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Colombia and FARC: The Bipolar Perceptions of Peace Following a Close “No” vote

The second of October marked a day of unexpected surprise for President of Colombia Juan Miguel Santos, who took a leap of faith for the future of his nation and its unstable relations with the FARC, a rebel army that had been operating within the borders for the past 52 years. This leap did require much faith in the Colombian people as it involved a referendum calling for the end of one of the most extensive wars between state and guerilla in the history of Latin America. Peace was possible through the Colombian electorate’s support of the terms and conditions of the agreement between the state of Colombia and the FARC, especially in light of the rebel group’s ongoing ceasefire. Alas, the results indicated that the majority of Colombians opposing the termination of war with the FARC, won by a razor-thin gap of 0.4% along with a staggering low voter turnout.

Although many in Colombia have ultimately opposed something that is innately good for the future of their nation, the underlying causes for such behavior must be taken into account. Societal disapproval of the terms and conditions of the peace deal is primarily the key factor in putting voters on edge of supporting peace with the FARC. Furthermore, given the FARC’s background, it is difficult to reconcile their criminality with their immediate appointment to government office as a compensation for a permanent ceasefire. Such a conception would only fester fear of potentially disastrous consequences for the nation. This happened to be the best course of action for Juan Miguel Santos, who overestimated his nations’ support of peace. However, the root of evil in this situation are his poor bargaining strategies with the FARC, which resulted in a peace deal with minor punishments and little retribution for victims of the FARC’s violent campaign. The thought of having FARC leaders excused from severe punishment, along with the ability to form their own political party and have a presence in Congress was far too much for the slim majority of the Colombian electorate to accept. Forgiving and forgetting the atrocities committed by your enemy while giving them to the potential to govern over you is the ultimate face slap in the face one can vote for.

Nevertheless, the Colombian government keeps negotiating new plans for a peace accord that is more likely to be fully approved by the Colombian populace and the FARC, who seemingly wish to redeem themselves. However, the chances of drafting a new peace deal that is supported by a majority of Colombians are very small given a fundamental problem the FARC does not wish to address. This problem stems from FARC’s refusal to have members turn themselves in for crimes of war and crimes against humanity, which is a great hindrance to ensuring a stable system of justice and rule of law. What was proposed to deal with war criminals from the FARC was a transnational justice process, an angle which is being criticized for being far too light of a response since it only entails a simple public confession of crimes. The Colombian government is also aware that a reintegration program does not suffice for a mutually beneficial peace accord. It is thus crucial for the Colombian government to tailor a new peace deal considering all the factors that have led to the failure of the original peace deal before 2017. Moreover, it may prove advantageous for the Colombian government to release a survey that gathers data on what exactly the Colombian populace would want from a peace deal with the FARC.

The path to peace in Colombia may not in fact be blocked, but rather reevaluated by concerned citizens. Colombians essentially do not want to allow what many men and women have been fighting against throughout Colombia’s history. The rise to power of a group that advocates extremist Marxism through its involvement in drug trafficking, kidnapping and forced recruitment of innocents is something that former Colombian politicians such as Minister of Justice Rodrigo Lara have fought and sacrificed their lives for. The Colombian populace is merely echoing this sentiment, not out of fear of peace, but fear of opening a Pandora’s box that would send the nation spiraling downwards in havoc. What has been said on behalf of FARC leader Timochenko, is that he promises to use a government position as a means to undo the damages the rebel group has caused to Colombia. Yet, the underlying intentions remain ambiguous.

Juan Miguel Santos’ efforts at restoring peace in his country have earned him the Nobel Peace Laureate, but he has made it clear to the public that he does not intend to stop there given his relentless ambition to pass a new peace deal by Christmas. Taking all these issues into account, amendments approved by the FARC are crucial in the Colombian government’s pursuit for Congressional ratification or another plebiscite. Whatever the outcome is, there is still hope in Colombia, and many citizens will have their fingers crossed, waiting  for a satisfactory peace deal that will garner a majority of support.

Photo: WikiMedia, commercial use permitted 

About Victor Percoco

Victor Percoco is a student at McGill University who is majoring in Political Science and minoring in History. His topics of interest are Latin American politics and International Law.

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