championing the poor and dispossessed. The team learnt about TV production by making FARC propaganda videos during the war.
“I stopped shooting with a rifle to shoot with a camera,” their star reporter, Paula, tells Dateline.
“Our editorial policy is to work within vulnerable sectors, places where there are social struggles, where they are still fighting for social justice. There are a lot of people who link us with FARC, although New Columbia News is not the propaganda agency of FARC.”
While many guerrillas are keen for a fresh start and acceptance, much of the population still carries the scars of the war. Dateline discovers reconciliation and rebranding is not a simple process.
Tuesday 4 September at 9.30pm on SBS.