Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | July 8, 2013

What “volunteering” for FARC really means

Alias “Susana Tellez” is a 25-year-old FARC member. She joined when she was 12 or 13 years old. In the above interview, with Swedish reporter Dick Emanuelsson, she says, “the age does not matter for the sacrifice one is doing. Also because all who take up arms do it of voluntary manner. We don’t want to see more suffering.”

Child rights’ expert Graça Machel wrote, “In addition to being forcibly recruited, youth also present themselves for service. It is misleading, however, to consider this voluntary. While young people may appear to choose military service, the choice is not exercised freely. They may be driven by any of several forces, including cultural, social, economic or political pressures.”

Susana Tellez says she came from a large family. She says she finished high-school (though it is unclear how she was able to finish high school because she says she had joined FARC before she was of high school age). She says she could not find employment after high school, and she and her family spoke for some time about joining FARC and they agreed that she should, indeed, join the guerrillas.

According to the academic Natalia Springer, a guerrilla recruiter often approaches a child or a teen by sending her/him on an errand like transport food, deliver messages or make phone calls. This is a way to evaluate the child or adolescent.

Of 437 former combatants, children and adolescents, boys and girls, in one of Natalia Springer’s studies: 68 percent “worked” for the group before formally joining. Of these, 52.2 percent transported mines and explosives, 9 percent carried out intelligence work, 3.8 percent were part of the urban militias, and 12.5 percent transported food. Of the group, 89 percent reported having done “favors” for the group. Springer added, “voluntarily” also means a “quota,” or “contribution,” or “tax,” which is imposed on the family by the illegal armed group.

Susana Tellez says her parents were revolutionaries. The FARC have been around since 1964, and today’s combatants are also born into the FARC; they can be third or fourth generation FARC. Much of southern Colombia has traditionally been FARC strongholds, and a father, brother, aunt or uncle are likely in the guerrilla or sympathize with the guerrilla.

Susana Tellez says she was courted by the guerrilla who would say to her “soon will be your time to go, to have love for arm, love for uniform ..”

In testimony before the U.S. Congress, Carlos Alberto Plotter, FARC deserter and demobilized commander in the north-east department of Antioquia, said, “At the beginning it’s a psychological pressure. You start telling the young boys ‘you’re almost at the age of coming in, almost, pretty soon you’ll join us.’ That’s the beginning. There was what we would call a national directive that arised lately and said that those in the guerrilla areas had – it was an obligation. They had to join up or else they should leave. This is happening in the clandestine communist party, and in the Bolivian militias.”

Susana Tellez says that growing up, her family and neighbors suffered much poverty.

According to the academic Natalia Springer, of former child combatants in one of her studies: 82 percent had lacked access to water for more than a year before joining; 99 percent lacked proper diet; 52 percent had lower weight and height for their age; 98 percent suffered intense and constant physical exhaustion. Of the group in her study, 81 percent “volunteered” to join an armed group, and 18 percent said they were forced.

Colombia’s child soldiers is the subject of my forthcoming book. You can read excerpts here.


  1. Natalia Springer is a liar, she is not even an “academic” as she claims.

  2. When you say “They may be driven by any of several forces, including cultural, social, economic or political pressures.”, what are some examples of these pressures.

    • Cultural and social pressures — meaning that their families have formed part of the guerrilla in some way; maybe a brother, an uncle, a step-father, the people they grow up around. The FARC have been around since 1964; some members are third-generation now. Sadly, a child may be expected to follow in footsteps. Further, it is not strange to see a guerrilla in uniform walking freely through their hometown, engaging with people, chatting it up with the boys, flirting with the girls. Often, a person can lead a sort of double-life: live “in the mountain,” as they say, with the guerrilla, for a few months, and in town, presumably as a civilian, for another few. In guerrilla-controlled areas, there is not much distinction: my sources made me understand a person who is high up enough in the ranks can go back and forth. Maybe that “civilian” person in town coordinates how to get food and uniforms and ammunition to “the mountains.” Maybe that person in town is coordinating drug sales. Maybe everyone in town knows what that person does — but pressure means no one talks about it. A teen just sees that person has $$.
      Economic — sadly, drugs make $$. A child can start off, per se, picking coca leaves off the plants; then, “graduate” to processing, to making contacts with traffickers, … etc… Drugs account for much of the FARC’s financing. These remote places need alternative investments that bring legal jobs to locals, away from drugs.
      political — remote areas, three generations back, received Communist indoctrination during the Cold War. The FARC continues indoctrinating children in their training camps.
      Hope this brief note helps. Let me know any more questions.

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