REACH OUT AND _______ SOMEONE

reach out and

 

The biggest division between the feeling-tone of my worldview and that of quite a few (laugh) is the casual presumption, among the Normed Populace, that nobody, in US Gov or Corp Gov or anywhere else, could possibly be bothered to put “that much insane fucking thought and energy” into fucking with us, or fucking us up or otherwise making us do A or Z or covertly doing A or Z to us.

Read this long excerpt (about 75% of the original text, in fact: below) of an article detailing how the Colombian Gov, proxying for US Gov, obviously, though the explicit relation is softened with linguistic buffers, in the article (“Whereas military strategists in the United States were theorizing about how to reposition the US military’s brand in the mid-2000s, the Colombian military was doing it.” Yeah),  uses  “normal world” marketing techniques to “demobilize” anti-Gov Rebels. Eye-opening.

Please note: the people most vulnerable to this kind of coercion/ seduction/ flipping are precisely the kind unlikely to be found on the Righter side of the ideological divide… i.e.: it is the very Humanity of the Left that makes it vulnerable to the tricks of the Right. Conversely, the Right has access to the frightening resource of the very types least vulnerable to this sort of psychological weapon, which is the single most psycho-socially damning structural reality of the Homo Sap Inheritance: the worst people are the hardest to reach, flip or in any substantive way alter.

The question “What is to be done?” can only, in the end, have a Pharmacogenomic answer. And as long as Big Pharma belongs to Them…?  Tricky.

 

PS: Read the text below and ask yourself to what extent FARC is already deeply penetrated by US Gov (which prefers to run both sides of the debate, as any Corp Gov prefers to fund both candidates in a Prez campaign)  proxies.

(I may be forced to remove the article at some point)

 

 

This article considers the convergence of militarism and marketing in Colombia and argues that the axis of that confluence is the drive to appropriate intimacy, a fleeting index of love. I scrutinize this phenomenon in the context of the Colombian military’s individual demobilization program, which, prior to the peace accord of 2016, worked with the advertising firm that managed consumer brands such as Mazda and Red Bull. The double meaning of “campaigns” and “targets,” in the parlance of both generals and executives, was not haphazard but, rather, was doubly focusing on an effort to lure FARC guerrillas out of the insurgency and transform them into consumer citizens. I analyze how both consumer marketers and military intelligence officers went about their targeted persuasion, each creeping into increasingly personal realms. Situating my research in the broader context of the Global War on Terror and the rise of the global middle classes, I suggest that the fusion of militarism and marketing in Colombia is a harbinger of an affective mode of governance in the early twenty-first century that blurs military and civilian spheres as well as the temporal distinction between times of peace from times of war.

 

“You are my child.” This profoundly intimate affirmation is the tagline for a sophisticated set of public relations/psychological warfare campaigns against Marxist insurgencies that the Colombian government outsourced to a leading consumer marketing agency between 2007 and 2015.1 The You Are My Child campaign of 2013 targeted individuals fighting in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Army of National Liberation (ELN), imploring them to abandon the armed struggle and return to their families. It was the fourth in a series of five Christmas campaigns that exploited the holiday’s symbolism and its cultural emphasis on family togetherness. The annual Christmas campaigns (2010–2014) were a joint venture between the Program for Humanitarian Attention to the Demobilized (PAHD), an agency in the Colombian Ministry of Defense that is charged with the disarmament and demobilization of guerrilla fighters, and Lowe/SSP3, a consumer marketing firm. The slash in the name signals a conjunction of Lowe & Partners, a London-based transnational advertising conglomerate, and SSP3, shorthand for the Colombian partners in the local marketing firm.2 Lowe/SSP3 has managed brands including Mazda, Red Bull, and SABMiller in Colombia. Together they peddle images of the good life of consumer citizenship to guerrillas tired of the rigors of rebel life or demoralized in the insurgency.3

Elsewhere I analyze the curious collaboration between the PAHD and Lowe/SSP3, the campaigns it has spawned, and the marketization of counterinsurgency of which those campaigns are emblematic (Fattal 2018). In my ethnographic research on the 2011 Christmas campaign Operation Rivers of Light, I show how these large-scale publicity operations seek to rebrand the military as a humanitarian actor and buttress the legitimacy of the armed forces (Fattal 2018, chap. 2). Those processes are part of a wider nation-branding effort in which the government has sought to transform imaginaries of Colombia from a country wracked by drugs, guerrillas, and paramilitaries into a postconflict society primed to receive tourists and foreign investment.4

The historic passage of a peace accord with the FARC in November of 2016 is the capstone of the Colombian state’s long-running performance of “postconflict” status. The peace agreement formally ended the government’s war with the FARC, although its implementation has been hobbled by bureaucratic bungling and a lack of political will.5 The far-right victory of Iván Duque in the 2018 presidential election is likely to prune back the peace accord to its barest form.6 Paradoxically, the performance of postconflict status began 12 years before the accord was signed, during one of the war’s most intense periods, in the early 2000s, when the government created a series of bureaucracies to compensate victims; passed transitional justice laws that established truth-telling forums for perpetrators; and implemented policies to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate combatants.7 At the same time that the state created new agencies to administer postconflict policies in the middle of a war, it contracted a series of experts in media manipulation to naturalize that contradiction and craft a narrative of a nation incrementally surmounting its ills. For example, McCann Erickson, the iconic Madison Avenue advertising firm, and John Rendon, the Pentagon contractor-cum-guru of “information warfare,” both began advising the Colombian Ministry of Defense on its communication strategy at the turn of the millennium.8

