Under New President, Colombia's Internal Refugees Still Can't Go Home

The South American country has more internally displaced people than any other war-torn country in the world.

Under New President, Colombia's Internal Refugees Still Can't Go Home

The South American country has more internally displaced people than any other war-torn country in the world.

The inauguration of Colombia’s new president, Ivan Duque, is cause for celebration among those who support the country's conservative politicians and for concern among others—including many who have been displaced from their homes over years of nationwide conflict.

Two years ago, the country finally reached the end of a 52-year war between the Colombian government and leftist guerrilla fighters of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC. The clashes caused the internal displacement of around seven million people. Maria de los Santos Càceres Càseres was one of them.

Maria was forced to flee with her family from her home in La Bonga, Colombia, under the threat of beheading. Paramilitary forces, who suspected she and her fellow villagers were part of FARC, went from house to house, forcing people to leave. The villagers, who say they were wrongfully accused, moved to the nearby town of San Pablo. There, they face hunger, poverty, and an uncertain future.

Maria and her husband now split their time between the town and La Bonga, though there isn’t much left of their former home. She is the only woman to return to her village in nearly 20 years and says she was happy there, even without modern conveniences like electricity and television. Like many of Colombia’s displaced people, she and her fellow villagers are looking to the future with trepidation, wondering where they will live and if they will ever get back to their home in La Bonga.

For some time, Maria and her family hoped they’d be able to return. A referendum in October 2016 allowed Colombians to vote on a peace deal that gave FARC political representation, allowing them to have 10 of the 268 seats in the Congress of Colombia. Voters initially rejected the referendum, but the government made changes and then moved it through Congress, bypassing another popular vote in order to shepherd it into law.

Though the incumbent president, Juan Manuel Santos, maintained a period of relative stability in the country and brokered the peace deal that ended a half-century of war, Duque has said he will change the deal. During the election, however, he assured voters he won’t “shred it to pieces,” like some of his political colleagues wanted to.

Duque will now have to contend with the country’s legacy of war and its necessary rebuilding—including providing aid and support for people displaced during the conflict.

“I want peace for the future of Colombia,” Maria says. “I dream a lot about the land. I dream about living in La Bonga again.”