After Peace Agreement, A Baby Boom Among Colombia's FARC Guerrillas : Parallels During 50 years of guerrilla war, FARC women rarely gave birth. Babies were considered a liability. Now rebels are becoming parents. "Many couples are very hopeful about the future," says a commander.
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After Peace Agreement, A Baby Boom Among Colombia's FARC Guerrillas

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After Peace Agreement, A Baby Boom Among Colombia's FARC Guerrillas

After Peace Agreement, A Baby Boom Among Colombia's FARC Guerrillas

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep with a different sort of peace dividend. The peace is in Colombia, where a peace treaty ended a decades-old war with communist guerrillas known by an acronym - the FARC. During all of those years, women made up about one-third of the rebel fighting forces. Now that they're no longer fighting, there is a rebel baby boom. John Otis reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF BABY CRYING)

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: The whimpering of newborns is an increasingly common sound at guerrilla camps like this one near the northern Colombian village of Conejo.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: The main attraction here is a gorgeous 1-month old girl named Desiree, whose parents are FARC guerrillas.

ALFREDO GUTIERREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: The father, Alfredo Gutierrez, has been at war for 21 of his 39 years. But now, he's among 7,000 FARC members gathered in special demobilization camps where they must hand in their weapons by the end of May. Many plan to look for jobs and start families.

GUTIERREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Gutierrez thanks God that he and his wife can raise their daughter in peace. Since the Colombian government and FARC leaders reached an agreement to end the war last year, rebel women have given birth to more than 60 babies, about 80 more are pregnant. During the disarmament process, the guerrillas must stay put in their camps. But pregnant rebels, escorted by U.N. monitors, are allowed hospital visits.

It's a stark contrast from when Colombia's war was raging. Rebel commanders viewed crying infants and pregnant guerrillas who couldn't march very fast as security risks. They ordered women to use contraceptives, but supplies often ran out. Pregnancies were usually terminated by FARC medics in makeshift jungle clinics whether or not the patients agreed.

YOLANDA REYES: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Yolanda Reyes, a FARC nurse, tells me she's had three abortions.

REYES: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: She says, "it was our duty because having a baby would have put our lives and those of our comrades in danger." In March, Spain extradited a Colombian medic to face charges that while working for the FARC he performed hundreds of forced abortions.

Alexandra Sandoval, a Bogota lawyer, is urging rebel women who had abortions against their will to seek reparations before a special tribunal set up to investigate Colombian war crimes.

ALEXANDRA SANDOVAL: It has a huge impact in their mental health. For them, for example, it is difficult to think if they want to have new children. Also, they feel guilt, although it was not their fault.

OTIS: There were some children born to FARC women.

JENNY CABRALES: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Jenny Cabrales, who joined the FARC at age 16, says she didn't realize she was pregnant until it was too late for an abortion. She was allowed to keep her infant daughter for just 20 days before turning her over to her parents. As the war dragged on, she didn't see her daughter again for 10 years.

CABRALES: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Cabrales laments - "I never changed her diapers, never gave her a bath, never nursed her."

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: As the guerrillas prepare to return to civilian life, the restrictions on having kids have been lifted. Reyes, the gorilla nurse, is once again pregnant. But this time, she's determined to keep her baby.

REYES: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "Things are changing," she says. "Now, you can be with your children. They can grow up with you. They can be by your side." For NPR News, I'm John Otis in Conejo, Colombia.

(SOUNDBITE OF TEEN DAZE'S "BY LOVE")

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