Esteban Vanegas sang of his love for Colombia on Monday evening, and of his hopes for peace - with a choir of his fellow guerrillas, marking the signing of a peace treaty ending one of the world’s longest and bloodiest wars.
Just below the huge stage that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) improbably erected here in the bush in the south of the country, his mother Miriam stood and watched him sing, her face a stoic mix of joy and pain. Four days ago, Ms. Vanegas was at home in another state when she saw a television broadcast from the jungle conference the FARC held to ratify its peace agreement with the government.
The footage skimmed the faces of some of the thousands of fighters gathered here, and Ms. Vanegas saw Esteban – the child taken by the rebels when he was 13, of whom she had heard nothing for a decade, whom she has longed feared must be dead, like two more of her boys.
Ms. Vanegas gathered some money and set off almost immediately, on a series of motorbike-taxis that wove six hours through the countryside, asking her way to the FARC assembly – and there she began asking for her son, showing guerrillas a faded picture of a smooth-cheeked boy. Finally someone recognized the child as Felipe, his guerrilla name. Not long after, she had her arms around him, her lost boy, now a strapping fighter with a goatee who towered over her.
“It’s indescribable – to see her after all these years, to see how time has changed her,” said Mr. Vanegas, who is getting used to having someone call him Esteban again. For the past 36 hours, the two have moved through the vast, muddy FARC camp together, hand-in-hand; he holds tight.
With reunions like these, the peace deal signed Monday has started to reap its first fragile benefits.