Lowe/SSP3’s demobilization campaigns played an important role in this renarration of the nation. The affective onslaught of the corporatized propaganda set its sights on categories as diffuse as the “national mood” (a term that reappears throughout the firm’s internal documents), the cultural atmosphere, and international imaginaries of Colombia.9 By giving primacy to the “structures of feeling” surrounding the military and the nation (Williams 1977), the men and women at Lowe/SSP3 who produce these campaigns treat individual guerrillas, the formal addressees of their campaigns, as straw figures in a twenty-first-century morality play. In the process, they reduce a historically dense and dizzyingly complex conflict to a tale of good guys and bad guys—short-circuiting an honest reckoning with the past.

The guerrillas have their own Manichaean narrative of righteous and evil actors, one that justifies their decision to take up arms in the early 1960s and persist in their armed struggle. The through lines of the FARC’s side of the story are structural and historical challenges: the need for land redistribution, elite indifference to the peasantry, political exclusion, and state repression. Despite the group’s inability to dedicate significant resources to its propaganda machine—due to the fact that the Colombian military kept it on the defensive since the early 2000s—the FARC never lost site of the importance of trying to promulgate a counterhegemonic narrative. During periods of negotiation (1983–1986, 1999–2002, 2012–2016), the government would cede to the FARC minimal political space, allowing the group’s leadership the opportunity to strategize together. During negotiations, the FARC would seek to take advantage of its access to microphones and the possibility of a political platform. During times of war it produced insurgent media: radio programs, basic web pages, prorevolutionary music, and short-form printed materials like pamphlets. Its own propaganda tended either to target local audiences where its fronts were active or broadcast via internet from exile (mostly in northern Europe and elsewhere in Latin America, where some of its militants had settled). Through websites often incorporated in Scandinavia, FARC sympathizers tried to circumvent the soft censorship of a corporate media oligopoly in Colombia.10 The guerrillas continually cast themselves as righteous Robin Hood–esque figures, even as their standards for recruitment and kidnapping fell in the 1990s and 2000s. As a result, the guerrilla movement swept more and more people into its often deadly web—as either new recruits (sometimes against their will) or hostages. The guerrillas’ narrative of themselves as a moralistic redistributive avenger also contrasted with the reality that their operations had grown increasingly enmeshed with the drug trade and illegal mining.

Reductionist, justificatory logic—apparent on all sides of Colombia’s war—is nothing new in the history of propaganda; rather, it is probably the practice’s defining feature. What is new is the degree to which the Lowe/SSP3-PAHD alliance sought to hitchhike on intimacy and love, an intensification that is entangled with an invasive trend in consumer marketing in the digital age. What at first appears as a novel confluence is but the latest knot in the two tangled threads of marketing and militarism. I take as given the idea, demonstrated by historical accounts of the coevolution of marketing and warfare in the twentieth century, that marketization and militarization are deeply interpenetrated (Ewen 1996). Psychological operations and propaganda each have their own histories that predated the creation of consumer marketing. What is emergent in the contemporary assemblage of persuasion and coercion is the premium on co-opting affective attachments in ways that scale down to the individual. Whether microtargeting to the points of psychologically profiling individual consumers or delineating miniaturized kill zones around a suspected terrorist, marketing’s and militarism’s respective drives to create profit or military advantage require ever more personal data. This drive to achieve an information advantage often entails unscrupulous methods with hidden and disturbing consequences.11 What I will suggest in the following pages is that the radical convergence of militarism and marketing in the early twenty-first century shapes an affective mode of governance that is already evident in Colombia and is emergent in other parts of the world.12 The partnership between Lowe/SSP3 and the PAHD in Colombia is a symptomatic response to the crosscurrents of two global affective trends in the early twenty-first century: simmering fears of an everywhere war and rising aspirations of the global middle classes.13 I will argue that intimacy lies at the crux of the forces of fusion pushing marketing and militarism into ever-closer collaboration.

The photograph of soldiers in formation holding posters from the You Are My Child campaign is instructive (fig. 1). Employing the ventriloquism that is central to their trade, the marketers created a disembodied voice—that of a guerrilla fighter’s mother who calls to her son or daughter to abandon the insurgency and return home for the Christmas holidays. The mothers sometimes appear in the photographs that are the essential element of the campaign. These are personal photographs, the kind that parents store in shoeboxes and tape into family albums. One picture features a puffy-cheeked toddler primly dressed in white. A second picture, of a boy posing in pants 2 years too big, is washed out in a sepia tone. In a third photo, grainy and poorly focused, a mother holds an excitable infant in her arms. From the mother’s gaze, it seems like she is collaborating to produce a memory with the photographer (the baby’s father?). The campaign’s full slogan—Before Being a Guerrilla/You Are My Child—is printed in block letters atop the images of guerrillas as children, often toddlers. The posters, elegant in their simplicity, served as the visual peg for a campaign that flooded Colombia’s television and radio airwaves. Lowe/SSP3 staged this photograph’s scene of soldiers pinching their fingers on command for a 2-minute video that it would use to publicize its campaign.14

figure

Figure 1. Soldiers hold posters from the Before Being a Guerrilla/You Are My Child campaign. Image courtesy of Ministry of National Defense (Colombia).

