Since 1964 Colombia has been embroiled in a civil war that has claimed over 200,000 lives and displaced over 5 million people. One of the most prominent actors that emerged from this civil war, has been the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist Guerilla group.
After many failed negotiations, ceasefires and attempts at mediation, 2012 produced talks that finally saw the possibility of a peace agreement. These talks resulted in agreements on over 60 areas of government policy and the terms of peace. In them included: political participation of FARC; disarmament of FARC; initiatives to reduce the production of cocoa; relocation of displaced peoples schemes; amnesty for FARC’s members; and most importantly that the final agreement was to be accepted or declined in a referendum.
The referendum was to ask “do you support the final agreement to ending the conflict and building a stable and lasting peace?” In the ballot box there was a simple option of yes or no and so naturally there were campaigns formed for yes (to accept the agreement) and no (to reject the agreement).
The Argument for yes was overwhelmingly positive and hopeful for the future. It was headed by the current president Juan Manuel Santos and had also gained support and endorsement from many celebrities and sports personalities, such as Shakira and Ramadel Falcao.
The main lines of argument were that the conflict with FARC had been a constant feature of life in Colombia. Many pleaded that they needed a better country for their children. There were also initiatives to support those who have been displaced and issues in reducing narcotrafficking.
The argument for no was not focused on reigniting the conflict, though there were some that did want this. It was instead focused on it not being the right agreement for Colombia to accept. This side of the argument was endorsed by the former president Álvaro Uribe and less, but still some public figures.
The main lines of argument for this side was that FARC would benefit too much. Under the agreement, they would have received absolutely no punishments for their crimes. Many were uneasy about their guaranteed political participation too. This would have made it so FARC would have had permanent positions for at least eight years in all three of Colombia’s elected government institutions. Lastly, the recognition and participation of them in government would, in some people’s eyes, have legitimised the narcotics trade of which FARC has gained a vast amount of wealth from.
The polls before the vote looked very promising for the yes campaign. One poll said that the yes vote would have a landslide victory of 66%. Though there are many issues with polling in referendums, especially in Colombia, many were sure that the massive victory that was predicted made it a certainty the agreement would pass.
As a surprise to almost everybody, the agreement was narrowly rejected by 50.2% to 49.8%. Out of 13 million registered voters, it came down to a margin of just 56,000 people. The turnout was also very low at 37% and perhaps indicates that due to the foregone conclusion predicted in the polls, many just didn’t show up to vote yes.
Many feared that the rejection could have reignited the conflict as there had been no “plan B” in the case of the rejection. However, Santos, Uribe and FARC have all reaffirmed their commitments to finding lasting peace.
This vote is not a vote to pursue further conflict. Instead, it should be seen that the public wish for further punishment of the FARC rebels and the reduction of political participation. A new negotiated agreement is the way all parties are looking. Previously, rightwing paramilitary organisations, equal or larger in size and influence, have negotiated deals which saw their leaders being incarcerated. There is potential for this with FARC, especially as they appear not to be in a position to reignite conflict.
Any violence from FARC would further hinder FARC’s already poor public opinion standing, and they know this. Around half the population have had a family member killed directly by their actions. They knew this and publically apologised for many attacks. Now they have admitted they were wrong, maybe it is not too much to suggest that they would accept repercussions for these wrongs.
The unexpected result has left the country in an unstable situation. A lot can change in a small amount of time, especially in times of uncertainty. Now all sides have reinforced commitments to finding peace, both sides need to work quickly to set an agenda for more talks. This will reduce the likelihood of the reignition of violence as it will reduce uncertainty. With this, hopefully, Colombia can come one step closer to ending its conflict.