A historic peace agreement was reached this week between the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP, offering an end to the longest-running armed conflict in the Americas, but the accord was rejected by the Colombian people.
A national vote saw the peace agreement rejected by a narrow margin. The pre-count reported the "no" vote at 50.22 percent, ahead of the "yes" vote at 49.77, from 99 percent of the polling stations, according to Colombia's election authority.
Voters turned to social media to explain their reasons for voting down the peace accord. Many argued that they supported peace in Colombia, but that the terms of the agreement were too lenient on the rebels involved. Voters like Jorge Eduardo Arango were angered by comments that Colombia had voted ‘against peace’.
“Saying that No vote is against peace is like saying that Si vote is against justice. Both inappropriate,” Mr Eduardo Arango said.
Another voter explained “We didn't vote no to peace. If it were that simple, everyone would vote for yes. We voted no to corruption and injustice.”
Many also voiced their disappointment with the result. Bogotá resident and reporter Mayra Báez Jimeno tweeted: “I keep seeing the data of the vote from the towns that HAVE lived war. They are all up 80% yes. I feel like we failed them.”
The war between the Colombian government and the rebel group FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army or Fuerzas armadas revolucionarias de Colombia) has raged for 52 years, spanning several generations.
Approximately 16.9% of the population in Colombia are direct victims of the war, and between 1958 and 2013 an estimated 220,000 people died (177,307 civilians and 40,787 fighters). More than five million civilians were forced from their homes between 1985 and 2012 - the world's second largest population of IDPs. The negotiations that eventually led to the peace agreement began in 2012, and took a pain-staking four years to complete.
The peace accord was signed on Monday, September 26th, in Cartagena, by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño (known as Timochenko). The success of the accord hinged on how the state choose to address the needs of people affected by the civil war, and the deal divided voters (only a 40 percent turnout) almost evenly. The ballot was heavily shaped by politics in the country. President Santos campaigned for the accord’s approval, while his main political rival, former president Álvaro Uribe, campaigned against it. Uribe, and other critics claim the deal favors FARC leaders, pointing to guerrilla warfare tactics FARC used in the conflict.
Chief negotiator for the Colombian government, Humberto de la Calle, said that the accord was the best possible, although it required compromise from all parties.
“Surely the accord we’ve achieved isn’t a perfect accord,” he said. “We all probably would have wanted something more. We here at the table would have wanted something more. But the accord achieved here is the viable accord, the best possible accord.”
Under the peace accord, the FARC would have transitioned to a political party, and be given a limited number of non-voting representatives in Congress. Rebel commanders would eventually be allowed to run for office (as full representatives) if they were cleared of any criminal charges and war crimes. The FARC promised to demobilize and disarm its 7,000 fighters, monitored by the United Nations, within 180 days. A smaller ELN rebel group is still active in the country, as are right-wing paramilitary groups.
The European Union had announced they would suspend the FARC from their list of terrorist organizations, and representatives from the US said the status of FARC would be reviewed by the US State Department.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Cartagena for the signing of the peace accord earlier in the week, and met with victims of the conflict. He said that Colombia had many challenges ahead, but that the peace accord marked the beginning of many opportunities.
“Peace is hard work,” he said. “Anybody can pick up a gun, blow things up, hurt other people, but it doesn’t take you anywhere. What life is really all about is trying to build community and trying to help make life better for everybody around you.”
“Think of the violence that has taken so many lives and held Colombia back from growing, developing, and becoming a country that lives in peace and stability every single day.”