Four years of negotiations proved unable to produce an acceptable peace deal for the majority of Colombians. Today, in a popular referendum, the nation’s people voted to reject an accord that the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos reached earlier this year to end the nation’s 52-year war with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
The narrow decision in today’s plebiscite to reject the agreement — with a “No” vote — was a shocking outcome. Recent polls showed a big advantage for “Yes” within the past week. But the plebiscite was marked by a low voter turnout that has been generally attributed to the desire of many Colombians to abstain.
Photo: Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia, votes in Bogotá to ratify the peace deal he struck with the FARC to end 52 years of armed conflict. (Credit: Presidencia de la República)
Only around 13 million of the roughly 35 million eligible voters showed up at the ballot. So with more than 99.9% of the votes counted, “No” won the day by a margin of 57,222 votes.
It seems that many Colombians preferred to stay home rather than vote to approve a deal that would not mandate hard justice for guerrillas while allowing a group branded as terrorists to become a political party with guaranteed participation in the democracy.
What happens now remains unclear.
FARC top commander Rodrigo Londoño, alias Timochenko, said that his guerrillas would not go back to war regardless of the outcome of the vote. He took the stage alongside President Santos and world leaders from across the globe last week, on September 26, and gave a long speech about FARC’s commitment to peace. He said that FARC would continue its fight ideologically but never again with arms.
Logistically, the accord called for the insurgents to demobilize and relocate to specified zones in the country while turning over its arms to United Nations monitors. The international body has already acquired and destroyed some of FARC’s weapons.
But the FARC guerrillas presumably will no longer be afforded the light jail sentences and political participation, among other concessions, negotiated during four years of talks in Havana, Cuba. So whether the militant group will remain unified around peace and the recent rhetoric of its leader is a big question mark.
It is also anybody’s guess what tomorrow will bring for the country at large, its economy, and its head of state. President Santos has staked his political career on reaching peace. His biggest rival, and former boss, ex-President Álvaro Uribe led the “No” campaign and has now won at the polls. There has been speculation that Santos would not finish his term if peace failed. How he will view the plebiscite result in comparison to the achievement of getting FARC to sign the accord — like everything in the Colombia now — remains unclear.
“Colombia is about to take a leap into the unknown,” said Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America on Twitter. He also noted that the bilateral ceasefire between the government and FARC, in theory, remains in force. “The vote result doesn’t invalidate the ceasefire that is currently in place,” he tweeted. “Let’s hope it remains while #Colombia figures out what to do.”
Today was expected to be a new day in Colombia, the first time that anybody under 50 years old had ever experienced peace. But now nobody knows what tomorrow will bring.