Colombia’s Anti-FARC Battle Plays Out on Airwaves, Social Media

The Colombian military must counter the symbols and rhetoric employed by Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels, specialists in psychological warfare and local politics told a group of officers at a four-day seminar in Bogotá.
Richard McColl | 8 October 2012

Henry Cancelado, a political scientist and security analyst at Colombia’s Universidad Nacional, speaks at an Oct. 2 seminar in Bogotá. [Richard McColl]

BOGOTÁ — The Colombian military must counter the symbols and rhetoric employed by Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels, specialists in psychological warfare and local politics told a group of officers at a four-day seminar in Bogotá.

Ronald P. Archer, special advisor to USSOCOM (Special Operations Command) said that the FARC — Colombia’s most violent terrorist group — still has “significant power despite being defeated militarily.”

Speaking Oct. 2 at Bogotá’s Club Militar, he said the FARC now focuses its ideological activities on recruitment, indoctrinating combatants, directing propaganda at civilians in conflict zones and feeding lies to Colombians and people overseas.

“The Armed Forces needs to take the initiative in improving civilian-military relations and this will in turn combat the FARC’s claims that the state has abandoned their territory.” Archer told his audience. “The FARC’s propaganda must be studied in its minutiae to improve our understanding of the insurgent’s narrative.”

Consistent messages work best

Archer said the Colombian military’s narrative must be consistent — and that it must focus on cultural, religious and civic values shared by most of Colombia’s 46 million inhabitants. He pointed out that even though the family is the moral compass that guides Colombian culture and offers security, “the FARC rejects the idea of a traditional family and replaces it with a revolutionary identity.”

Archer said that the terrorist group’s romanticized, revolutionary propaganda reaches universities — which are ideal recruiting grounds for new FARC combatants — yet is outdated and far removed from the realities on the ground.

Noted journalist Salúd Hernández, correspondent for Colombia’s El Tiempo and Spain’s El Mundo newspapers, speaks at an Oct. 2 seminar in Bogotá. [Richard McColl]

“The FARC realized very quickly in the 1980s that they had to get their message out there and directed their efforts to an international audience,” said Henry Cancelado, a political scientist at Bogotá’s Universidad Nacional.

“The FARC’s reliance on actual foot-soldier activity is minimal alongside their management of the media and their political marketing — for example, publishing videos on YouTube. They truly believe and know that the more public they make their cause, the better and the further their message will reach.”

Using social media wisely

These days, said Cancelado, Colombia’s Armed Forces are up to speed on Facebook and Twitter, and in creating a counter-narrative to FARC propaganda. “If the FARC lose the support of their followers and active members, it does not matter how much money or how many bullets they possess. They are going to lose.”

Salúd Hernández, a correspondent for Colombia’s El Tiempo and Spain’s El Mundo newspapers, suggested that the practice of using radio stations to call upon guerrillas to demobilize and turn themselves in be ended. She said it was well-known that guerrillas do not listen to those particular radio stations, and that those who do are subsequently punished by their superiors.

Added Cancelado: “We should be affecting and damaging their support networks and image overseas. The struggle must be won with social support and showing up their moral corruption.”

Archer noted that the FARC’s key support “comes from the regions of Colombia that have been subjected to years of guerrilla indoctrination.” And while those ideologies “may be leading the guerrilla group down an antiquated path,” he said that populations living in those regions need to see real change and promises fulfilled in order for the government to win their hearts and minds.

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