Although images and sounds from You Are My Child are worthy of an article-length semiotic analysis, much of what is at stake in such soldiery scenes can be examined through the lens of the biblical parable of the return of the prodigal son (Cárdenas Sarrias 2005:62–69; Hoyos García 2011:80–83). Colombian anthropologist Juan Felipe Hoyos García writes, “The moral of the story is not only that the demobilized is a lost son who is accepted upon his return, but that his return reinforces the paternal relationship between the State and its subject” (Hoyos García 2011:82). The dozens of campaigns produced by Lowe/SSP3 for the PAHD bear out Hoyos García’s analysis, but none so blatantly as You Are My Child. The campaign interpolates guerrillas as state subjects while also reactivating the gendered bonds of kinship. These are bonds that the FARC and ELN attempt to displace with the ties of camaraderie. (One former member of the FARC recalled his commander explaining to him and other new recruits that they needed to prepare themselves psychologically to kill members of their own families if their kin should betray the rebel movement.)

The soldiers in the photograph stand in for fathers presumed to be missing, metonymically casting the military into a relationship of proxy intimacy with mothers from the working classes from which the vast majority of guerrillas are recruited.15 The corporatized propaganda’s appeal to demobilize is a call to return to the domestic space of a mother’s love, while also resubjecting oneself to the dominion of the father figure of the militarized state. The mise en scène taps into a long-standing gendered allegory of parents’ unconditional love for their children, silently suffering mothers, and disciplinary but ultimately forgiving fathers.

The paternal state, however, is always eager to shore up its tenuous authority. Reading another image from You Are My Child against the grain, we see the military gluing the campaign’s posters to a humble brick exterior in an impoverished neighborhood of the southern city of San Vicente de Caguán, where the FARC maintained an active presence (fig. 2). By papering over this façade with the posters, the government is figuratively hiding the fissures opened by the territorial competition between guerrillas, drug lords, paramilitaries, and the Colombian government (backed by US military support). The intervention of the PAHD-Lowe/SSP3 partnership is emblematic of a much longer process by which the military gradually expands into outlaw zones in a bid to project, if not consolidate, its authority in a sovereign field that historians of Colombia have described as severely fragmented (Bushnell 1993; Safford and Palacios 2002).16

figure

Figure 2. A soldier pastes photos for the Before Being a Guerrilla/You Are My Child campaign in Comuna 7 of San Vicente de Caguán in southern Colombia. Screenshot from “You Are My Son” by MullenLowe Group: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYrofD8|1-k.

The way in which the military coordinated its marketized propaganda with its broader military strategy is noteworthy. The PAHD, Lowe/SSP3, and regional intelligence services throughout the country have triangulated to target specific fronts and individual combatants from the middle and upper rungs of the guerrilla hierarchy. These ranking insurgents can provide insights about their superiors; identify stashes of weapons, drugs, and money; and cut into the guerrillas’ greatest advantage: knowledge of the terrain. Over the 9 years that I have researched the PAHD, from 2007 to 2016, I have watched its communications and strategic area unit, which is dedicated to targeting FARC and ELN leaders, work together in ever-closer coordination.

In what follows, I look beneath the PAHD’s mass-media campaigns to take seriously its announced targets, individual insurgents, and how the military tracks them down. By juxtaposing the public and clandestine sides of the PAHD, I am suggesting that the linguistic overlap of “campaigns” and “targets” in military and marketing parlance is not coincidental. The double meanings reveal a singular assemblage sharing an epistemological framework that seeks to manage structures of visibility and invisibility to maximum advantage. I will zoom in on the process of targeting, interpreting it as a switch that connects the counterinsurgency state and the marketing nation in Colombia. The instrumentalization of love is the ultimate target. Both sets of experts—generals and executives—have come to valorize and appropriate, by any means possible, intimacy, a fleeting index of love.17 To see how the targeting of intimacy works in the Colombian context requires first parsing a key term, “individual demobilization,” which in comparative perspective is not demobilization at all but, rather, desertion with benefits.

 

Within the whack-a-mole logic of counterinsurgency in the early twenty-first century, militaries seek to debilitate terrorist networks, guerrilla insurgencies, and criminal syndicates by killing or capturing individuals who play key roles in an organizational structure. The Colombian military has adopted and adapted its US patron’s policy of tracking down leaders—nodes in an enemy network—by all means possible. Between 2008 and August of 2016, when a bilateral cease-fire went into effect, the Colombian armed forces killed four members of the FARC’s secretariat, a seven-member body composed of the group’s top leaders.18 (Previously, the military had not killed a single secretariat member.) Deserters—framed by the state as individuals who have “demobilized”—provide crucial human intelligence in the hunt for guerrilla leaders and in the counterinsurgency more broadly.

