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Former ELN guerrilla picks up livelihood on street of Bogota, praying for peace

Former ELN guerrilla picks up livelihood on street of Bogota, praying for peace

With a red towel in hand, Edison Ortiz Escobar prowls the sidewalk all day, in order to maintain an odd job of collecting tips for parking and cleaning motorcycles and cars.
Sixty-year-old Escobar quit the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) 14 years ago, and turned from a subversive guerrilla into a loafer earning bread for his family on street of Bogota.

(Soundbite) Edison Ortiz Escobar, Former Guerrilla of ELN
“I was born in a rural area where the state upheld a repressive way without taking enough care of the social environment and the peasants around me. We were deprived of all kinds of opportunities that Colombian citizens should have been given. The only way for us was to take up arms, in order to claim the rights belonging to ourselves.”

He served the second largest rebel group of the country for nearly 20 years, all the way up to a senior position, hence was sentenced to 8 years in prison by the government.

(Soundbite) Edison Ortiz Escobar, Former Guerrilla of ELN
“It was difficult to leave the guerrilla group, but I managed to step away. I can tell you honestly that for me it was very hard to abandon the armed struggle and remain firmly convinced. I dropped weapons for peaceful ideas. I stopped being a guerrilla but still a revolutionist in mind.”

Escobar participates in academic forums and proposes on education for peace to government entities. Giving up a life with weapons, Escobar still adheres to his struggle for society transformation and equality for peasants, as the poverty rate of Colombia remains over 20%.

(Soundbite) Edison Ortiz Escobar, Former Guerrilla of ELN
“We do some work for peace from here. There are some visible and invisible problems, some even hard to imagine. You have to realize that people die in hospitals, children starve, farmers do more work but are paid the least, with some other problems not chronic but anachronistic.”

Colombian governments have tried for more than two decades to initiate peace process with ELN. After two years of exploratory talks with the current government, the ELN rebels have taken a further step in the search for a negotiated end to the conflicts.
Meanwhile, the government is expected to sign a full peace accord soon with the largest rebellious group in its territory, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

(Soundbite) Edison Ortiz Escobar, Former Guerrilla of ELN
“Now, another thing, a peace without ELN is a peace discounted. We are talking about peace. I say that you are talking about the end of the conflicts. … In overcoming the obstacles, there should be a universal peace in this country, which is what I expect and desire, not only I but all the Colombians.”

(Nat Sound: Escobar Singing)

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