Protests in Colombia will be three months old this July 28. Hundreds of groups affiliated with leftist movements or against the government of Iván Duque have come out to protest throughout the country. Although the demonstrations have lost their appeal, it does not seem that they are about to end.
At a recent conference held by the Heritage Foundation along with Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS) Executive Director Joseph Humire and William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies Professor Celina B. Realuyo, they explained the position of the U.S. government in the country. Realuyo, explained Colombia’s geostrategic position in South America and the reasons why the country has traditionally been the crown jewel for totalitarian regimes such as Cuba and Venezuela.
In El American we spoke with Humire, who explained in detail the influence that foreign participants have had on the protests in Colombia and how the country has been the victim of a misinformation campaign that has been successful in other scenarios such as the protests in Chile or the so-called “coup d’état” in Bolivia.
A misinformation campaign in the protests in Colombia
According to SFS, a digital security firm found that during the protests in Colombia there were around 4,233 troll accounts disseminating protest content from Bangladesh, 1,500 from Mexico, 900 in Venezuela and up to 600 from other countries.
Professor Humire explains that “basically, anyone can use social media misinformation campaigns. That’s why you see Bangladesh doing that, because it’s cheap to do it there. So, you can farm troll accounts at very low cost. The techniques to create a troll account are not unique to a particular group.”
The FSS director wonders who might be under these misinformation campaigns. Why the protests in Argentina have not had the same repercussion as the Colombian ones? “Argentina is going through a similar situation to Colombia. There is a social, economic and health crisis, and Alberto Fernández’s popularity is as low as Iván Duque’s, however, the protests in Argentina have not received the same distribution in the media,” explains Humire.
“Russia, China and Iran have become very good at leading misinformation campaigns and these participants could be supporting those who want Colombia destabilized.” But who might be under the misinformation campaign? “Most likely those who would benefit the most from instability in Colombia,” he responds.
“If you take a step back and look for a second at what is happening with Venezuela, the security problem on the border or the assassination attempt on President Duque, you see that there is an organized strategy. The Maduro regime has a particular strategy on how they are going to capture the government in Colombia.”Humire
The Maduro regime has proven ties with cartels such as the FARC and the ELN in Colombia, and even within its borders elements of these organizations take refuge and easily move into Colombian territory to commit crimes. According to Humire, the Maduro regime is destabilizing order in Colombia through these two criminal organizations.
Fake news and protests in Colombia
Within the misinformation campaigns that have taken place in the context of the protests in Colombia, the protagonists have been fake news.
Social media are full of videos showing incomplete, edited information, and even from other countries and protests held in previous years that have been presented as evidence to discredit the security forces.
“There is a reality in the problem and there is a perception, if you know the reality is fine, but what matters is the perception. The challenge for the Duque government is mainly about perception,” says Humire.
As a result of the protests, several countries and international organizations have condemned the Colombian government’s behavior in the demonstrations. For Humire, although there have been cases of abuse of authority that are being investigated, the state is falling victim to a false narrative that feeds on half-truths.
“False narratives are often based on real events. If you can convey a series of facts from this event, you can create a narrative that is the complete opposite of reality. The best lies are made of 90 percent truth,” Humire reflects.
International participants have also contributed to this false narrative, who normally enter the country under the guise of humanitarian missions, however, they are nothing more than political agitators, as was the case of the recent humanitarian mission from Argentina, made up of members of the ruling party in Argentina, who held meetings with the organizers of the National Strike.
According to Humire, these types of actors are known as amplifiers; “external participants who go to a specific country to support a narrative. The government of Argentina was in a campaign in Bolivia selling the narrative that Evo Morales was the victim of a coup d’état. The same in Colombia. They come to Colombia as supposedly neutral participants, but their real purpose is to legitimize a false narrative of their allies in the country.”
The Front Line
One factor that fascinates Humire is the emergence of so-called Frontline movements across Latin America. It has been seen in Chile, Ecuador and Colombia, and in all three countries they share a similar aesthetic — like the Star Wars Rebels symbol — and sell the narrative of young people resisting against an oppressive regime. “It’s like a kind of Antifa in Latin America,” Humire says.
Despite the similarities between the frontlines in different countries, Humire highlights the recursiveness of the Colombian frontline movements, which have shown themselves to be more lasting and resilient than those seen in Ecuador and Chile.
“The difference from what we have seen in Colombia is the level of sustainability, I think they are getting money from drug trafficking. It seems quite credible that the ELN and FARC are involved in financing this,” the researcher commented.
The Maduro Regime and the protests in Colombia
For Humire, the Maduro regime is provoking or capitalizing on the protests in Colombia, and has enough connections in the country to serve as a promoter of the protests.
“The Maduro regime does not have an army to capture Colombia, what they are using are their illicit networks,” Humire comments. “I don’t doubt that Gustavo Petro has sympathies with the regime, but that is the most obvious connection. What you have to look for are the more subtle connections, such as businessmen, journalists or powerful people in Colombia,” he adds.
“At the end of the day it all boils down to the fact that Venezuela has had Colombia in its sights since the time of Hugo Chávez. They are using their illicit networks to weaken institutions and turn people against each other,” Humire explains.
“Whatever happens in next year’s elections, the Maduro regime will continue to work to capture democracy in Colombia. They also have their sights set on Ecuador and Panama, as that is the geographic space in which they want to have influence on, the former Gran Colombia,” Humire concludes.