A historic Colombian referendum vote was rejected by Colombian citizens on Sunday, which would have ended the country’s decades-long struggle with its largest rebel militant group. The razor-thin defeat of the referendum leaves the future of the conflict tenuous and uncertain.
The Colombian referendum would have ended a long, bitter conflict between the Colombian government and rebel group FARC, which is a Spanish acronym for Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. VICE News reports that the peace deal took four years to negotiate, and was widely expected to win in the Colombian referendum vote process, which wold have been the final step before the ratification of the deal.
In a nail-bitingly close vote, however, the Colombian referendum failed by just 61,000 votes, or 0.5 percent of the total vote count. The results shocked leaders in both the government and FARC camps, who were already celebrating what they thought would be an easy victory. Government officials were touting an end to the long, bloody war, and leaders among the FARC rebels were celebrating the ability to turn their rebel insurgency into a legitimately recognized political party. The signing of the deal itself, held last Monday, was applauded by international leaders and carried out by Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos and a FARC leader known as Timochenko. The ceremony was attended by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and United States Secretary of State John Kerry, among others.
The Colombian referendum on the peace deal did not go as planned, however. The deal faced opposition from many in Colombia who still see FARC as a terrorist group, and remember the long history of unrest and warfare in the country. Among the most vocal of these opponents is former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, who said in an interview with Americas Quarterly that the deal lets members of FARC off too easily for conflict in the past and allows them too much power in the future.
“They’ve put the Colombian public forces on the same level as the guerrilla. Security has worsened a lot. The country that had cocaine production of 200 (metric) tonnes a year is now back up to 400 and in 2015 it may have been even higher. They’re turning drug trafficking into a political crime. The FARC, even for atrocious crimes, won’t have punishment – you’ll admit to your crime and you won’t go to jail. They’re giving them political eligibility.”
Uribe went on to say that current Colombian president Santos was trying to push the referendum through without sufficient due process, and that the special courts that would be set up for FARC members would allow them to avoid legal responsibility for past crimes. The conflict, which has lasted 52 years and claimed the lives of at least 220,000 people, stirs deep tensions and passions in Colombia.
Many opponents of the Colombian referendum shared Uribe’s concern about the FARC financing, and its political operations with money made by trafficking in cocaine. Many FARC leaders, they argue, would be able to avoid prosecution for cocaine trafficking that occurred in the past and start their new careers in government with what they call “dirty money.”
Response to the failure of the Colombian referendum has been reserved from both the government and the FARC. CNN reports that President Santos convened an emergency meeting of top advisers, and assured the press that though the referendum had failed, the ceasefire under which Colombia was working on the peace deal with the FARC would remain in place and talks would continue in Havana, Cuba. FARC leader Timochenko also issued a statement.
“The FARC maintains the willingness for peace and they reaffirm their disposition to use only the word as a constructive weapon towards the future,” he said Sunday. “To the Colombian people who dream with peace, they can count on us. Peace will triumph.”
Though most would hope that peace does indeed triumph, in the wake of the failed Colombian referendum on a peace deal that was four years in the making, the future of Colombia is uncertain.
[Featured Image by Ricardo Mazalan/AP Images]