Molano’s “Under Threat” unmasks fake news during Colombia’s social protests

Front cover of Diego Molano's book, Under Threat
Front cover of Diego Molano's book, Under Threat", published by Planeta, 2023.

It seems nobody is entirely immune to the effects of disinformation nowadays. In 2021, not only the major international news outlets, but Colombian citizens too were duped by targeted fake news about the Colombian government and its police force.

Now former Colombian Defense Minister, Diego Molano Aponte, has told the story in his non-fiction Spanish-language book “Bajo Amenaza: La cara oculta del “estallido social” que golpeó a Colombia” – or in English – “Under Threat: The Hidden Face of the Social Outbreak that Attacked Colombia”.

Released by Editorial Planeta in May this year, Bajo Amenaza is a lesson for all societies threatened by instability and unseen virtual forces seducing people away from constructive politics into a destructive ideological underworld where victimizing and conspiracy theorizing commingle.

This book which relates how the essential hijacking of the Colombian narrative became a facet of Colombian consciousness during Molano’s service in the cabinet of President Iván Duque reads at times like a harrowing adventure novel, replete with heroes, villains, unwitting victims caught in the crossfire, and unseen forces silently manipulating the masses.

With earnest precision in 208 pages, Molano relates the three major violent “acts,” November of 2019, September of 2020, and finally, the April 28 outburst of 2021 in which the premise of a “national strike” – Paro Nacional – evolved into a four-month-long justification to generate chaos and violence.

The case of how a “social outbreak attacked Colombia” links (according to Colombian intelligence) Russia, Venezuela, the narco-backed guerrilla ELN (National Liberation Army), and leading left-wing politicians, among them former Senators Gustavo Petro and Gustavo Bolívar in a plot to enrage the Colombian populace. The justification of “mass social outrage” was fabricated, according to Molano, and based on incendiary lies and half-truths to discredit Duque and a democratically-elected government that was grappling with an economically debilitating pandemic.

All three original “acts” were organized under the same playbook in which a “frontline” was hired to stoke violence, in an attempt to provoke a violent police response. Colombian police were suddenly confronted with police stations set on fire, Molotov cocktails, and other low-grade weapons, over 1000 blockades of major national thoroughfares which threatened a major national food crisis.

Having analyzed the intentions of their enemies, the response of the Colombian police and armed forces had to balance the duty of protecting the Colombian people, the obvious right to self-defense, all without making a single mistake that could be misinterpreted as police brutality.

The scheme of creating mass chaos to create an excuse to attack the government has been used for centuries by aspiring despots. Nowadays, woke victimization, a dangerous twin of democracy, exploits the vulnerable as an excuse to attack the government. In Colombia, the unfortunate death of a Colombian youth at the hands of police whose response was not proportional to the offense exploded quickly into a campaign to destabilize the government of Iván Duque, paving the way for the election of Gustavo Petro in 2022.

Colombia’s enemies systematically invented and propagated the narrative of a tyrannical government stifling democracy by killing its protesters, a story which couldn’t have been further from the truth. At the beginning of the 2021 Paro Nacional, the Venezuelan bots created the hashtag #NosEstanMatando (They Are Killing Us). An hour later, it went viral first nationally, then internationally. The same morning, the New York Times headlined on its front page that Colombia’s “Police respond to protesters with bullets, and death toll mounts,” which rigorous investigations from NGOs never proved.

The protagonists of Molano’s part-biography as Minister of Defense are Colombia’s Armed Forces and police (which in Colombia is under the direction of the Defense Ministry), who defended Colombia’s democracy, ensuring the constitutional right to peaceful protest and a peaceful transfer of power.

Newly elected Gustavo Petro thanked the military last September by firing 59 senior officers, including Generals of the National Police, in a clear attempt (according to Molano) to “weaken the Colombian military against the encroaching threats of the ELN and other Venezuela-backed criminal groups”.

Molano considers the heroic response by Colombia’s dedicated police and armed forces a victory for democracy despite the electoral victory of its enemies. He concludes with an introspective vision for a “new right” in Colombia, where, despite the ominous threats of Gustavo Petro’s attacks on Colombia’s institutions, new leaders, as beacons of democracy, can usher in a more promising future, instilling in Colombia’s youth a renewed faith in democratic participation and reconstructing the future of Colombia.

Kristina writes on Colombian current affairs and her articles have appeared in the Miami Herald and CNN. Follow her on Twitter @kristinafoltz1