After Rejecting the Peace Agreement, Colombia Seeks a New Path

Image shared by Elmer Montaña on his Facebook page and and shared with his approval.

Peace march in Bogotá. Image published by Elmer Montaña on his Facebook page and shared with his approval.

Colombia was plunged into surprised uncertainty after learning on October 2, 2016 that the result of a popular vote on whether to endorse a peace agreement between the government and a militant group called the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was “No.” Neither side of the debate was prepared for this outcome, which many have referred to as the Colombian Brexit, in reference to the UK's referendum vote to leave the European Union.

One such person, columnist Luis Fernando Álvarez, compared precisely those two events in newspaper El Colombiano:

El Gobierno Británico lo convocó convencido que podía obtener un gran apoyo popular para legitimar su permanencia en la Comunidad Europea; sin embargo, cuando se dieron a conocer los resultados, los más sorprendidos fueron quienes votaron por la salida de la Unión (Brexit). Ningún sector tenía un plan B para enfrentar dicho resultado, cuyo principal efecto político fue la renuncia del Primer Ministro.

En Colombia la situación parece similar, con la salvedad de que no es prudente ni conveniente solicitar la renuncia del Presidente.

The British Government called for [the Brexit vote], convinced that they could garner large, popular support in order to legitimize their continued presence in the European Community; however, when the results came out, those who were most surprised were those who voted to leave the Union (Brexit). Neither side had a plan B for dealing with said result, whose main political effect was the prime minister's resignation.

In Colombia, the situation appears to be similar, with the exception that it is neither prudent nor convenient to ask for the president's resignation.

Polls beforehand had showed Colombians were in favor the “Yes” side, but no one foresaw the level of abstention, which was the highest it has ever been in the history of Colombia: only 37.43% of the electorate voted. In addition, the small difference of 53,894 votes between the two sides reaffirmed the polarization that has characterized Colombian society throughout its history and that has intensified since the beginning of the peace process with the FARC.

With the “No” result and the lack of a road map from either side, the population is abuzz with questions. After more than 50 years of war, will peace ever be won? Was there an excess of confidence? Did a wave of ignorance win? How much influence did Christian and Evangelical Church groups have? Did gender ideology — leading up to the referendum, there was a push to link a “Yes” vote for peace as a vote against traditional values — have an effect? Do the guerrillas truly desire peace? Did people punish Santos’ shortcomings in other sectors? Was it necessary to present a vote to Colombians? Did Hurricane Matthew influence anything when it went through the Caribbean-Colombian region? Did hate towards the FARC win? Did a baseless fear of “Castro-Chavismo” defeat us? Will a new constitution be needed?

And what happens now?

The country carries on

The final agreement with the FARC to end the conflict and to establish a stable and long-lasting peace was signed on September 26 in Cartagena, and maintains its legal validity in spite of the referendum vote. Although President Juan Manuel Santos was not legally bound to hold the referendum, he unilaterally decided to have the vote, optimistically believing democracy would back him up.

Despite the unexpected outcome, all sides involved pronounced themselves in favor of continuing the peace process: the government, the advocates for “No,” and the FARC. This helped to facilitate a meeting between President Santos and his opponents, who began working on suggestions for a new peace proposal a week after the vote. Those who voted for “No” insist that they did not fight against peace, but only want Colombia to search for a “better” agreement.

Regarding Colombia's other group of leftist, insurgent guerrillas, the National Liberation Army (ELN), the government announced it would hold public conversations with ELN delegates on October 27, 2016 in Quito, Ecuador. The ELN has about 1,300 militants and was created in 1964 by intellectuals with Marxist and pro-Cuban revolution ideologies who mixed their ideas with those of liberation theology. The group formed in San Vicente de Chucurí, a municipality of the Santander Department located in the northern part of Colombia.

As for the ceasefire with the FARC, President Santos has announced its extension through December 31 of this year and confirmed that it could be renewed.

In addition to this, a new factor shined a beacon of hope for a new peace agreement: the Nobel Peace Prize award given to Santos, who after receiving the news of the recognition, reaffirmed that he will continue working to achieve a peace agreement. He also announced on Twitter that he will donate the money from the prize on behalf of the war victims.

Nobel Peace Prize belongs to Colombians, especially those who suffered from the war. My family and I decided to donate the money to the victims

A tweet by Héctor Abad Facio Lince, in response to what President Santos expressed about the Nobel Peace Prize, offers a summary on how some of the population feels regarding the usefulness of the award for Colombia's peace process:

In chess there are also brilliant plays that change the entire situation on the board when a game seemed lost. Thank you, Norway!

There were also, however, skepticism and opposition towards the timing of the award:

I don't understand??? Juan Manuel Santos Nobel Prize for a peace that the majority of the people of Colombia rejected democratically in the ballot boxes.

Good day, country without peace but with a Nobel, with unapproved agreements, and with opposition but without arguments and/or integrity.

For their part, the opposition — lead by ex-President and current Senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez, together with other members of his political party Centro Democrático (Democratic Center) — is under scrutiny, thanks to a criminal complaint of voter fraud that contends the group led a supposed discredit campaign against the peace agreement. The allegation is tied to certain statements made by the campaign manager, Juan Carlos Vélez Uribe, in an interview by the newspaper La República.

Social movements after “No”

Those who have lived closer to the war, such as the populations of Cauca, Chocó, Putumayo, and Vaupes Departments, among others, appeared to be mainly in favor of the vote, giving an exemplary message of forgiveness and reconciliation towards other Colombians. Many took the opportunity to show their solidarity and indignation after they learned the “No” side had won:

Who is going to go to the regions that voted for YES to explain to them what's the route to follow after the NO won in the national referendum?

This indignation was precisely one of the motivations for youth, students, indigenous groups, and different sectors of the civilian population to take to the streets, marching and shouting different slogans that reflect the interests of Colombian citizens who do not desire more war. The marches have become a constant in various regions.

“Not a step back, we want peace!” was the cry of thousands of Colombians who promoted an improvised protest with the hashtag #PazALaCalle (Peace to the Street) on October 3, the day after the referendum, in different Colombian cities. Below is eye-witness video of the protest from YouTube user jacastillo9101:

And this other video by Ricardo Galán shows one of the protests in Bogotá that happened on October 12. As their main slogan, the multitude shouted: “Peace Now!”

Even with the past record of hate and offenses published on social media, now people are asking for peace on all sides under the hashtags  (Digital Brigade) and  (Peace To The Internet). In this regard, Mauricio Jaramillo pointed out:

Now I have dived headfirst into #PazALaRed (Peace to the Internet)

But this does not mean one should not criticize or defend ideas. Peace is not the absence of difference or debate. Unite?

The past weeks have been intense, but they have also seen the country's youth empowered by the hope of their own future and that of new generations. Another hashtag showing their protests efforts was #EnLasCallesLaPazRenace (In The Streets Peace Reawakens):

Tomorrow Friday, Oct. 14 at 7 pm! All citizens cordially invited to the #PeaceToTheStreet Assembly! Spread the word!


Demonstrators are demanding that the government and ex-President Uribe unite their efforts in order to come to an agreement — and don't let the peace process, which has been in the works since 2012, go to waste.

What happens next?

The state of things from here on out revolve around the government's discussions with both sides: those in favor of and those against the peace agreement. The president and his team have been in conversations with both, and are now presenting proposals which will later be negotiated with the FARC.

This possible political and social union — for which a large number of Colombians are on track — would be a solution for achieving the longed-for final peace agreement. But will this unification be possible? The reality is that Colombians are tired of war and want peace.

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