The arrival of Dutch FARC fighter Tanja Nijmeijer in Cuba for peace talks with the Colombian government appears to be part of a broader attempt by the rebels to project a modern, international image.
Thirty-four-year-old Nijmeijer arrived in Havana on November 5, after reportedly flying from the town of Cucuta, on Colombia's border with Venezuela. A video uploaded to YouTube by FARC-linked press agency Anncol showed Nijmeijer arriving in the airport, where she is greeted by Luciano Marin, alias "Ivan Marquez," and Seuxis Hernandez Solarte, alias "Jesus Santrich," members of the rebels’ negotiation team.
In a telephone interview with Colombian television station RCN, Revolutionary Armed Force of Colombia (FARC) top commander Rodrigo Londoño Echeverry, alias "Timochenko,” did not specify what role Nijmeijer would play once the rebels officially begin a second round of peace talks in the Cuban capital. Nijmeijer has worked as a translator for the FARC, as well as taking part in military operations.
Nijmeijer is something of a celebrity in Colombia’s civil conflict and her story has been documented by various journalists over the years. She moved to Colombia in 1998 to work as an English teacher and later voluntarily joined the FARC. She had a romantic relationship with the nephew of the FARC’s military commander, Victor Julio Suarez Rojas, alias "Mono Jojoy." Her closeness with Mono Jojoy reportedly later protected her from being severely punished by the rebels after Colombia’s largest newspaper El Tiempo published extracts of her diary in 2007, which described her disillusionment with the guerrillas.
She is wanted in Colombia for rebellion and in the United States on terrorism charges for her role in the kidnapping of three US contractors in 2003. Interpol has issued a request for her capture.
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On October 15, the FARC publicly announced that they had requested Nijmeijer’s presence at the peace talks. It is not clear whether Nijmeijer formed part of the rebels’ initial list of negotiators, or whether she was a last-minute addition. The fact that she was able to move relatively smoothly to Cuba will likely contribute to building trust between the two negotiating teams. It also stands in contrast to the difficulty that the FARC have faced in getting another of their named negotiators to Cuba: political ideologue Ricardo Palmera, alias “Simon Trinidad,” who is currently serving a 60-year prison sentence in the United States.
Nijmeijer’s European background makes her stand out among the FARC’s thousands of female recruits (about a third of the guerrilla force is thought to be female). As one of the FARC’s few non-Colombian members, she has long been an object of fascination in Colombia, and has been the subject of unofficial biographies, TV specials, magazine covers, and a documentary. Sending her to Cuba looks like an attempt by the FARC to bring attention to their celebrity fighter, and emphasize the supposed international appeal of their cause.
There are other indications that Nijmeijer’s deployment to Cuba was done out of concern over the FARC’s image. A video recently uploaded to a YouTube account (see below) shows Nijmeijer playing guitar, singing and rapping about her experience as a rebel fighter. She is accompanied by the musical trio who recorded a rap about the FARC’s expectations for the peace talks in early September.
In the song, Nijmeijer refers to Mono Jojoy’s death, implying that she lay in a ditch nearby during the air raid which killed the military commander.
She also makes reference to her appeal as a public face of the FARC, referring to herself as a “pretty girl” who decided to join the revolution.
The FARC have released several rebel-themed songs over the years, many of them in traditional Latin musical genres like vallenato and merengue (a more recently uploaded tune is a cumbia). The musical releases appear to be an attempt by the FARC to present a younger, more modern image of themselves, in contrast to the videos traditionally associated with the guerrillas, which depict older male leaders such as Timochenko sitting in a tent reading propaganda from a sheet of paper.