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TikTok, a new recruiting ground for the Colombian guerrillas

Photo: Raul Arboleda Agence France-Presse A member of the Carlos Patino Front of the dissident FARC guerrilla patrols near coca crops in the Micay Canyon, a mountainous area and EMC stronghold in the Cauca department in southwestern Colombia.

Valentin Diaz – Agence France-Presse in Bogota

2:36 p.m.

  • Americas

“Young, the Jaime Martinez Front is waiting for you! » A green heart accompanies the text also illustrated by the photo of a pair of boots and a plate of rice. It is with messages like these that one of the main guerrillas in Colombia is recruiting today on TikTok.

The Front operates in the Cauca department, in the southwest of the country. It is one of the major fighting structures of the Central Staff (EMC), the main faction of dissidents who rejected the peace agreement signed in 2016 with the Marxist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Since the end of 2023, the EMC, notoriously involved in drug trafficking and other criminal activities, has been in talks with the government of left-wing President Gustavo Petro. At the same time, he is leading an intense seduction campaign aimed at young people on social networks, TikTok in particular.

If certain profiles retain an institutional aspect, the codes have clearly evolved with influencers in uniform in the middle of coca fields, praising their life of adventure and easy money, to Latin music and activist songs .

Messages that resonate in a country that has gone through more than half a century of armed conflict and where poverty affects 46% of the rural population, according to official figures for 2022.

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“Private response”

AFP found on TikTok, and to a lesser extent on Facebook, dozens of accounts, hundreds of publications and several propaganda communities of this armed group, which reportedly has some 3,500 fighters and is financed mainly through drug trafficking, according to Colombian military intelligence.

“I want to get involved,” comments a young woman in a video against the backdrop of a Mexican corrido (ballad). “Reply privately,” replies the TikTok user identified as “. revolucionario_”.

The same profile displays over a dozen similar exchanges. “I did my military service […] and now I would like to pick up a rifle again,” writes an Internet user at the bottom of a post where we see men in uniform training in a foggy forest.< /p>

The country's guerrillas and drug traffickers have recruited 110 minors in 2023, and 23 since the start of the year, according to the ombudsman's office.

For young rural people, dissidents represent a certain financial stability, and also a way “to escape domestic violence”, a scourge in the countryside, explains to AFP Alejandro Jaramillo, researcher at New York University. “The narrative has always been that the guerrillas are going to become your family,” he adds.

The use of emojis by profiles with thousands of subscribers also reveals a common language. The illustration of a green leaf thus refers to coca crops, according to experts, in the country that produces the most cocaine in the world.

Similarly, emojis of Colombian flags, colorful hearts and the covered face of a ninja, “symbol of clandestinity” according to Mr. Jaramillo, are recurrent in these publications.

Jewelry, women, money…

Unlike the FARC's old communist propaganda, EMC's TikTok videos have “a much more refined aesthetic approach” and are aimed at a young audience, explains Clément Roux, researcher at the Center for Media Analysis (CARISM) of the Paris-Panthéon-Assas University.

According to the researcher, the EMC narrative presents “breaks and continuities” with the former “culture” of the FARC. References to historical commanders and “a glorification of the guerrilla way of life” are some of the similarities, he says, noting that today “every fighter has a cell phone” with which he can produce content.

For researcher Juana Cabezas, of the Indepaz Foundation, dissidents “seduce” young people with a “material discourse of jewelry, money, women, cars”, supported by the economy of coca which “guarantees a fixed income”.

Thus, the narco aesthetic worn by Pablo Escobar, the late Colombian drug lord, mixes with messages of rebellion, with the idea of ​​a singular means of social ascension, but also of social revenge in one of the most unequal countries in Latin America.

Propaganda on social media serves as a “recruitment tool,” but also promotes “internal cohesion” within the guerrillas, notes Mr. Roux. It gives those deployed on “geographically separated fronts the feeling of being part of a larger organization.”

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116