Forty-four ex-combatants of the Colombian party and former guerrilla organization now called the Revolutionary Alternative Forces of the Commons, or FARC, graduated with high school degrees on Wednesday, at the Universidad Nacional Abierta y a Distancia.
“Forty-four of us graduated today, making 194 FARC high school graduates at the national level. Congratulations for this achievement, and step on the road to national reconciliation,” the FARC leader Felix Antonio Muñoz Lascarro, known as Pastor Alape, said. The prominent former Guerrilla and leader was himself among the graduates, at 58 years of age.
Pastor Alape added that education will “strengthen our knowledge and bring together that knowledge with the people.”
Many of the former guerrillas gave up opportunities to pursue an education in order to take up arms with the now-disarmed Marxist guerrilla group against the Colombian state. Since peace accords took effect last year, many have decided to return to studies and pursue their passions.
“As an ex-combatant it is very important to graduate in this post-conflict stage, because during all the years of war I did not have the opportunity to take a book and study deeply, and now in this new stage I would like to become a professional in what I like, chemistry,” the 26 year-old Esneider de Jesus Caro, a former FARC combatant said according to El Colombiano.
Marco Tulio Nuñez, with the Office of the High Commission for Peace in Colombia, emphasized the importance of education as a path to strengthening the peace process and transforming the lives of ex-soldiers post-conflict. “These newly graduated young men have a world of opportunities, and it is from here that change begins,” he said.
After over five-decades of combat, the FARC officially registered as a legal political party in October to participate in elections, announcing their leader Rodrigo Londoño, known as Timochenko, as the candidate.
The peace process has faced many obstacles, including a rise in paramilitary violence and state violence against campesinos. Key legislation to assist with the protection and reintegration of former combatants has also been delayed, further endangering the FARC and its members.