BOGOTA — Maria Carolina Rodríguez, who describes herself as an "upper-middle class mother from Bogotá," was kidnapped by the communist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2001. Her captivity allowed her a rare glimpse at how one group of female guerrillas were treated by their male comrades.
Rodríguez kept notes during her captivity, which she published in 2008, six years after her escape called Diario de mi Cautiverio ("Diary of my Captivity.") What follows are some of her observations on gender amid the would-be revolutionaries.
Of the FARC's fighters she wrote, "all of them were young, some of them too young. They almost seemed like children."
Initially she was surprised by the noises she heard at night, "laughter and exaggerated cries from the women. One of them shouted out as a joke, "they're going to rape me," and laughed. I found their lifestyle astounding, so strange to me. But I had the impression they were having a great time."
Her notes coincide with the testimonies of several former FARC fighters. "There are seven female guerillas here, all aged below 16 years," she writes. "It's very sad: They are almost prostitutes ... these girls are being used by the guerrillas or better said, the group's system."
The system she refers to was apparently meant to keep the men happy — through the obliging conduct of their female comrades. "There is a 14-year-old girl who is sick, since the hostages say she is pissing blood ... the girls have no fixed partners, and circulate between various men. Those who have been kept hostage for a while have seen them with three men at least in recent months."
The stepfather of one of the girls had tried to rape her several times, which is why she left home and took up arms. Several guerrillas have used her. She was in love with one of them, but they broke up ... then another one raped her. She isn't 15 years old yet, and has already had several users (I can hardly call them lovers)."
Rodríguez observes that the female fighters do not seem to mind this treatment so much, perhaps for their scant education. One of them, dubbed La Pollo, had no idea one of the men was a hostage, and told him "go away, go on, I'll say I didn't see you."
The nurse she writes, "is a girl who can barely read. They call her that because she hands out pills."
Rodríguez also notes that one of the male soldiers is 17, and already has a three-year-old daughter. Of the FARC's contraceptive methods, she recalled that "they inject the girls once a month to avert pregnancies, but many of them have problems. One hasn't had her period for six months, another has bleeding spells that can last two months." She found out about the drastic birth control methods one night when "a girl could be heard crying, shouting and begging no, no. The next day I was told she is terrified of needles and was shouting because she was going to be given the regulation injection."
Like other hostages who've mentioned recruitment of young people in the brothels of drug-producing areas, Rodríguez observes that one of the seven women had been a prostitute before joining the FARC.
Almost a half century ago the writer Virginia Gutiérrez de Pineda observed that in the Colombian countryside, "the woman's conduct brings disgrace when she deviates from cultural guidelines in sexual terms." She declared in interviews how she had perceived "bristling aggressiveness" in the punishment of women who had violated "the norms of marital fidelity." She also cited land tenure as "another of the sources of conflict" in Colombia.
There is consensus in Colombia that the countryside remains severely backward in its social norms. This state of affairs appears to be replicated in guerrilla camps, with commanders and bosses exacerbating — or distorting — the sexist hierarchy. How will these girls return to the conservative, patriarchal environment of rural Colombia, after playing at love and war in these strange teenage communes?