Analysts now say a key figure in the no vote victory is Colombia’s former president Alvaro Uribe, a close ally-turned-archenemy of the incumbent Juan Manuel Santos. The current government of course had the upper hand in terms of funding, influence and machinery, but Uribe was not to be outplayed. As soon as the Santos administration and the FARC had struck a deal, Uribe ramped up what the Washington Post in 2015 described as “a one-man Twitter war” that painted the peace accord as an “Agreement of Impunity.”
“We have an opportunity to stop the mockery of the FARC victims,” Uribe told his Twitter followers in Spanish after the treaty had been signed September 26. He was fuelling an already burning sentiment among Colombians that the FARC had to be prosecuted for the atrocities they have committed. The armed struggle between the government and the FARC has left some 250,000 dead and displaced some six million.
In marketing terms, it appears that the Santos government had a weak value proposition for the wider population who needed to approve the peace agreement. Santos knew that he had to appeal to swing voters—those whose sentiments about the FARC rebellion are not strong enough to make them decide just yet between a yes and a no vote. Still, he focused his campaign on the not-so-appealing “transitional justice,” a framework that will allow FARC rebels to run for office and grant them amnesty depending on the gravity of their crimes.
Uribe, on the other hand, made sure that Colombians who did not understand what the FARC deal offered knew what it took away: the opportunity to bring to justice rebels viewed as perpetrators of the war horrors Colombia had to suffer. Uribe consistently pushed this theme on Twitter, where he posts four times more frequently than Santos does. (Uribe has tweeted some 51,000 times since July 2009, Santos some 12,100 times since August 2009. They have about the same follower size: Uribe has 4.55 million; Santos, 46.2 million.)