Peace Fails by a Knife’s Edge

By: Matt Dennison

On September 26th a historic peace accord was signed between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group to end a civil war that has ravaged the country since 1964. This accord came after multiple rounds of negotiations beginning in 2012. The agreement called for a a plebiscite of the Colombian people that occurred on October 2nd. It was widely anticipated the Colombian people would vote yes to the peace accords and officially end the 52 year old war that has claimed an estimated 220,000 lives and displaced 5 million people. In a shocking twist the Colombian people of which 63 percent of voters failed to place their ballot voted no with a margin of .44%. The consensus on why their was such a lack of voter turnout focused on the apathy of potetial yes voters who had assumed an easy win coupled with bad weather created by Hurricane Matthew.

The voting occurred along regional lines with outlying provinces that have been ravaged by war throughout the 52-year conflict and have felt much greater repercussions of the conflict in recent years voting yes while inland provinces excluding the capital of Bogota voted no to the peace accords. This split can be traced back to former failed peace negotiations that ended with farmers and landowners paying the price as FARC used the lull in fighting to rearm and regroup. Many no voters fear that like in the aftermath of previous negotiations FARC will gain strength but this time not in the military arena but the political arena. They fear that FARC will retain and expand its wealth through their cocaine production and extortion of cocaine producing farmers. in an effort to create a war-chest that their political figures could use to outstrip traditional Colombian parties in upcoming elections. The fear is once FARC gains a substantial number of seats they could steer the entire country into a left-leaning direction.

The president of Columbia Juan Manuel Santos who was a proponent of the accords said there is no plan B but he will not give up and will fight for peace. Leaders of the Colombian Government and FARC rebels led by Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri now must go back to the drawing board to write up new accords that are more amenable to the Colombian people. Both leaders have expressed to the public that the ceasefire will remain in place.

Opponents of the plan have said they voted no to force a negotiation with tougher penalties for both Government soldiers and FARC guerillas guilty of war crimes. They say the accords promised “restrictions of liberty” did not live up to the desires of the people. Opponents are also pushing for the rescission of the government’s concession of ten congressional seats and the promise of investments in rural development programs which many in Colombia including the former president Uribe insists that Colombia does not have the finances to support.

The future is unclear despite the promises of peace by both the Colombian government and FARC. The longer uncertainty is left to fester the higher probability that an outcome unacceptable to all Colombians occurs. The talks could collapse over time and a return to the status quo could occur and an even more disheartening outcome could be complete disintegration of FARC into constituent groups that would be near impossible to demobilize. The international community is needed to show support for continuing peace negotiations which will lend credibility to the peace process. This support could lead to a resumption of talks and a new more acceptable agenda.

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