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How Christmas tree lights are disbanding guerrillas

Many of Colombia’s families have lost someone they loved to the country’s ongoing civil war – either because their relations were killed or kidnapped, or joined the armed resistance group Farc. Now someone has come up with a novel way to persuade guerrillas to lay down arms and go home.

Working closely with the government and national army, Jose Miguel Sokoloff and his marketing agency Lowe-SSP3 Colombia lit up gigantic Christmas trees on nine pathways in the jungle where guerrillas live.

The trees were lit up at night, with a sign saying, ‘If Christmas can come to the jungle, you can come home. Demobilise. Anything is possible at Christmas.’ 

‘We noticed that there had been peaks of demobilisation around Christmas ever since the war started. That led us to think that we needed to talk to the human being, not the soldier,’ Sokoloff explained in a recent TED talk.  

The Christmas tree lights helped demobilise 331 guerrillas, some of whom suggested that the campaign target the rivers instead of the footpaths in the jungle.

Most guerrillas were recruited from riverside villages, so Sokoloff and his team got relatives in these villages to send messages and gifts down the river in plastic bubbles that were lit up (as pictured above) so the guerrillas would spot them at night and pick them up. 

On average, the operation, entitled ‘Rivers of Light,’ persuaded one person to go back to their family every six hours, Sokoloff says.

‘In my lifetime I have never lived one day of peace in my country. We’ve had more than five million displaced people,  and over 200,000 deaths. It’s a lot of people who have died unnecessarily,’ said Sokoloff, whose team continues to come up with ways to get guerrillas to come home.

They hope Colombia’s peace talks, which resume in Havana today, will prompt even more guerrillas to embrace a future outside FARC. 17,000 guerrillas have demobilised since the campaign began.

Watch Sokoloff’s TED talk here:


Picture from Lowe SSP3’s website