FARC guerrilla raps for peace in Colombia
John Esteban Perez was 13 when he joined the FARC rebels in Colombia. Now 26, he has spent half his life as a guerrilla.
El Diamante: John Esteban Perez was 13 when he joined the FARC rebels in Colombia. Now 26, he has spent half his life as a guerrilla.
But today, instead of hiding out in the jungle with his rifle, he has fellow rebels bouncing to his rhymes as he raps for peace.
"They say we`re bad, we`re rapists. That`s all lies. We`re working for peace, peace, peace in Colombia," he rapped Saturday night at the FARC`s national conference, where the rebels are meeting to ratify a peace accord with the Colombian government.
The deal, concluded last month, aims to end to five decades of conflict that have killed an estimated 260,000 people and left 45,000 missing.
It is a historic moment for the country and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist guerrilla army that has been fighting the government since 1964.
But this being Colombia -- where nothing happens without music -- the conference is also a nightly dance party.
One of the bands booked to perform, the Bogota reggae group Alerta Kamarada, discovered Esteban`s talent while they were doing sound checks ahead of Saturday`s show, on a stage set up in the middle of a field at the heart of the rebels` traditional stronghold in southeastern Colombia.
He got up on stage, dropped some beats, and seduced them with his style -- energetic, politically charged rhymes laid out over tropical rhythms.
Next thing he knew, he had an invitation to guest star at their show.
"We`re very proud we were able to cross paths with him," said Alerta Kamarada guitarist and band leader Pablo Araoz, 36.
"We fell in love with his style," he added.
"We would love to keep working with him. He`s a talent."Wearing combat boots, camouflage fatigues and a white Alerta Kamarada T-shirt, Esteban had the dance floor throbbing Saturday night.
"Esteban is a young man with a lot of talent. I thought he was excellent," said one new fan, 35-year-old Gabriel, beaming beneath a black FARC beret.
If the FARC ratify the peace accord at their conference -- as they are expected to do -- their leader, Timoleon "Timochenko" Jimenez, will sign it alongside President Juan Manuel Santos on September 26.
Colombians will then vote on the deal in a decisive referendum on October 2.
If it passes, the FARC have pledged to disarm and relaunch themselves as a political party.
Esteban -- a member of the Felipe Rincon Front of the FARC`s Eastern Bloc, their largest regiment -- says he is looking forward to leaving behind his life at war.
"I`m very happy knowing that we`re going to rest after this war. We`re all brothers. We shouldn`t be killing each other. That`s the message of my song," he said.
He has another reason to look forward to peace, too, said Alerta Kamarada singer Javier Fonseca: It will mean Esteban can reunite with his mother, whom he hasn`t seen in 11 years.