Following a peace deal with the state, Colombia’s former FARC guerrillas are in the process of becoming a political party. The Marxists’ propaganda machine is already running at full speed.
The FARC’s challenge is huge. the peace deal gave it two terms of guaranteed political representation. If at the end of 2026 the Colombian people don’t vote for them, they’re gone.
When congressional elections are held in March 2018 and presidential elections just moths later, the guerrillas will be testifying before a Truth Commission, whose sole mission is to tell the Colombian public about the war crimes committed by the FARC, its enemies and its allies.
With 8 million victims, this truth commission and the additional transitional justice court are going to be bad PR for all parties, but the FARC additionally has to counter more than half a century of war propaganda that has been embedded in the public consciousness.
To counter this, the former guerrillas have a three-legged strategy; alternative news outlets, their own rural radio station, and social and mass media strategies that are as good as any other.
Good luck with a 3% approval
The FARC has known since the beginning of the talks it was going to be confronted with a negative public perception, not only because of its disgraceful human rights record.
As soon as talks began, the FARC took to both news and social media to get its political message out while it negotiated the resources it thought necessary to, for example air television commercials.
Additionally, it began producing its own news bulletins on YouTube, but without much success.
Following the peace deal and Congress’ approval of the former guerrillas’ political participation, the FARC has begun its propaganda offensive, which according to influential weekly Semana has been “demagogic as was to be expected, but also pretty good,” unlike the government’s propaganda attempts to get the public behind peace.
If there is consensus about anything in Colombia it would be that the communication of the Juan Manuel Santos administration is no good. This is not necessary to be blamed on the president or his advisers. For a great deal it obeys to the relentless and ruthless opposition of [former president] Alvaro Uribe. Nevertheless, justly or unjustly, fact is that the peace process, which isn’t perfect but pretty good, is not received enthusiastically by Colombians.
The transmission of political parties’ propaganda is compulsory for Colombia’s popular commercial television networks Caracol and RCN. This means that the FARC commercials will shortly be shown to millions of voters.
Until then, the FARC’s “war of words” takes place on social media, ongoing interviews with national news media and the creation of an alternative news network.
FARC catching up fast the social media
To get the public not just behind the peace deal, but also behind their “21st Century Socialism,” the guerrillas have made several ready-for-transmission commercials about social issues like health care and corruption that, apart from the excruciatingly long years of peace talks, have made the president horribly unpopular.
The FARC, politically much more savvy than assumed by some, are trying to bank on in this public discontent with clear anti-establishment propaganda.
Ten days after publication on YouTube, the FARC’s satirical video on corruption had received more than 50,000 views, which doesn’t make it a hit. It does, however, outperform the current forces in power.
The president’s most popular video of since then, his address to the nation over a natural disaster that killed at least 17 in Manizales published a day later received a little more than 1,000 views. The president’s office latest propaganda video to promote the peace process received no more than 166 views at the time of publication.
Even the FARC’s conservative counterpart in populist demagoguery, the hard-right Uribe, is less effective than the FARC on YouTube.
his party’s official video on its anti-government march on April 1 was seen by less than half the number of people who saw the FARC’s satirical view on corruption, the central theme of Uribe’s march.
On Twitter, the hard-left FARC has a long way to go if it wants to have the virtual social impact of either the center-right president or the hard-right former President.
Santos has more than 4.8 million followers on Twitter. Uribe has 4.7 million. The FARC only 91,000.
To catch up with Colombia’s divided political establishment, the FARC multiple leaders have begun tweeting almost as actively as Uribe, generally from the UN-observed transition camps they are kept until at least May 31.
Colombia’s political clans vs. “21st Century Socialism”
Unlike in extensive campaigns like those in the United States, formal campaigning in Colombia generally does not start until a month before elections. However, power play is now a factor.
Because Colombia is a multi-party democracy, no party is likely to solely win both the congressional elections and presidential elections, so pragmatic alliances must be formed. The FARC is becoming a considerable player in this electoral preamble.
Television commercials have previously not been a factor until late In the elections, which is when the established parties and politicians can receive private contributions. Corporations are not likely to financially support a “Bolivarian” campaign.
Ahead of the electoral race taking to the commercial TV networks, the FARC has made significant progress from being public enemy #1 to a becoming a legitimate option for “21st Century Socialism.”
Unfortunately for the FARC, millions of Colombians see how that socialism has out worked in neighboring Venezuela, which is practically on the brink of collapse, a fact the conservative opposition gladly exploits to highlight the “dangers” of “Castrochavism” as they call it.
Then again, Colombia’s economic model, hasn’t been particularly successful either.
Additionally, Uribe and Santos have spent years slinging mud at each other, exposing corruption scandal after another, effectively further discrediting Colombia’s corrupt ruling class that already was barely liked by the ruling class.
The fighting between the two political powerhouses or their leading “cabildos” has effectively helped the former guerrillas’ to become a radical, but reasonable option in the 2018 congressional elections.
According to the latest Gallup Colombia poll, President Juan Manuel’approval rating is at 24%. Colombians’ opinion on Uribe is divided with 49% perceiving him favorably and 46% perceiving him negatively.
The FARC are still widely unpopular, but are catching up surprisingly fast, mainly because no Colombian politician is popular.
While 77% of Colombians rejected the former guerrillas in a February poll, 19% perceived the FARC favorably, considerably higher than the 4% favorability rate they had when talks began.
It is also equal to the seats Uribe’s scandal-ridden party has in Congress, making the former guerrillas a significant power player in the elections held within a year.