Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tanja's Visa Troubles

The FARC negotiating team. Tanya is on the right,
holding a sheet of paper.
Tanja is a young Dutch woman who joined the FARC guerrillas in 2002 and is now a part of their bargaining team in Havana, Cuba.

As the only foreigner and one of few women among the negotiaters, Tanja is something of a star - and also a target. Members of ex-Pres. Alvaro Uribe's right-wing Centro Democratico Party are attacking Tanja because, of all things, she doesn't have a valid Colombian residency visa.

Now, will someone please tell me what's surprising about this? After all, Tanja, who is 36 and whose last name is Nijmeijer, has spent the last dozen years living in Colombia's mountains and jungles - where the Foreign Ministry has no visa paperwork offices. And, during that time, she was on the run from Colombia's military, which was trying to kill her and her companions with bombs, M-16s and helicopter gunships. All that didn't leave much time for government paperwork.

Besides that, Tanja belongs to a terrorist organization which rejects the legitimacy of the Colombian government and wants to replace it with a socialist state. In the very best of circumstances, would she be likely to ask that government for a visa?

Getting my visa renewed was a tremendous headache, as it is for many foreigners in Colombia. (But, for whatever it's worth, Colombia's visa bureaucracy wasn't 1/100th as bad as Bolivia's.) Given a choice between repeated trips to the visa office - to endure long waits for surly service from bureaucrats who kept changing the rules on me and then charged me for that privilege - and fleeing from helicopter gunships in the jungle, I might very well choose the second. Well, not really. But I'd be tempted.

In any case, if Tanja DID have a visa, that'd be a real sign of trouble, because it would mean that some functionary was not doing their job by issuing visas to lawbreakers - probably in exchange for a nice bribe.

Uribe's Centro Democratico party is a harsh critic of the peace negotiations in Havana and they're wielding this visa issue as a new weapon. There are plenty of solid reasons to reject the FARC's legitimacy as a peace partner: the massacres, kidnappings, child recruitment, narcotrafficking, forced displacement and many other crimes they've committed. A government willing to look past terrorism shouldn't wory about a lapsed visa.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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