Pastor Alape, a former commander of the now-defunct FARC, is seeking to become the mayor of Puerto Berrío, his hometown in the department of Antioquia. Alape is the first member of the former guerrilla leadership to run for public office. If successful, he would be the first mayor elected from Comunes, the political party that emerged from the 2016 peace agreements and is composed of demobilized FARC members.
Currently, another former guerrilla, Guillermo Torres (alias Julián Conrado), is the mayor of Turbaco in the Bolívar region, although Torres ran for a different political party. He was elected in the 2019 elections and has served as the mayor of the municipality since January 2020, with his term ending in December of this year.
Alape’s Rebellious Life
Pastor Alape was the leader of the Magdalena Medio bloc and became a member of the guerrilla leadership in 2010, replacing the deceased Mono Jojoy. Alape joined the FARC in 1979 and even served as an instructor at the guerrilla’s leadership school. He hails from Puerto Berrío, and he now aspires to become the mayor of this Antioquian town, located in the Magdalena Medio subregion, which is named after the river that runs through the area.
The municipality is still plagued by violence stemming from clashes between various illegal armed groups operating in the region. Alape left Puerto Berrío at the age of 20, appalled and horrified by the murders of left-wing politicians and peasants. Some of his family members fell victim to that violence.
After 35 years in the armed struggle, he became an active proponent of the peace agreements signed with President Santos’ government in 2016, a negotiation process in which he played a prominent role. Following the guerrilla demobilization, the former commander led the reintegration of FARC militants into civilian life.
A Past Subject to the JEP
Like other demobilized former leaders, Pastor Alape submitted to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP). He did not hesitate to publicly and emotionally ask for forgiveness for the pain he had caused as a guerrilla.
In a historic session, the former commander tearfully apologized to Colombia. Today, he knows that this past is likely his biggest obstacle to achieving his goal of winning the mayoralty of his city.
“This is a process, we knew it wouldn’t happen immediately, and that people wouldn’t come out to greet us given the long conflict’s reality. We’ve been making progress. Just being in my town is progress,” said the mayoral candidate for Puerto Berrío in his campaign.
Supported by the Political Left
The mayoral candidate has the political endorsement of his party, Comunes, as well as the Historic Pact, the left-wing coalition that supports President Gustavo Petro. He launched his candidacy at the end of June and quickly received the support of Comunes’ leader and former top commander of the old FARC, Rodrigo Londoño.
Comunes, the party that emerged from the guerrilla demobilization, has traversed a complex political path. It had to change its name after realizing that the initial name, Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común (FARC), which voluntarily retained the initials of the former armed group, generated widespread social rejection.
Later, as Comunes, the party experienced various dissensions and resignations, and its electoral support has always been modest. Today, within the government coalition, which it joined after last year’s presidential elections, it struggles to survive as a distinct party. Under the Havana Accords, the former FARC party is allocated ten parliamentary seats until 2026, at which point, like the others, they must obtain them through popular votes.
For these elections, Comunes is fielding 144 candidates, seven of whom are running for various mayoral positions. The campaign in Puerto Berrío is the most significant, primarily because Pastor Alape is not just any former guerrilla; he is the first member of the former Secretariat, the FARC’s leadership, to run for public office.
Campaigning by Bicycle in Puerto Berrío
Pastor Alape is now a 64-year-old candidate with a grey beard who campaigns for his municipality on a bicycle. True to his lifelong political principles, the slogan of his campaign is “The people command, and they are obeyed.” He moves around his city surrounded by bodyguards and occasionally has to endure insults or derogatory comments about his past as a guerrilla.
Nonetheless, Alape remains patient, believing it is possible to win the mayoralty through the ballot box. Convinced that the time for guns has passed, he has embraced civilian life and has never forsaken his origins. That’s why he accepted Comunes’ endorsement, a party he doesn’t want to do without. Other sympathizers rejected their endorsement due to the heavy stigmatization that the political organization carries.
Many Colombians are still horrified by the war, the FARC, kidnappings, and the recruitment of minors. It was a very tough time of great pain, for which the former leaders have already asked for forgiveness and shown their determination to step into the light.
However, for many people, it’s not enough. The pain persists in a Colombia that still needs to build a consensus on what the internal conflict, which lasted over 50 years, was all about.
If Pastor Alape and the Comunes political movement achieve their goal, it will be known on Sunday, October 29. It will be an election night that, although without the excitement generated by elections in the major cities, will see whether or not the former FARC commander is chosen by the Colombian voters.