Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Who is Tanja, the Dutch 'Girl Guerrilla'?

Tanja Nijmeijer, with her friendly AK-47.

Tanja Nijmeijer is a 34-year-old Dutchwoman who will be part of the FARC guerrillas' negotiating panel - and its sole non-Colombian.

Nijmeijer, who joined the FARC in 2002, hearkens back to an earlier period when the guerrillas still attracted idealist, well-educated young people. (The only other possible negotiatior who might fall into that category is Ricardo Palmera, aka Simon Trinidad, now 62, who abandoned his wealthy background and banking job to join the guerrillas. He is in a United States prison and may participate via video conferencing.)

Nijmeijer first visited Colombia in 2002 as a university student studying romance languages. She taught English in the city of Pereira, where she said a co-worker opened her eyes to social injustice in Colombia and government human rights violations. You can see her interviewed, AK-47 on her lap, here, declaring to journalist Jorge Enrique Botero "I am a fighter for the Colombian revolutionary forces and I will remain so until victory is achieved or until I die. There is no turning back."

Tanja and her mother in a FARC camp. 
Back home after one year, she concluded that "the revolution wouldn't take place in the Netherlands." She returned to Colombia in 2002. Ironically for this young woman who had been a squatter and Trotskyite activist back home, she taught English for a time for the Wall Street Institute in Bogotá. It was a convenient cover. Apparently, she was also an intelligence agent with the FARC's urban militia. But, she did more than just listen: According to El Tiempo, Nijmeijer also helped carry out a bomb attack on a city bus, in which a child was killed and 16 people were injured.

Later, Nijmeijer joined the guerrillas in the jungle, where she worked as a translator and interpreter. Her presence also contributed a sympathetic pretty face to the FARC's image.

In 2007, the Colombian military occupied a FARC camp and discovered Nijmeijer's diary, which was eventually published in the papers. In it, she described favoritism by guerrilla leaders, sexual exploitation of young girls by older guerrilla leaders and even what some readers interpreted as her own sexual exploitation by her guerrilla companions.

"I'm tired of the FARC," she wrote. "This would be worthwhile if one knew what one was fighting for. What kind of organization is this, in which some have money, cigarrettes and candy and the rest have to beg? An organization in which a girl with big tits and a pretty face can destabilize a unit? Where we have to work all day long, while the commanders talk shit? I don't want to have to listen to any more blah-blah-blah about being communists, honest and obedient, while seeing how the commanders are hypocrites, gossipers and traitors."

Some concluded that a disillusioned Nijmeijer was being held against her will and might try flee the guerrillas.

In Sept. 2010, the government initially thot she had died in a bombing raid which killed a guerrilla commander and about 100 other guerrillas.

However, soon after Nijmeijer reappeared in a video, more fiery and loyal to the guerrilla cause than ever.

Is Nijmeijer deliberately blind, radically ideological, or do the guerrillas keep her ignorant of their many and severe human rights violations? Today's newspaper carries a report of an attack, apparently by the FARC, on a military patrol, in which two soldiers and nine civilians were injured.

Nijmeijer's biography suggests that she could bring an ideologically hard line to the peace negotiations, while her guerrilla companions, aging and weary of risking their lives slogging thru jungles, could be tempted into concessions by offers of light punishments and political participation. (In Norway, Nijmeijer might also meet her family, who once visited her in the jungle.)

What would a post-FARC future hold for Nijmeijer? Are there specific criminal charges against her in Colombia, beyond being a FARC member? (A U.S. court has charged her in relation with the kidnapping of three U.S. citizens here, but I doubt she has travel plans to the States.) Would she be able to return to the European Union, which considers the FARC as a terrorist group? Might the Wall Street Institute rehire her? I'm sure that some NGO would rush to hire her on the strength of her unquestionable idealism, selflessness and extraordinary life experiences - not to mention the attention she'd bring with her.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Ann Kroon said...

Great read, thanks for posting. Will be very interesting to follow the Oslo talks.

mauricio forero l said...

Well, what can I say Miguel.
She is not just a beautiful woman, she is a obviously very smart, she has a heck of a talent for languages, her Spanish is AMAZING, almost no accent!!wow, not to mention that for what you said she also speaks English and of course Dutch...so we are dealing whit a really smart person here. One think I can tell you Miguel, I would love to have such a person in my team. She also looks so determined!

M. Forero.

Miguel said...

Certainly, she's smart, and courageous in a way. But seeing her talk so cheerily about being bombed struck me as naive and maybe deliberately ignorant.


mauricio forero l said...

I was watching other videos of her in youtube and, yes, I think she looks somehow out of touch with the reality that surrounds her. In the end, I just can't understand this people, to me it is a lost cause, their stubbornness is costing so much to my country.


Miguel said...

But, like you say, they're out of touch with reality.