The team, made up of five ex-FARC members and three villagers from the Colombian Amazon, were awarded special recognition as part of the peace initiative.
A team, made up of former combatants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was awarded special recognition as part of the peace initiative by the International Rafting Federation for their participation in the 2019 World Rafting Championships held in Australia.
"From being a Campesino to representing Colombia for me is a great pride, and I hope that Colombians feel the pride that I feel," Lorena Leyva, the only woman within the eight members of the “Rowing for Peace” team said upon their return.
Leyva, along with five ex-FARC members and two more villagers from the community of Miravalle from the Colombian Amazonia participated from May 13 to 20 in Gold Coast city of Tully.
The former guerrilla combatants were part of the Teofilo Forero team, commanded by Hernan Dario Velasquez, known as 'El Paisa.' It was in the waters of the Pato River in the southern region of Caqueta, in which their team operated in times of war, that they trained for the international competition.
Estamos muy agradecidos con todos/as por el apoyo que nos han dado. Venimos de Australia con la frente en alto y con un gran sentido de responsabilidad. Les dejamos uno de los últimos vídeos que grabamos fuera del país. ¡Los esperamos en Miravalle para seguir remando por la paz! pic.twitter.com/rgpN5AApR7— Remando por la PAZ (@remandoporlapaz) May 28, 2019
We are very grateful to everyone, for the support they have given us. We come from Australia with our heads held high and with a great sense of responsibility.
The recently formed team faced off with 300 of the world’s best rafters from all over the world in four different categories. There was the sprint or speed trial, a head to head race, river descent in a route of 15 km of dangerous rapids, and the fourth, a more technical trial that requires more teamwork, in overcoming obstacles for 14 km.
The Colombians placed 14 out of 30 teams — a remarkable feat considering their inexperience competiting at the international level. Team member Edison Gaviria, who was part of FARC for 23 years, said this competition and the fact they participated in the World Championship proved that "changing the face of Colombia is possible."
The Australian ambassador to Colombia, Sophie Davies, also recognized the team for their participation in Tully. While the head of the United Nations (U.N.) mission in Colombia, Carlos Ruiz-Massieu, tasked with the implementation of the peace agreement, thanked the team and emphasized that "this is undoubtedly the best-known case of civilian reincorporation worldwide."
The peace agreement, supported by the U.N. and crafted with the help of several Latin American organizations, led to the disarmament of around 7,000 combatants and the emergence of the FARC party.
Colombia's right-wing President Duque has been trying to weaken the agreement and its peace institutions since his election campaign in 2017. Recently there have been systematic murders of former-combatants, as well as a bid to dismantle the Statutory Law of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), an integral part of accords meant to bring justice to the country’s 50-year internal conflict.