GOOD

This Is Why Colombians Voted ‘No’ To Peace With FARC

It was a deal 60 years in the making

Hopeful bystanders gather at Bogota's Bolivar main square to celebrate the historic peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) prior to voters rejecting the agreement. Image by Guillermo Legaria via AFP/Getty Images.

It seemed like a done deal. After 60 years of fighting, three years of detailed negotiations, and a peace agreement signed in front of the head of the United Nations, the horrific conflict between the Colombian state and the Marxist Fuerzas Armadas de Colombia (FARC) finally seemed to be over.


The peace process looked set to be a model for future negotiations around the world; all it needed was public approval. And then, in the referendum that was meant to finish the job, 50.24 percent of voters rejected the agreement—with fewer than 40 percent even showing up.This wasn’t supposed to happen—but looked at in a different way, it’s far from a surprise.

The negotiations were all but designed to be disconnected from voters, and might as well have taken place on another planet. Sequestered behind closed doors in Cuba, the negotiators represented only the Colombian state and FARC; both sides dealt with the human consequences of their violence by flying in representatives of victims’ groups, and then flying them home again.

[quote position="right" is_quote="true"]On paper, it was a remarkable achievement. But on the ground, it was also clear that most Colombians had no interest.[/quote]

As far as securing a deal goes, the design worked. Untroubled by the day-to-day vacillations of popular opinion and safely isolated from the violence between the two sides, negotiators reached a well thought out settlement to stop the conflict for good—a remarkable achievement after one of the modern world’s longest-running wars. On paper, it was a remarkable achievement. But on the ground, it was also clear that most Colombians had no interest in what was happening.

There were attempts to engage them: touring meetings and talks where people would be spoken to and have their opinions listened to, adverts and documentaries in which former enemies publicly reconcilled, a website on which people could post their opinions. Nevertheless, the lack of interest was palpable—and for some reason, it apparently didn’t strike the negotiators as a significant problem.

All the expertise and effort was at the negotiating table. If these two sides could resolve the intractable conflict everyone would be relieved, regardless of the deal’s content. There was no need for a Plan B: after all, who would vote against peace? No one would read the thing anyway, and they would vote with their instincts.

But instincts change over the course of 60 years of war, especially a war in which guerrillas fight the state military and police, who themselves collude with or fight paramilitaries, who in turn fight the guerrillas—all of them killing thousands of civilians and displacing millions more. In a climate like this, the norms of justice shift; impunity rules, violence escalates, illegal and legal economies alike are infused with violence. Distrust thrives.

Personality contest

In the end, the Yes-No campaign revolved around two men: the dealmaking current president, Santos, and his predecessor, Álvaro Uribe, who campaigned for a No vote. Santos is more unpopular than ever; like many leaders from elite backgrounds, he comes off as uninterested in ordinary people. Uribe’s stock, evidently, is much higher.

[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]Many people who voted No are angry. [/quote]

At first, Uribe totally opposed any negotiations with FARC; then, once the negotiations were clearly working, he moved on to opposing any deal under which FARC members would avoid proper judicial sentences or be allowed to enter political office. His objections were always unlikely to be met, but he’d hit a nerve: for many Colombians, the social and personal injustices of negotiating an end to war were just too painful to accept.

Uribe also stood to lose out personally from the deal. The central pillar of his legacy was the military campaign that weakened FARC to the point that they would negotiate. Yet, his well-reported connections to paramilitaries who killed thousands of civilians while fighting FARC indicate a dirtier side to this war. Many of his political allies—including his head of intelligence, his brother, and his cousin (who was his campaign manager)—are now behind bars for colluding with paramilitaries to advance their political and business ambitions.

By offering reduced sentences to those who confessed their crimes on all sides, the deal could have opened up the Uribe era to unprecedented scrutiny. The media even speculated that Uribe himself could face criminal convictions for crimes against humanity.

And yet, Uribe remains surprisingly popular. He was able to mobilise his supporters against the peace process; without his efforts, there might have been a different result.

