Today, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. Though the deal his administration reached with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to end more than a half-century of war has been nullified by a popular referendum, President Santos, his political rivals, and FARC’s top commander have pledged to find a way to ensure the current ceasefire can still become a lasting peace.
It is with the hope that they can all come together to reach a new agreement that the officials in Oslo bestowed the president with its highest honor. “By awarding this year’s Peace Prize to President Juan Manuel Santos, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to encourage all those who are striving to achieve peace, reconciliation and justice in Colombia,” said the committee in a statement.
“The president himself has made it clear that he will continue to work for peace right up until his very last day in office,” added the organization. “The committee hopes that the Peace Prize will give him strength to succeed in this demanding task.”
President Santos accepted the award by recognizing the victims — more than 220,000 dead, seven million displaced, and at least 27,000 kidnapped — who have suffered the most during the conflict.
“I am deeply and wholeheartedly grateful for this honorable distinction,” said President Santos. “I accept it, not in my own name, but in the name of all Colombians, especially the millions of victims left by this conflict that we have suffered over more than 50 years. Colombians, this prize is yours.”
Though the peace with FARC that led to this recognition was reached in August, the will of the electorate has thrown it into jeopardy. On October 2, Colombians voted at the polls to not ratify the deal — less than a week after the official ceremony to sign the 297-page document in Cartagena on September 26.
As the president had assured the nation before the accord was reached, this simple “Yes” or “No” plebiscite at the ballot would be the final step in finalizing the deal. But by a minuscule margin — about 53,000 votes out of more than 13 million cast — the agreement was rejected.
Many “No” voters said they could not endorse a deal that offers minimal punishment for war criminals and guaranteed congressional seats to former FARC members once they demobilize and become a political party. Others expressed concern over the cost of a deal that was widely drummed up by the opposition as tantamount to handing over the country to socialists like those who have pushed Venezuela into economic ruin.
In addition to sending Colombia into a political crisis that rivals President Santos and former President Álvaro Uribe Veléz are trying to rectify, this raised doubt over whether the committee in Oslo would bestow the Peace Prize on a now-uncertain peace. But officials chose to use the high-profile status of the prize to try to encourage further action that will ensure the spirit of the award is fulfilled by an actual end to conflict.
The nation’s Finance Minster Mauricio Cárdenas has maintained that the fallout for the nation’s economy from the peace vote will be minimal. Some have speculated that, after such an embarrassing debacle, the government will not have the ability to push through a controversial tax reform bill that had been expected to be sent to Congress as soon as next week. Cárdenas, in an interview this week with Bloomberg, said the reform will go through as planned.
If the reform does not happen this year — or isn’t strong enough of an overhaul — the nation will have shown no concrete plan to replace the billions in oil revenues it has lost from the price of crude plummeting in recent years. Without replacing those revenues, the once-solid public finances will become much shakier and could lead to a disastrous credit rating downgrade for Colombia.
To work towards amending the now-dead peace accord, President Santos and Uribe met this week for the first time in almost six years at the presidential palace in Bogotá. Though former allies — Santos served as the defense minister during Uribe’s presidency and received the blessing of his former boss when running for office — the two had a high-profile falling out.
But, now, the fierce foes may be the only two people who can help the nation come together and salvage an accord on the brink of falling apart.