Mark Kennedy responds to Tanja Nijmeijer’s Colombia Reports article
In an op-ed piece that ran in Colombia Reports on July 22, Dutch-born member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) Tanja Nijmeijer wrote that the guerrilla group is and has always been a “political organisation.”
She presents a Colombia that is backward and feudal, where left-wing ideas are not only frowned upon, but criminal. And for this, she argues, it is “therefore justifiable to be raised up in arms in a society which is reluctant to accept freedom of speech.”
Four paragraphs prior, she refers to critics of the guerrilla group as from “extreme right-wing sectors” who are uncomfortable with their ideas.
No doubt many, many Colombians are uncomfortable with the FARC — and not just people on the “extreme right” — but they are less so with the group’s political ideology and more so with their actions.
Someone reading her words with little knowledge of Colombia or its bloody history could be forgiven for believing that the guerrillas are the victims and had to take up arms to defend themselves from the dark forces of the bogeyman right.
On your characterisation of Colombia and of the “political organisation” to which you belong, Ms. Nijmeijer, I beg to differ.
I know Tanja Nijmeijer, not personally, more virtually. She was a contact of mine when I worked for the now-defunct NTN24 News in English. We would have many an email discussion and debate over current events. In those conversations I found her personable and even likeable, but despite this I always found her ideas a little skewed, her point of view a little left of centre of reality.
I contacted her for comment after a car bomb killed eight people in the town of Inza, Cauca department, in December 2013, an attack for which the FARC claimed responsibility. The attack took place outside a police station in the town square just as people were gathering for a nearby farmers’ market. At least half of those killed were civilians.
Ms. Nijmeijer had previously told me her “irregular guerrilla army” does not attack civilians. I asked her how, then, could the FARC justify such an attack. She replied that it was against the Geneva Convention to put military targets in civilian population centres, the “military target” in this case being the local police station. I wrote back to her, saying that I was pretty sure it was also against the Geneva Convention to murder innocent people through acts of terrorism.
We didn’t get along very well after that.
Her rationale for the FARC’s crimes defy cynicism, and such rationale is echoed in her op-ed in Colombia Reports.
Another head-scratcher in Ms. Nijmeijer’s — and, dare I say — the FARC’s logic as a whole, is about their taking up arms to defend free speech. One wonders what they think “free speech” is. It certainly does not have anything to do with indiscriminate bombings, nor kidnap-for-ransom, extortion, drug trafficking, political assassinations, murder, forced displacement, child recruitment and the myriad of other crimes they have committed over the years.
Ms. Nijmeijer, I would like to take this opportunity to state that I too think the FARC is a shell of its former self, has traded in its ideology for narco-dollars, and its leadership needs a peace accord to avoid lengthy jail terms or permanent exile in Cuba, and — despite having worked at NTN24 — I am not part of any “extreme right-wing” sector.
Any peace accord worth a damn will need to be a peace without impunity, something that President Juan Manuel Santos has promised it will be. Yet the FARC leadership in Havana have said they will not spend a single day in jail, so it remains to be seen whether a peace accord will be reached at all.
If peace is what you and your team of negotiators are interested in, Ms. Nijmeijer, you will have to face reality. You will have to remove your red-tinted glasses, admit and atone for your crimes, apologise to your victims, and face the consequences of your actions.
Mark Kennedy is the Editor-in-Chief of the Bogota Post, and a former reporter and editor with NTN24 News. The Canadian national has been in Colombia for four years.
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