Colombia: Shock after voters reject FARC peace deal
This wasn’t supposed to happen, said El Tiempoin an editorial. In recent weeks, polls have consistently shown that a peace deal to end the 52-year civil war between Colombia’s government and Marxist FARC guerrillas was supported by a clear majority of the people. Yet we are now a nation “cleaved in two.” Voters this week rejected the accord in a referendum by 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent—a difference of fewer than 54,000 votes. The deal, signed last week by President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Timoleón “Timochenko” Jiménez after four years of negotiations, is now on hold. The 7,000 FARC fighters who were on their way to U.N.-run centers to give up their weapons are still heading there, but their future is uncertain, since voters balked at giving them amnesty for their crimes and economic assistance to reintegrate into society. Santos and Timochenko pledged that talks would continue despite the setback. But Colombians are confused and worried about what comes next. Will a war that has killed more than 250,000 people be reignited?
“No one voted against peace,” said El Colombiano. But for a narrow majority, the accord “did not meet the required bar in terms of forgiveness and justice.” Military families and the rural areas that have seen most of that bloodshed “overwhelmingly voted Yes for peace.” The No votes came mostly from the cities, notably Medellín, stronghold of the right-wing opposition leader, former President Álvaro Uribe. His hawkish presidency, from 2002 to 2010, was a time of fierce military action against FARC.
Convinced that it was his weakening of the group that forced it to the negotiating table, Uribe believed a better, tougher deal was possible.
The truth is that the unpopular Santos made stupid errors, said Vanguardia Liberal. Our president made the vote look “like a referendum on him,” by putting himself front and center at the deal’s signing ceremony. He’d have done better to let FARC’s many victims take a more prominent role and speak directly to undecided voters about what peace would mean to them. He also failed to respond as Uribe’s supporters “lied and exaggerated,” using social media to “terrify voters” into thinking that the agreement— negotiated with the help of Havana—“would turn Colombia into a socialist country.”
Uribe was aided in that effort by the religious right, said Semana. While the local Catholic Church took no official stand on the peace accord—a neutrality seen by some as a tacit condemnation of it—evangelical Christian leaders told their followers to reject the deal because it would “undermine the family.” The inclusion of language in the accord that promised equal rights for women and LGBT Colombians was seen as an attack on traditional values. So now it’s back to the negotiating table, said El Nuevo Siglo. The choice is not between war and peace, “but between one way of achieving peace and another way of achieving peace.” We must now find that other way.