The Dutch woman the FARC can’t stand
InterviewDutch citizen Liduine Zumpolle spoke to SEMANA INTERNATIONAL about her work with FARC prisoners who want to demobilize and the threats she has been receiving from this group.
In 2007, a dissident group of FARC prisoners in the high security jails of Colombia started a peaceful movement called “Manos por la paz” (Hands for Peace). They did not want to return to the armed struggle. These former fighters hope to return to society and become a constructive part of it.
R>At first, ‘Manos por la Paz’, who has been mistaken for a Dutch NGO, intended to help only the prisoners who didn’t agree to be part of an eventual humanitarian exchange agreement between the government and the FARC guerrillas. Later, as the movement grew, it started dealing with demobilized former fighters and those who wanted to confess their crimes and be part of the ‘Ley de Justicia y Paz’ (law of Peace and Justice, which helps demobilized former fighters of illegal armed groups in Colombia).
Liduine Zumpolle, a Dutch citizen and former director of the NGO Pax Christi, joined organization ‘Manos por la Paz’. She started visiting high security jails in Colombia and helping former fighters to return to society.
Her work, appreciated by former FARC members who don’t want to fight any more and their families, has had a significant impact on the rebel organization. Because of this, Zumpolle has been threatened in several occasions since she started working with ‘Manos por la Paz’.
“The threats are not new, as the media claim. They go all the way back to the beginnings of the organization, when we made a video in the jails with the demobilized. It was broadcasted on a local television show, and since then we have been receiving all kinds of threats. They tell us to stop, and call us enemies of the revolution, but we go on”, Zumpolle remembers.
Recently, the threats have come from different sources. According to Zumpolle, alternative news agencies such as ‘Anncol’ (Agencia de Noticias Nueva Colombia) and APB ‘Agencia Bolivariana de Prensa’, both published letters and reports in which they consider her work as anti revolutionary.
‘Anncol’ describes the activist work as ‘neocolonialist’ in an article published on the web site in December 2007. ‘Anncol, according to information taken from the computer of former FARC chief Reyes, has received assistance from the guerrillas. The same article claims Zumpolle is sponsored by the Dutch government.
Later in December 2007, APB published a letter that was supposedly written by prisoners who disapproved Zumpolles work. In the document, which ‘Anncol’ partially reproduced a couple of days later, ‘Manos por la Paz’ appears as an organization of traitors whose main purpose is to defame the revolutionary groups.
About the letters, Zumpolle claims that “they say that I visit the jails to encourage the prisoners to demobilize, but it’s nothing like that. I speak to prisoners that have already demobilized or want to be”.
But Zumpolle is not the only one being threatened. Former guerrilla members who want to demobilize and their families have also been victims of threats by active members of the leftist rebel group. ‘Manos por la Paz’ works to make sure these prisoners remain safe as long as they stay in jail, and closely follows their demobilization process to assure it is being done. As she told SEMANA INTERNATIONAL, her duty is to become an international monitor so that the Colombian government can keep its agreement with those who have demobilized.
Organizations such as ‘Comisión Colombiana de Juristas’ (Colombian Jurists Commission), known for their defense of the Human Rights, have expressed their support for Zumpolle’s work. In a press release published last 31st of December it asked the FARC to respect the activist´s work as a civilian. It also wants the government to closely protect Zumpolle, who already has bodyguards.
Zumpolle is aware of the impact her project has had on the FARC and other rebel groups. She says that it is a unique phenomenon, a peaceful movement that affects the groups directly from their inside.
The clearest sign that the organization is affecting radical groups, according to Zumpolle, is the increasing number of threats being made by them. “I have had security provided by the state for a year. But I don’t feel intimidated by the threats, they are a sign that I’m accomplishing my work”, she says as she highlights the nature of the impact the organization is causing.
“A rebel commander killed in a military action becomes a hero. But, a commander who gives himself away to justice or demobilizes and starts working with ‘Manos por la Paz’ constitutes a moral blow to the FARC, one that they can’t stand”, Zumpolle concludes, assuring she will continue to carry on her work.