In creating the PAHD in 2003, the Colombian government floated the signification of the word “demobilization” in marketing’s world of noncorrespondences and then ingrained its new meaning through the repetitive language practices of bureaucracy. The policy innovation was a shift away from the United Nations’ perspective, which sees a peace agreement as a necessary precondition for any demobilization process (United Nations 2006). That was still the norm at the end of the Cold War in contexts such as Central America, where demobilization processes helped steer a transitional period after a peace agreement. When the PAHD began, however, it attempted to fill the vacuum created by a failed negotiation between the FARC and the government (1999–2002).19 In making this move, Colombia transformed demobilization from a mechanism for implementing a peace agreement into a means of debilitating the guerrilla threat. Demobilization became a means to peace by military pacification rather than a by-product of peace forged through political accommodation. Although my perspective on this instrumentalist redefinition of demobilization is critical, highlighting its hidden consequences on the social fabric and on the ability to delineate times of peace from times of war, I readily acknowledge its efficacy in terms of short-term security.

In 2014 I interviewed Sergio Jaramillo, who served at various times as Colombia’s national security adviser and high commissioner for peace (at times playing both roles simultaneously) during most of the administration of Juan Manuel Santos (2010–2018). We spoke in Cambridge, Massachusetts, over lunch after he lectured at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He described the impact of the individual demobilization program: “Mono Jojoy [a notorious FARC commander] was much more worried about demobilization than kills in combat. If you kill somebody in an operation, you make people angry. If you demobilize someone, you leave a huge question mark. Where did they go? Why did they leave? Why are they there, and why am I here?” Jaramillo went on: “This program opened up the FARC. It allowed us to understand how the organization thinks—its commanders.” He described himself as “an addict” of the interviews that state agents conduct with former rebels. The entire Colombian security apparatus has become addicted to the information that former guerrillas provide. Feeding that addiction has meant that military officers surveil, dialogue with, and intervene in the lives of family members of guerrilla fighters.

The emphasis on family in the PAHD’s corporatized propaganda, evident in the You Are My Child campaign, has an incognito correspondence in the secretive world of military intelligence that underlies the PAHD. While mass publicity operations focus on the ties that bind, the military persuades individual guerrilla fighters by working through their most intimate relationships. Military intelligence units sell demobilization to individual guerrilla fighters with customized pitches that draw on troves of technical and human intelligence that lead them to the guerrilla’s family member or lover (active or former). This in turn invites “blowback,” which, as Joseph Masco has noted, is a response to a previous, classified action and a dynamic that leaves the wider public unaware of the retaliatory logic at work (Masco 2010:450–451). In the Colombian conflict, unlike in the Global War on Terror that Masco researches, the covert war is not concentrated abroad but, rather, is an all-too-domestic affair—a situation that has further militarized social relations.20

Colombia’s targeted take on demobilization policy mirrors the high-tech hunt of drone warfare, with similar consequences. In his book Drone: Remote Control Warfare, Hugh Gusterson compellingly argues that drones have eviscerated the boundary between the battlefield and civilian space. Gusterson’s students, for example, felt that it would be legitimate for Taliban fighters to come to the United States and kill a drone operator as he drove to work (Gusterson 2016: loc. 925). Other commentators have noted how drone pilots must adjust to scenarios where worlds—military and civilian, combat and domestic—fold in on each other. Drones are but one piece of a wider story about late modern warfare’s growing resemblance to premodern warfare in its erasure of the military-civilian distinction.21 That erasure can be separated into two principal strands: the conflation of military operations and humanitarian interventions, and the bleeding, literally and figuratively, of conflict and post-conflict moments into each other.22 Colombia’s individual demobilization program sits at the muddled crossroads of these disintegrating categories, making it an opportune case through which to refract the more generalized logic of indistinction at play in cultures of militarism in the early twenty-first century.

The 2016 peace agreement, which the government is fitfully implementing at the time of this writing (mid-2018), is an effort to revert to the status quo ante, the time before 2003 when demobilization came after a cessation of hostilities and involved a group’s military structures, as opposed to individual combatants. But the government’s opportunistic resignification of demobilization between 2003 and 2016 cannot be undone so easily, for it entailed mobilizing massive amounts of symbolic capital. To displace the then-dominant notion of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) policy, the Colombian agencies charged with administering DDR programs hosted elaborate conferences in Caribbean destination cities. In 2009 the government organized the International Conference of Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration in Cartagena and in 2013 the First Global Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) Summit in Santa Marta. These megaproductions featured delegates from dozens of countries and subtly peddled the terminological confusion between demobilization and desertion with benefits (legal forgiveness and limited welfare).23 Afghanistan and Somalia, US client states, have since embraced the Colombian model, and even some members of the United Nations technocracy have backtracked from a sharp division between desertion and demobilization.24

What is at stake—life itself—is entangled with the semantics. Where the government sees demobilized combatants, the FARC sees deserters. Any accurate accounting of lives saved versus lives lost because of the individual demobilization program is impossible. PAHD officials like to claim that each demobilization of a guerrilla fighter saves three lives: the person who demobilizes, the soldier he might have killed, and the civilian who could die during their confrontation. While such a scenario is plausible, and the program has indeed saved some lives, the government’s framing forecloses the consideration of other all-too-common scenarios: rebels motivated to flee who get caught and killed, reprisals exacted on family members of the demobilized, and FARC commanders falsely accusing their militants of espionage in fits of paranoia. Although the policy has helped the military achieve its goals, and in some areas improved security, it has come at a high cost to the social fabric of local communities already torn by the constitutive ambiguity of guerrilla warfare: who is a civilian, and who is a member of an armed group. (This confusion is often mediated by proximity to a militant or informant of one of the armed actors in a given area, and kinship is often taken to be synonymous with proximity.) Individual demobilization, as a policy, nudges former combatants and their families into the invisible front lines of Colombia’s guerrilla war.

 

Let us consider the case of Pablo and his sister.

I met Nicolás in 2007 when he directed the PAHD’s strategic area team, which is dedicated to demobilizing senior commanders. In 2011, when I returned to Colombia to conduct long-term fieldwork, Nicolás had ascended to the rank of lieutenant colonel and was directing a Regional Military Intelligence unit, or RIME, in the army. Although a secretary tried to act as his gatekeeper, subordinates poured through his door with problems to solve, documents to sign, and breaking intelligence to appraise.25 Nicolás reminded me that in the years when he led the PAHD’s strategic area unit, 2007 and 2008, it demobilized more guerrillas than in any year before or since (ACR 2011). Militarized persuasion was still very much his business, and, as I would learn, his strategy still centered on the exploitation of guerrilla fighters’ emotional bonds.

I arrived unaware of my good timing. Two weeks earlier, Nicolás’s RIME had demobilized Pablo, the third in command of the FARC’s Twelfth Front.26 Nicolás instructed José, a young intelligence officer, to talk me through the PowerPoint presentation about Operation Genuine. José opened a laptop, clicked on the file, and 50 thumbnails populated the left side of the screen. “We learned they were going to have a meeting of all of the front commanders from the bloc,” José said. The bloc in question is the Martín Caballero Bloc, which operated in Colombia’s northeastern Caribbean region. Militarily, it was the weakest of the FARC’s seven regional blocs, though arguably its most strategic, since it contained a disproportionate number of the FARC’s top ideologues, propagandists, and spokespeople. Those big fish—or, in military lingo, OMAVEs (the Spanish acronym for Military Targets of High Strategic Value)—camped on the Venezuelan side of the border. The RIME learned the benchmarks that the bloc commander had set for each front commander: how many ambushes, how many acts of sabotage, and how much extortion.

Blocs cover vast territories, which means that fronts are the most salient units of command. Three commanders and three replacements compose a front’s leadership. The front leaders within the Martín Caballero Bloc are mostly aging veterans. Of the few young, charismatic front leaders, Pablo stood out. According to the file that the military kept on him, Pablo is purported to have led FARC units that ambushed an army patrol, blew up railroad tracks and gas pipelines, erected roadblocks, and kidnapped people for ransom. Like much of the Martín Caballero Bloc, Pablo retreated toward Venezuela in 2003 when the military intensified its offensive in the region.27

Nicolás and his team set out to demobilize Pablo. His desertion would deprive the bloc of an emerging leader, demoralize his subordinates, yield intelligence on the bloc’s leadership, and, perhaps, help demobilize or kill an OMAVE. The RIME first had to determine who would be the best messenger. Two undercover spies concurred that Pablo’s sister was the family member closest to Pablo. Nicolás and his team reasoned that she had direct access to Pablo and that he trusted her.

They gave Pablo’s sister the code name “Abraham” and began an in-depth study of her life. Posing as market researchers for a cable television company, intelligence agents collected gossip from Abraham’s neighbors. Curious about this method, I prodded José for more details. The most common ruse, he said, was to pose as market researchers for cell phone carriers and begin with questions such as, “Which promotion do you like more, 10 free minutes, or call for less than 5 minutes as much as you like?” and then shift the conversation. “How do you get people talking?” I asked. “They’re very chatty,” José said, before explaining that the undercover agents offer “prizes” as a way to keep people talking.

José clicked on the next slide in the PowerPoint:

  • Findings
  • • Has debts
  • • Almost lost her job, which pays poorly
  • • Works 10 hours per day, 6 days a week
  • • Is easily persuaded by small gifts
  • • Her mother is very ill
  • • Abandoned her studies in 9th grade

A slide describing her strengths and the liabilities of contacting her listed the following:

  • Strengths
  • • Suspicious of strangers
  • • Was part of the FARC
  • • Comes from a FARC family
  • • Has a good memory
  • Liabilities
  • • In contact with the Martín Caballero Bloc
  • • From a neighborhood with subversive elements
  • • Unstable personality
  • • Undefined politics

Nicolás’s military intelligence unit decided to emphasize her opportunity to make extra money to pay her debts and help support her mother. To “win her affection and willingness to work,” as one subtitle in the PowerPoint read, they sent an agent to seduce her, or, in the literal translation of the Colombian Spanish, “to conquer her” (conquistarla). When I asked José if the agent and Abraham had slept together, he nearly spit out the ice pop he was sucking on. In a mixture of surprise and embarrassment he said, “I don’t know. What’s important is the work.” After a pause he answered obliquely, “In some cases they stay together.” The timeworn tactic of seduction remains a common tactic.

Throughout 2011, the Twelfth Front lagged in reaching its goals. By October, technical intelligence suggested that Pablo was preparing to lead a commission of insurgents into Colombia. In early December of 2011, the agent that Nicolás had sent to take Abraham dancing and “win her affection” invited her to lunch. It was “the most important moment of the operation,” according to José. “If his voice quivers, everything is lost.” The agent slid a folder across the table and said, “Open it.” Inside were photos: Abraham at work, her son, Pablo. She initially denied staying in touch with Pablo but later confessed that they communicated regularly. Visibly distressed, she asked, “Are you going to kill him?” José paraphrased the agent’s response: “No, we want him here like you, free.”

Abraham agreed to help the RIME demobilize her brother. She would travel to her brother’s camp when he was in Colombia. Christmas festivities provided a stellar opportunity. She carried whiskey, meat, and other gifts. Unbeknownst to her, the military hid a tracking device among the presents. On December 24, she hiked into the temporary camp where Pablo and his group of 15 rebels were celebrating Christmas. In a private moment, she appealed to her brother to demobilize and gave him a phone number to call. The next day, December 25, Abraham left the camp and called the intelligence agent who had seduced her to report the encounter.

The military, however, is a Hydra, and tactical intelligence teams working for high mountain anti-guerrilla battalions had simultaneously located Pablo’s commission. That news fed back to the general commanding the army’s First Division, who convened a meeting in which he decided to bomb Pablo’s commission on December 25. Nicolás claimed that he had opposed the general’s decision to bomb, hoping Pablo would demobilize and possibly bring his 15 subordinates with him.

The bombardment killed a female rebel in Pablo’s commission. The rest of the commission scattered and trekked back to Venezuela in small groups.

On December 26, Abraham called the intelligence agent. Furious, she screamed into the phone, “You tricked me! You made me kill my brother!”

At nearly the same time, Pablo called the number his sister had given him. He wanted to turn himself in.

In a video that is the climax of the PowerPoint, Pablo, illuminated only by the night-vision mode of the video camera, stumbles down the mountainside, whimpering in emotional overload.

Hoping to find other members of Pablo’s commission, José and other officers returned to the site of the bombardment with Pablo and a megaphone. Only chirping birds responded to their call. Then an officer in the RIME began to dial the cell phone numbers of members of Pablo’s front. José recreated the conversation for me:
Officer:

I’m going to pass you to a friend of yours.

Pablo:

What’s going on, compañero?

Rebel X:

What? I thought the military killed you!

Pablo:

No, I’m here doing well. You should come too.

 

Two members of Pablo’s commission demobilized the following week.

The PowerPoint ends with a video of Pablo eating lunch with his mother and other family members. Knowing the backstory does not make the scenes of Pablo’s mother beaming with joy as she embraces him any less heartwarming. Pablo joined the FARC at the age of 15 and deserted at 36. Nicolás said, “Look at that, his mother’s love. He was her lost son.” The paternal father figure of the state had dragged this prodigal son, lost to outlaw worlds, back to his mother’s arms.

When I met Pablo in the RIME’s air-conditioned library, he wore charcoal-colored jeans, a striped shirt, and large bee-eyed sunglasses. After explaining my research, I asked if he would grant me an interview. He asked a few questions, a quick cross-examination to ensure I was not affiliated with the guerrillas, and removed his sunglasses—a sign that I could proceed. He described the attack stoically: “They assaulted, shooting and bombarding. A girl was killed, and I was alone.” In the moment that Pablo turned himself in, he had visions of his own death at the hands of the military. What happened, however, was something else entirely. “They took me to the mall, the beach, things I never saw before,” Pablo said. “Imagine, I never saw the ocean, and they were saying, ‘Go in.’” At the age of 36, having lived in the Caribbean region his entire life, Pablo waded into the ocean and submerged himself in its salty water for the first time. With amazement in his voice, he said, “They asked me how I was feeling.”

The RIME set out to seduce Pablo, if more figuratively than it had seduced his sister. It paid for a hearty sancocho soup for his entire family, let him climb into a helicopter, and gave him a turkey on December 31. Nicolás acknowledged that his colleagues’ treatment of the demobilized is not always so kind. He contorted his face in mock anger and said, “Come here, you son of a bitch, give me the information,” to illustrate his point. For Nicolás, the key to the process is spoiling deserters from the moment of first contact and, in a Machiavellian sense, caring for the demobilized in a way that exposes them to the pleasures of consumption. Nicolás boasted that the operation to demobilize Pablo had been “so effective that he still helps us, still advises us.”

While working at PAHD headquarters in 2007 and 2008, Nicolás learned the power of the gift, even if only a cell phone minute or a cigarette. The seductiveness of gifts and the exploitation of emotional bonds between guerrillas and their families are two of three axes of Nicolás’s demobilization strategy. The third is the crass persuasion of cash. Ministerial decree 22 of 2011 is an 18-page price list of what is to be paid to ex-combatants for collaborating with the government. A .50- caliber machine gun is rewarded with US$5,550; a dozen camouflaged pants, US$14; helping to demobilize a front leader, US$27,500. It did not surprise me when José said that the war college in Bogotá uses Operation Genuine as a case study. The operation combined age-old tactics of seduction with high-end GPS tracking devices and a well-calculated mix of threats, gifts, and cash.

Seven months after Pablo staggered down the mountainside to turn himself in, Brigadier General Jorge Eliecer Suárez Ortiz, who commanded the First Division, called a press conference to boast of the 40 demobilizations in his region that year: 29 from the FARC and 11 from the ELN. At the press conference, the military arrayed ex-combatants behind its senior leaders like human trophies (Iguarán 2012). Dressed in white shirts featuring the PAHD logo, the former guerrillas sat with their chins tucked to their chests and baseball caps pulled down over their eyes (fig. 3). The formation refashioned scenes of captured criminals, confiscated weaponry, and seized drugs marshaled for the cameras, a recursive trope (and arguably an organizing principle) of television news.

figure

Figure 3. Demobilized guerrillas from FARC and ELN units in the Caribbean region arrayed before the cameras at a 2012 press conference. Image courtesy of Ministry of National Defense (Colombia).

With the gaze of the demobilized guerrillas averted, the PAHD logo—a red heart clasping a white flag—is what pops out of the frame. The red heart evokes love and the white flag peace. Written across the white T-shirts is the PAHD’s slogan, “There’s another life, demobilization is the way out,” which highlights the individual volition of former combatants to abandon the insurgency. The question of will implicit in the slogan raises a series of provocative questions. To what extent have these prodigal sons returned to their families and to the state willingly, and to what extent have they been dragged back? What is the relationship between this image of former guerrillas arrayed like captured criminals and the photograph in which soldiers hold posters featuring childhood photographs of guerrilla fighters stamped with the slogan You Are My Child? And, crucially, what does it mean to instrumentalize love to dismember the guerrilla movement from within?

 

As Pablo’s case shows, the ostensibly separate realms of demobilization (persuasion) and combat (coercion) are so thoroughly intertwined that they cannot be disentangled. In Operation Genuine we see how the military exploits intimacy, particularly the bond between Pablo and his sister, to game a matrix of allegiance, paranoia, emotional bonds, and seduction to precipitate the desired betrayal. Love, in this instance, is opportunistic and seeks to subvert Che Guevara’s famous claim that love of one’s fellow citizens is the spirit of revolutionary praxis.28 In Colombia, the state’s counterrevolutionary project has operationalized love by constantly poking holes in the guerrilla’s morale by fanning the embers of family ties left smoldering beneath the FARC’s efforts to supplant kin relations with camaraderie. Operation Genuine hinged on Pablo’s sister’s love for her brother and her intimacy with a covert agent. Though such sentimental exploitation is nothing new in the history of warfare, what is interesting is how this move tracks with Lowe/SSP3’s You Are My Child campaign. What I want to explore is the convergence between these two respective militarizations of love.

In 2012 I spoke with Juan Pablo, a young, sophisticated account manager who handles Lowe/SSP3’s business with the PAHD. He understood the importance of military pressure in the demobilization process through the theory of the “hierarchy of needs” developed by Abraham Maslow, a mid-twentieth-century American psychologist. Maslow’s tiered system, extraordinarily influential in consumer marketing, establishes a pyramid of human needs that, when fulfilled, enable what Maslow called “self-actualization” (1943). The hierarchy goes from the basic physiological needs of eating, sleeping, and breathing, at the bottom, to creativity, morality, and problem solving at the top.29 Juan Pablo explained the division of labor between soldiers and marketers. The military’s job was to attack the base of the pyramid. “When a helicopter is bombing every 3 days, your survival is in question. You don’t have food, it’s always wet, you can’t sleep, you’re sick.” The marketers saw their job as intervening on the third level of Maslow’s pyramid, “love and belonging.” “After we sufficiently attacked the base of the pyramid,” Juan Pablo said, “we jumped and attacked the third level.” Juan Pablo continued, noting that their Christmas campaigns were “done with an utterly emotional tone. It was a way of attacking the heart [of guerrilla fighters].”

This dual appropriation of intimacy in Colombian counterinsurgency correlates closely with a structural transformation in advanced capitalism, in which the creation of surplus value is tied to the production and exploitation of consumers’ affective investments in commodities. Here, too, love is the target. Kevin Roberts, the CEO of the advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi, writes, “Lovemarks … represent the next step in the evolution of brands. Lovemarks are brands that are not simply respected and trusted, but loved” (Roberts 2004:74). Anthropologist Robert Foster writes that lovemarks “signal an emotional connection and attachment to a brand that goes beyond reason—and for which a premium price can be charged” (Foster 2007:708). As anthropologists of consumer culture William Mazzarella (2003, 2010), Robert Foster (2013), Kalman Applbaum (2003), and Constantine Nakassis (2013), among others, have shown, marketing channels consumers’ affective investment back into products. As marketers segment their targets into smaller niches, this exercise becomes increasingly invasive. The success or failure of emergent marketing tactics, as with wars waged principally through human intelligence, hinge on the ability to operate on increasingly personal levels. Of course, neither marketers nor generals work with true love but, rather, exploit intimacy, critical moments of connection, and cathexis that might precipitate a decision—like abandoning the guerrilla movement.30

The PAHD’s dual targeting of intimacy is not without its consequences. Colombia’s demobilization program has become yet another front in the country’s 6-decade-long war, which—despite the peace accord of 2016—is currently mutating into its next iteration. As with other fronts, death surrounds it. A particularly tragic consequence of the policy is the way the FARC intimidates and sometimes kills family members of former rebels when deserters have successfully fled the region. Killing a family member is often the only means available to the insurgency to stanch the flow of critical intelligence that the demobilized provide their enemy. In a focus group organized by Lowe/SSP3 that I attended, one former guerrilla put it bluntly: “Before, the FARC didn’t mess with the family. Not anymore.” As the deceptions of war became more baroque, the demobilized and their kin were pushed into the conflict’s imperceptible frontlines.

In contrast to the United Nations’ vision of demobilization policy as a means of extricating people from an armed conflict, the intelligence emphasis of Colombia’s individual demobilization program flips combatants to a different side of the war.31 With the covert war hidden from public view, the compassionate, conciliatory, “humanitarian” image of the demobilization program as established in the hypervisible corporatized propaganda of mass-media campaigns such as You Are My Child is left unchallenged. Yet the state’s elaborate effort to game the matrix of what can and what cannot be made visible falls apart upon listening to the life histories of former guerrillas. Consider the case of Sergio. He deserted from the FARC, as had many of his siblings. Of the dozens of life-history interviews I conducted with former guerrillas, his was perhaps the darkest. The sheer quantity of deaths in his family on account of the war was staggering, which led me to ask how many members of his family the FARC had killed.

Sergio:

I think it’s been more than 100 relatives who’ve died at the hands of the guerrilla.

Fattal:

In your generation?

Sergio:

Yeah, in the generation, and that’s on top of those who have been killed by the paramilitaries. Those who [the FARC] killed sympathized with them. They say they’re informants, that they’re twisted just because they stop working with them—so they shoot them for not helping. They killed seven of my uncle’s children. [Emphasis added.]

 

The FARC killed Sergio’s father after the group failed to assassinate Sergio. In a recurrent dream, his father speaks to him from a coffin and urges him to be careful.

From the perspective of the Colombian security state, the deaths in Sergio’s family, due to blowback from the PAHD’s classified actions that turn demobilized fighters into informants, are acceptable collateral damage for a fountain of intelligence that the demobilized provide. Between 2003 and 2016, the period from the PAHD’s conception to its de facto supersession by the peace accord,32 the FARC’s military influence waned in all but a few regions where the guerrillas historically served as the de facto authority. The military’s battlefield success is due, in part, to the way that the individual demobilization program picks apart entire military structures from within. After Pablo demobilized, for example, the Twelfth Front went into receivership of the larger and more cohesive Fortieth Front. From a counterinsurgency perspective, the militarization of intimacy has proven effective. This, in turn, has enabled Colombian officers to make the case to their US patrons that American expenditures in the late 1990s and early 2000s have paid dividends and that the military is worthy of ongoing investment (Tate 2015).

The PAHD extends a Latin American tradition of serving as “empire’s workshop,” a zone where the United States can experiment with strategies and tactics for maintaining its hegemony in contexts where the stakes are lower than in the geopolitical flash points of empire such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran (Grandin 2006; Priest 2013). In 2007, the Rand Corporation wrote a report to the US Joint Forces Command titled Enlisting Madison Avenue: The Marketing Approach to Earning Popular Support in Theaters of Operation(Helmus, Paul, and Glenn 2007). Although the publication of the US Army’s counterinsurgency field manual a year earlier had been received with widespread publicity and controversy, the Rand report passed almost entirely unnoticed by scholars and journalists. Its authors write: “Like commercial firms that must update unattractive brand identities, so too should the United States consider updating its military’s brand identity to suit current and future operational environments” (Helmus, Paul, and Glenn 2007:xvi). Whereas military strategists in the United States were theorizing about how to reposition the US military’s brand in the mid-2000s, the Colombian military was doing it. While the US Army was employing social scientists as part of a cultural (re)turn in counterinsurgency strategy, the Colombian government was deploying marketers—arguably the principal culture producers of our age—and receiving fanfare as opposed to critical opposition. (Lowe/SSP3 has received more than 60 industry awards for its work for the Ministry of Defense.) Working in tandem, the marketers and the military have militarized intimacy by operating on the cultural field and social structure, respectively.

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