Over a several-hour meeting in a thatched-roof snack bar in La Macarena, Colombian Commander BG Perez can barely get a sentence out without his phone ringing. He looks down, his face a mix of troubled and annoyed, hits the send-to-voicemail key, and continues what he was saying. It happens so frequently that I wonder why he doesn't just turn it off. But this is the least troubling and annoying part of his life in La Macarena—a daily struggle of ferreting out and beating back the last 4,000 or so paramilitary rebels in one of the remaining Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) strongholds.
"Yesterday two youngsters came to me," he says to a U.S. State Department delegation in Spanish. "They said, 'General, take me out of here in a plane or I'm going to become a guerilla. I have no other option. My father will send me.'"
"What are you going to do once you get there?" Perez says he asked the boys. They shrugged. They had no idea. They just knew they needed to get out of La Macarena. "I took them," Perez continues. "My concern is it took a lot of courage to come up to me and have that conversation. How many others don't?"
You wouldn't know from this conversation how much success Perez and his colleagues have had over the last two years. More than 50,000 paramilitaries countrywide have demobilized, mostly voluntarily responding to radio messages telling them there was a way out, to just walk out, throw down their guns, and lift their arms and the ...