A Facebook friend told me that in Colombia there’s quite a number of people who believe that Europe crowded with FARC sympathizers. At first this merely sounded surprising, yet, the more I thought about it, it actually became a quite offending piece of information.
A couple of days ago, to my even greater consternation, I also found out that it’s not only Colombians that seem to think this way. I witnessed an online discussion related to this article from an excellent blog whereby an American magazine editor made the following statement:
“You know there are people out there who romanticize guerrillas, particularly purposeless Europeans who have the government making all their decisions for them and thus have no challenges and nothing to conquer and nothing to do”.
The word “slander” came to mind. I’m willing to take rightful criticism from anyone who has a valid point to make, but when a whole group of people, in this case Europeans, get linked to terrorism based on such pitiful argument as “the government [is] making all their decisions for them”, I get slightly upset. I readily admit, hearing this from an American “intellectual”, enraged me many times more than the idea some Colombians seem to have on us, Europeans. But let’s get back to the issue at hand.
I took some time to let that information go down and digest. Now why would Colombians think such a thing? Of course, there’s the well-known case of the Dutch Tanja Nijmeijer, who actually joined the ranks of the FARC and became a close aide to former FARC-leader Mono Jojoy. She presumably is still out there in the jungle. But that just as well seems shallow evidence to base such an opinion upon, unless you hold on to the proverb that one scabby sheep spoils the whole flock. But then again, here is a case of a sheep that left the flock, and because of what she did, has very little chance of ever being taken in again by that flock.
So while doing some more research on the web what might feed that belief, I bumped into this article from Semana’s International edition. I must admit, it was a bit of an eye-opener even to me: I had no idea that the FARC had so many international contacts and on this map, Europe indeed stands out as the next continent where FARC seems to have a solid foot on the ground, after the Americas itself. If there’s more articles like this out there in Spanish, which I am convinced there are, then I start to understand somewhat where that misunderstanding is originating from.
In my world, the truth is I have never met anyone who started talking to me about Colombia, let alone FARC. Sorry as I am to say this, but the country is just not a topic here. So where all that support would be coming from remains, despite the map, a question mark to me. It is not my intention, nor is it in my power, to contest the information that is in Semana’s article, but between what is charted there and saying that Europeans are a bunch of FARC-supporters, there’s still a couple of lightyears of distance. I for instance note that in several cases documented in that article, there’s an element of arms sales involved, which leads me to believe that those contacts have been mainly inspired by financial gain considerations from the European side in those dealings. To be condemned, for sure, but hardly evidence of a broad support organisation. Every continent, without exception, has it’s pockets of small groups and individuals who want to wage war on the hostile world surrounding them, or believe they are doing the right thing by supporting causes which they read about in books and watched on television and think they can sympathize with. Europe is certainly no exception to that rule, but I think it has been amply shown in the past that it is not a safe-haven for Marxists who want to engage in terrorist activities.
Germany’s “R.A.F” (Rote Armee Faktion, aka as the Baader-Meinhof Group), Italy’s “Brigate Rosse” (Red Brigades) and Belgium’s “C.C.C” (Cellules Communistes Combattantes): Europe has been the witness to at least as many marxist-inspired terror organisations as are or have been active in Colombia. They all had their moments in the spotlight, the seventies till the nineties of the last century standing out most in that respect, but none of them has survived, precisely because society at large never endorsed and condemned the violent and murderous methods that they used to achieve their goals, whatever those goals may have been.
While one would have a difficult time finding open evidence of FARC-support in Europe (it apparently required Semana to have access to the information contained in the (in)famous computers of Raúl Reyes — the then number two of the FARC who he was killed in a raid on Ecuadorian territory in 2008 — before being able to chart this network), there is actually quite a lot of evidence that shows engagement against the FARC. When Ingrid Betancourt, presidential candidate in the elections of 2002, was captured as a hostage by the FARC (and remained in their hands for six and a half years), it was not just in France (Betancourt holds the double French-Colombian nationality) that committees sprang up requesting the guerilla rebels to release their prime hostage, but in several other countries as well. People actually marched onto the streets in quite large numbers to express their anger at this sort of doing “politics”. Quite the opposite, I would think, of what we seem to be accused of.
Let’s face it: in mainstream Europe, there is no credit to be found for FARC under it’s current form and mode of operation. People in Europe may be pretty dull sometimes when it comes to expressing opinions, but you will find most of them very outspoken when it comes to two issues: women and child abuse. No person that I know of, even at the extreme political left, would ever endorse the use of child soldiers in a military conflict. This simple fact would rule out FARC, who continues to engage in this vile practice, for any widespread popular support in Europe. I would also like to point out that all European countries, except Poland (signed but not ratified), are signatories to the Ottawa Treaty on the ban of anti-personnel landmines. FARC continues to use them, again excluding them from broad sympathy of the European masses. (As a side-remark: the U.S. is a non-signatory state).
I would see it as unfair to hold a grudge against the Colombian people for having this idea, for I’m only too well aware of what they have had to endure in the past half century in their violence-ridden country and can understand that anything that reeks of support to any of these rebel groups would be enough to trigger some sort of knee-jerk reaction. However, misunderstandings needn’t be perpetuated, they need to be resolved, which is the main reason that induced me to write this article. As I already pointed out here, the reverse is just as true: for a lot of Europeans, Colombia is still the land of Pablo Escobar and with violence and drugs as it’s defining traits. That must be just about as insulting to a modern, cosmopolitan Colombian as it is for a European, like me, to be connected to an organisation that preaches power to the people in it’s ideology but that recruits children to fight its wars and has no problem maiming people with landmines.
Misunderstandings will always exist, but it is our task to track them down, analyse them and then try to explain them away … in my case: one article at a time.
Author Rudi Devuyst is Belgian and owner of the webblog Colombia E Motion.