That has given the people of this region, who have lived since 1964 in the midst of one of the world’s oldest conflicts, a faint hope that the violence they have known all their lives could at last come to an end.
It is a glimmer that is felt particularly, if ever so cautiously, by those whose families have spilled blood, such as Noemi Caicedo’s. In January, her 18-year-old son, Jhoan Lenin, a FARC fighter who she said had been forcibly recruited, was killed in a firefight with the army.
“I think it’s time for things to calm down,” said Caicedo, 36, who lives here on the edge of a mountain where local lore holds that a determined band of farmers formed the FARC, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. “There’s been so much violence, so much blood spilled. It’s time.”
As President Juan Manuel Santos’s government prepares for negotiations to begin next month, polls show that most people in this country of about 47 million have embraced the possibility that talks could lead the FARC to lay down its weapons. But it is not in the big, modern cities of Colombia where a brutal conflict still burns these days — albeit slowly.
It is in places such as Marquetalia, where counterinsurgency troops chase guerrillas and where people feel forced to choose sides: selling beans and chickens to the rebels and being branded as support staff to the guerrillas, or siding with the state and winding up as targets of rebel assassins.
“You have to stay put — don’t go with one side or the other,” said Carlos Julio Mendez, 33, who worries about the safety of his wife and their four daughters. “That’s our life. You have to take care of yourself, your life and what you have.”
In interviews across these rugged mountains, and in the hamlets where guerrillas and soldiers have long battled, people said they want peace. But they also said that they are suspicious of both sides and their promises.
Many spoke in hushed tones about past army abuses, such as the killings of peasants by rogue military units.
Others bitterly recalled the previous negotiations between the state and the FARC that broke down, the latest in 2002: Then-President Andres Pastrana accused the rebel group of using a Switzerland-size demilitarized zone ceded to them for negotiations to stockpile weapons and orchestrate military strikes.
“Could this be the same as before?” asked Carlos Andres Cardenas, 28, a town official in the nearby county seat, Planadas. “We’re afraid. We’re afraid that this will be like it was before. We want them to do this peace process right and that they don’t forget about the people.”