By Rohan Garg
The people of Colombia rejoiced, as Colombia approached October 2. The war that had plagued them for almost half a century was finally coming to an end. For almost 3 years, the president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, was negotiating with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, trying to create a compromise to end the war that had decimated the country for 54 years. Ultimately, at the end of September of 2016, President Santos and Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, the leader of the FARC, came to an agreement creating peace and allowing the FARC to enter Colombian politics as an unarmed political party. As promised earlier in his campaign, President Santos submitted the peace proposal to the people with a plebiscite, allowing the people to vote on the deal or not. A plebiscite places important government decisions at the hands of the electorate. In this case voters, could choose whether or not to accept a much-needed peace deal. Both the international community and the people of Colombia thought without a doubt the longest war in the western hemisphere would finally be over. But, as the results filtered in, the country looked on in shock. The result of the plebiscite showed a rejection of the peace deal by the smallest of margin. According to The Washington Post, “13 million voters turned out to the polls, and 50.2 percent rejected the agreement.” Colombia is now left with two questions: “Why did this peace deal get rejected?”, and “Will their country delve back into war against the FARC?”.
While the peace deal may have looked like the perfect solution to the war, the rejection of the peace deal brings up several concerns that are warranted. First, the peace deal was surprisingly lax towards the FARC. According to The Economist, “FARC leaders…would be sentenced by a special tribunal to up to eight years of “restricted liberty” but would not be sent to prison.” Furthermore, the FARC would be guaranteed a transition to politics with 10 seats in the 268 seats of congress of Colombia. The FARC was being made into a non-violent political party with little to no cost. They would be able to have a say in a country they had terrorized for half a century. Voters who voted no were furious with this. To them the FARC embodied all the hardships and atrocities they faced.
Throughout the 58 year war, the FARC participated in kidnapping, extortion, forced recruitment, and drug trafficking. Because of their actions, almost 220,000 people lost their lives, according to The Guardian. Moreover, more than 7 million Colombians were displaced in the face of war. To the people of Colombia, the war ruined their lives. This peace deal did not do justice for them because tin their view, the FARC needed to be punished even more. With this in mind, a strong “No” party movement swept the nation, demanding that the FARC face justice for their previous atrocities. Under the leadership of Alvaro Uribe, a former president, the “No” party emphasized the problems of the peace deal. He consistently argued that this peace deal would reward criminals. To him, and many Colombians, the FARC, who are criminals, would be gaining so much influence and power without paying for what they did in the past. The lax terms of punishment and the easy transition to politics infuriated the people of Colombia and led to the downfall of the peace deal. However, what drove Uribe to push such an aggressive “No” was a belief that a rejection of the peace deal would not lead to war. He assumed that the two sides will go back to the drawing board and address the concerns of the “No” voters. This assumption may not necessarily hold true.
The international community and Colombians now hold their breath as they look towards the future of Colombia. With the refusal of the peace deal, war seems to be a very likely scenario. Although President Santos extended the ceasefire between Colombia and the FARC over the summer, it ends at the end of October. Both sides have vowed to continue to make peace their priority. Echeverri pledges that the group would “use only words as a weapon to build toward the future”. Even with both sides committed to peace, the process must change and shift towards the concerns that the people expressed. These concerns revolve around the FARC and its past deeds. A new deal must be harsher towards the FARC with harsher punishments and less political power. If President Santos hosts the mantle of democracy in this process, he must follow through on his promise. The peace process must include individuals from the “No” party including its leader, Mr. Uribe. Furthermore, the FARC must make several concessions to allow the development of peace within the country. The plebiscite made it clear just how much the population of Colombia hates the group. They must accept more stringent punishment for their past actions and perhaps settle for a less inclusive and more gradual transition into Colombian politics. Both sides need to make concessions and considerations regarding the people of their nation.
1957 was the last year that Colombians voted on a plebiscite when they approved the formation of the National Front. They approved a power-sharing pact between the Conservatives and Liberals ending decades of partisan violence. But the plebiscite excluded groups of other political stances leading to the creation of the FARC. Colombia cannot be allowed to make the same mistake again. The nation has a second chance to achieve peace and this must not be wasted. This is a nation that has been plagued with a war for more than half a century. Therefore, it’s time to accept compromise and move towards peace for the country.
Image by Xmascarol