In the name of the people

Many people who voted No are angry. Like Uribe, they view the conflict with absolute certainty: destroy, by any means necessary, or be destroyed. To them, FARC must be contained either through annihilation or incarceration; there is no alternative. Those that voted Yes don’t necessarily support either the deal or Santos, but they saw no option but to accept what was offered. They were prepared to put aside revenge and retribution so that future generations could live without fear.

[quote position="right" is_quote="true"]The high proportion of non-voters, meanwhile, reflects not just popular alienation from the peace process, but also a much longer history of political distrust.[/quote]

The high proportion of non-voters, meanwhile, reflects not just popular alienation from the peace process, but also a much longer history of political distrust. Most voters have seen this all before: a deal is done behind closed doors and, outside of election campaigns, leaders take little or no interest in their people’s needs.

Ironically, that’s what started the war, and what perpetuated it. Belligerents on all sides claimed to be fighting for “the people.” But most Colombians recognised that some or all of them ended up fighting for their own interests. For some, continued conflict feels safer than peace by compromise, while others will feel that Colombia has thrown away a chance to offer its next generation a peaceful life. Still others will see this as nothing more than business as usual: a never-ending story of self-interest, lies, corruption, impunity and violence.

It’s hard to know what happens next: more negotiations, another offer, reinvigorated conflict. The already weakened FARC might yet fragment, making another deal less robust; the government might shift back to the right, possibly heralding a return to a war fought through paramilitary proxies.

Whatever happens, Colombia needs to find a way for all its people to discuss their own war—and their own peace—in a way that validates their experiences and does not escalate the violence further.

Articles
Screenshot via Sweden.se/Twitter (left) Wikimedia Commons (right)

Greta Thunberg has been dubbed the "Joan of Arc of climate change" for good reason. The 16-year-old activist embodies the courage and conviction of the unlikely underdog heroine, as well as the seemingly innate ability to lead a movement.

Thunberg has dedicated her young life to waking up the world to the climate crisis we face and cutting the crap that gets in the way of fixing it. Her speeches are a unique blend of calm rationality and no-holds-barred bluntness. She speaks truth to power, dispassionately and unflinchingly, and it is glorious.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
Ottawa Humane Society / Flickr

The Trump Administration won't be remembered for being kind to animals.

In 2018, it launched a new effort to reinstate cruel hunting practices in Alaska that had been outlawed under Obama. Hunters will be able to shoot hibernating bear cubs, murder wolf and coyote cubs while in their dens, and use dogs to hunt black bears.

Efforts to end animal cruelty by the USDA have been curtailed as well. In 2016, under the Obama Administration, the USDA issued 4,944 animal welfare citations, in two years the numbers dropped to just 1,716.

Keep Reading Show less
Science

The disappearance of 40-year-old mortgage broker William Earl Moldt remained a mystery for 22 years because the technology used to find him hadn't been developed yet.

Moldt was reported missing on November 8, 1997. He had left a nightclub around 11 p.m. where he had been drinking. He wasn't known as a heavy drinker and witnesses at the bar said he didn't seem intoxicated when he left.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities
via Real Time with Bill Maher / YouTube and The Late Late Show with James Corden / YouTube

A controversial editorial on America's obesity epidemic and healthcare by comedian Bill Maher on his HBO show "Real Time" inspired a thoughtful, and funny, response by James Cordon. It also made for a great debate about healthcare that Americans are avoiding.

At the end of the September 6th episode of "Real Time, " Maher turned to the camera for his usual editorial and discussed how obesity is a huge part of the healthcare debate that no one is having.

"At Next Thursday's debate, one of the candidates has to say, 'The problem with our healthcare system is Americans eat shit and too much of it.' All the candidates will mention their health plans but no one will bring up the key factor: the citizens don't lift a finger to help," Maher said sternly.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
via Gage Skidmore

The common stereotypes about liberals and conservatives are that liberals are bleeding hearts and conservatives are cold-hearted.

It makes sense, conservatives want limited government and to cut social programs that help the more vulnerable members of society. Whereas liberals don't mind paying a few more dollars in taxes to help the unfortunate.

A recent study out of Belgium scientifically supports the notion that people who scored lower on emotional ability tests tend to have right-wing and racist views.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics