No doubt the rebels cherish their history of armed struggle against the Colombian state, but if they're serious about entering politics, an image makeover is very much in order.
BOGOTÁ — With an end to Colombia's decades-long civil war finally in sight, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerillas are expected to disarm at some point, and perhaps even enter public and political life. To accomplish the latter, they'll need to "sell" themselves to voters, a task that won't be easy for a group associated with murder, kidnappings and extortion.
So FARC should start to "rebrand" itself, marketing the group as a new kind of "people's party."
The problem there, of course, is that rebranding belongs to another, ideologically opposed universe: the world of business and advertising; the consumer society; private enterprise! It is "oligarchical," some supporters will say. It's downright capitalistic!
Rebranding is about changing that first impression in a world saturated with labels, and in that sense it's inherently superficial. But it may also prove to be crucial and simply unavoidable for the FARC.
The rebel group won't be able to keep its name and just wrap a perky lizard around it, like the state oil company Ecopetrol did. The big Bogota-based oil firm has somehow "greened" its black soul using the letters ECO its name coincidentally bears (it used to be the Empresa Colombiana de Petróleos).
The FARC-EP (FARC-People's Army) is too loaded with bullet lead for that kind of cosmetic change. It won't be enough to just draw a heart around the acronym, or gussy it up with flowers, because the words each letter represents reek of war: Revolutionary, Armed, Forces, Army.
At the same time, one understands the FARC's reluctance to rid itself of a name that has withstood the vicissitudes of six decades of fighting against a list of opponents with their own memorable names and initials: the AUC paramilitaries, CIA, Plan Colombia. Many fighters will have an emotive attachment to those four capital letters.
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Protester at an anti-FARC march in Medellín, Colombia — Photo: medea_material
Marketing gurus might say the FARC has etched out its place in the ideological marketplace, and become an undeniably international brand. The rebel group could try keeping the initials and change the words they stand for. They certainly wouldn't be the first political group to bank on the ignorance or total memory loss of the Colombian people. The beloved FARC-EP initials could perhaps represent the Federación Amada Reformista Campesina-Empresa Patriótica(Beloved Reformist Peasant Federation — Patriotic Enterprise) or the more candid Familias Andinas Resentidas del Campo — Estamos Putos(Resentful Andean Rural Families — We're Furious).
But regardless of whether people actually know what the letters stand for, the negative connotations — to violence, first off, but also to secrecry — are unavoidable. The name will always conjur up what sociologist Daniel Pécaut calls the "introverted origins" of the group, as bequeathed by its late leader, Manuel Marulanda.
The whole point of rebranding is that FARC fighters would emerge from their hideouts and utilize the platforms of peace and international mediation to put their past behind them. They need to start a new, leftist political party that can last and, who knows, perhaps even govern one day.
I would not recommend organizing again as the Patriotic Union, a party the FARC helped found three decades ago following previous peace talks. The history of that group is bloodstained as well. I'd suggest a totally new approach, one that would still be rebellious, irreverent, and even angry, but also with that eminently democratic trait: humor.