Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Competing Narratives: The Women of the FARC

Latin America’s most deadly terrorist organization, the FARC, cultivates an image of romance and revolution. To emphasize their revolutionary egalitarianism they highlight the importance of women in the ranks. Approximately a quarter to a third of the FARC fighters are women, and pictures on the FARC’s website nearly always include a few FARCettes. Sympathetic journalists have gushed over the guerilleras and the FARC’s own descriptions of FARC life verge on pornography (I’ve excerpted examples of both below). The reality is of course quite different (see this excerpt from a report by Human Rights Watch.) A recent dramatic demonstration of this unreality came when a FARCette named Angelica hijacked a plane in order to escape her life with FARC and surrender to Colombia authorities.

Nonetheless, FARC propaganda works and occasionally attracts international recruits such as Tanja Nijmieijer, a young Dutch woman who, filled with revolutionary fervor joined the FARC. Portions of her diary were found when Colombian forces raided a FARC camp in August. The picture is not pretty, not frightening, more banal. But a far cry from the egalitarian image the FARC seeks to project. Based on Tanja's description, it is a movement of petty tyrants.

Terrorist groups need to be defeated by arms, but also in battle. Destroying the FARC’s progressive image and splitting it from its connections with the international left is a key component in neutralizing it overall and perhaps bringing some peace to Colombia.

Compare and contrast, excerpts below:

Here is a fawning piece in which life with the FARC is portrayed as an Outward Bound personal growth experience:
…there was little doubt that the guerrillas in that particular camp had achieved an impressive degree of gender equality. It was not just evident in their activities and words but, more importantly, in their way of being.

…The softness of the energy exhibited by the male rebels towards their female colleagues, their absolute lack of machismo, their acceptance of them as equals, was actually quite astounding. And for the women, they also exhibited many feminine qualities for a group of females living a traditionally male lifestyle. In fact, maintaining their femininity was important to the female guerrillas. During off-duty hours we often observed female rebels getting together to apply make-up or to braid each other’s hair. Evidently, equality in that FARC camp was not about women acting like men.

This innocence hardly compares with FARC’s own writing about the FARCettes. LOVE BENEATH THE INTIMACY OF THE MOSQUITO NETTING, which reads like a bad undergrad imitation of Gabriel Garcia Maquez style magical realism, is no longer on the FARC’s website, but can be read in its entirety here:
To form a couple they talk to the commander: "We want to be partners." The commander calls them both in and explains: "you have to behave in such-a-such way, respect each other, be with this person only, not with one and then another because if there is not respect, they don't let them be together and they separate them..." Sonia expanded her observation….

"There are no marriages here, there are loving Associations," stated Diana. There are very intense relationships. The intimacy of any relationship follows: they join their tents and their beds. Intimacy is born beneath the intensity of the mosquito net, the neighboring tent doesn't matter. Cries are stifled, you learn how to stifle the passionate outburst of orgasm in complete silence, in the silence of mingled sweat and the pleasure that invites blissful sleep, intertwined. "The couple shares the same tent and you get used to intimacy with other tents close by. It is not like intimacy in civilian life. For example, there are also places where they are in general quarters, so you sleep in one bed on one big frame or blanket. Sometimes they put a couple beside you, or a single compañero/a, and then you could say that privacy is the mosquito net. This is intimacy in the guerrilla." said Eliana.

Commander Sonia, long my favorite FARCette, is now serving a 16 year sentence for conspiring to produce and import cocaine.

Here, for a different perspective are some excerpts from Ms. Nijmieijer’s diary. One of these three things doesn’t belong (but which one is closest to the true):
21 July 2006: …I almost forgot the big news: two comrades have AIDS, and there may be more. No one here uses contraceptives. The girlfriend of one of them has no idea what it means. She told me the news with a big grin and her boyfriend seems totally unconcerned. Another girl, who used to have a relationship with the man, is really worried.

24 November 2006: I'm tired, tired of the FARC, tired of people and tired of living in this commune. I'm fed up of never having anything of my own. All of this would have a purpose if you knew what you were fighting for. I don't believe in it any more. What sort of rebel movement is this? Only a few people have money or cigarettes or sweets and the rest of us have to beg for a share, but you know the higher-ups will just be nasty and say no. It was exactly the same four years ago when I joined, nothing has changed. A girl with big tits and a pretty face can totally undermine a unit that has worked together for ages (...) I don't know if I'll ever get out of this jungle (...) I want to get out of here, at least out this unit. But you know that you're a sort of prisoner here (...) It's not the FARC so much as this unit.(...) but had enough of all that blah blah blah about being a Communist (...)

(No date): Dear Jans, there's a party today. But of course the commandants and their women have had their own private party. It's so corrupt. And now all the lower ranks are allowed to drink whatever the head honchos couldn't manage to pour down their throats yesterday (...) Yesterday that idiot Margaret offered me some sweets. That bitch had a great big bag of sweets. I felt so humiliated. A woman who is with one of the commandants is in a totally different class. They have privileges and they give orders. But they also have to produce children.


Anonymous said...

i question the authenticity of your diaries

Anonymous said...

How would you know?

Anonymous said...

there is enough evidence and interviews that i have to ask...who would question this? good work...i hope to see more of this. please bring light to the dark

Aaron Mannes said...

Thanks for your comments. The diaries were well reported - and in the past few months as the FARC has been disintegrating a lot more detail has come out about the lives of their "recruits."

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