FARC former guerrillas making face masks to fight coronavirus

As the coronavirus impacts across Colombia, FARC former guerrillas have begun making hundreds of face masks using materials recycled in the reincorporation zone where they are based. Under the terms of the peace process, thousands of FARC members relocated to 24 zones spread around the country to study, receive training and develop sustainable projects as they transition to civilian life. Now, residents of the ‘Antonio Nariño’ reincorporation zone in Tolima are using their skills to support the relief effort as Colombia attempts to deal with the global health crisis.

In response to a shortage of face masks and other essential equipment, the former guerrillas have switched from making clothes to making masks and have so far produced around 200 from surgical fabric sourced from their medical facilities. The group previously made headlines in September 2019 when they staged a fashion show of clothes made by FARC members.

While face masks cost – on the rare occasions they are available – around $3,500 pesos (88p) in the nearby town of Iconozco, the FARC-produced masks are being sold for $1,000 pesos (25p). The low price is designed to cover material production costs of the masks. However, there is still a drastic shortage of sufficient material to address immediate needs, with 270 FARC members based in the reincorporation zone and around 3,000 people living in the local community. So far, the former guerrillas have been unable to obtain more surgical fabric but have begun using nautical fabrics in production. Although these masks do not provide strong protection for frontline medical personnel, they can help community members. Currently, there is sufficient fabric for 7,500 masks.

Like elsewhere in Colombia, FARC members in reincorporation zones are observing social distancing and isolation as measures against the coronavirus. With more than 200 confirmed cases of coronavirus, the country has closed its borders and implemented a lockdown.