The victory of the ‘No’ vote leaves Colombia in limbo. The country has no Plan B after voters rejected the peace deal with FARC rebels. On what basis can the deal be revised? A new unimaginable scenario.
Two weeks before the referendum, the national and foreign press (300 journalists) were called to cover the conference of the marxist-leninist guerrilla group, which was held at the camp in the jungle conclave known as Yari Plains to discuss a peace agreement with the government, after a 52 year armed conflict between the FARC and the Colombian State. The ‘No’ victory to peace agreements of the last 2 October, which was enhanced by former right-wing president Álvaro Uribe was a shock to the rebels, to the Government of Juan Manuel Santos and to the entire world. Despite the fact that FARC leaders reiterated the group’s willingness to abide by a permanent cease-fire, the peace process is now on the edge of the abyss.
‘Colombia, in limbo’, was the title of a prestigious Latin American weekly magazine which commented on the current Colombian socio-political situation. But the narrow ‘No’ victory contrasts with two events that lead in the opposite direction: the final peace accord between Colombia’s government and marxist FARC rebels, a 297 page document which was negotiated for four years with the support of Cuba and Norway, and the collaboration of Chile and Venezuela, and which was finally signed on 26 September in Cartagena by the Colombian government and the FARC rebels; and the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the current Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, which marked the international support for the Colombian peace process.
Leap into the uncertainty
It is difficult to imagine the consequences of the referendum results, which revealed the deep polarization of Colombian society; in fact, just a narrow margin divided the Yes-or-No vote, with 50.2 percent of Colombians rejecting the peace deal and 49.8 percent voting in favour. But it is also worthy of note that nationwide, abstention was an important actor on this referendum. In fact, it was the winner of the first round, with 60%, while the ‘Yes’ votes were registered in the area most affected by the conflict.
According to the Foundation for Peace and Reconciliation, the ‘Yes’ vote won in the departments of Chocó, Putumayo, Guaviare and Cauca, which between them suffered almost a million and a half victims, out of an estimated total of eight millions, between the injured and dead, due to the armed clashes, while the ‘No’ prevailed in the cities.
The result of the referendum has paralyzed the practical development of the peace agreement, which had already started and which implied the handing over of weapons by the FARC rebels and their exchanging information with the Colombian police.
Now the process cannot be accomplished in the current uncertain situation, which according to analysts and the government of Santos itself, cannot endure for a long time without generating consequences. On 12 October, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, known under the nickname of ‘Timochenko’, current Commander in Chief of the FARC, stated that the peace process cannot be delayed.
Renegotiation. How ?
The ‘No’ supporters claim that the first thing to do now is the renegotiation of the peace agreement between the Colombian State and the FARC rebels. Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who led the campaign against the accord and who, in his day, sought dialogue with FARC, without success, as well as another Colombian President, Andrés Pastrana, said that the peace accord with FARC was ‘weak’.
On 8 October Mr. Uribe and representatives of those who voted ‘No’ presented the government with a document containing the first in a series of changes they want implemented in the accord, which was signed on Sept. 26 by President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC leader.
According to some analysts, the majority of the requests in the document can already be found in the accord and are simply presented by the ‘No’ supporters with a different interpretation, with one exception: Uribe proposed repealing the transitional Court of Justice, with the argumentation that ‘it has too many powers’, and creating, in its place, a transitional room in the Court Supreme of Justice. This is very difficult to do, according to the Minister of the Interior of Colombia, Juan Fernando Christ, who said that “it would change the essence of those agreements”. Many believe that Uribe’s proposal is aimed at delaying the negotiation in order to make it fail, in view of the next general elections in the country.
Although the cease-fire with FARC was decreed until 31 October, and even though, since 6 October, several FARC members also began to return to the fronts, allegedly to ensure the safety of the FARC troops in case of a resumption of hostilities, there are however signs of hope for peace. Among these is the news that 400 Colombian entrepreneurs have asked for a fast peace agreement and the other is the news that Santos is to start formal peace talks with ELN (National Liberation Army) on 27 October in Quito (Ecuador).