On October 2, Colombian electoral officials announced the surprise victory of the ‘No’ vote in the national referendum to approve the peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Moderated by Jason Marczak, Director of the Latin America Economic Growth Initiative at the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, the conference call on October 4 dove into a timely discussion about why a majority of voters rejected the agreement and what the way forward should be for Colombia to achieve peace.
Following the plebiscite outcome, President Santos pledged to work with members of the ‘No’ constituency to address their concerns and continue working toward peace. But, questions remain. Will the FARC accept a new deal? As the negotiators return to the drawing board, will the current ceasefire hold or will fighting resume?
To discuss the aftermath of the plebiscite vote, Jason Marczak, Director of the Latin America Economic Growth Initiative at the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, was joined by Ricardo Ávila, editor in chief of Portafolio — Colombia’s largest and most influential business daily — and Miguel Silva, nonresident senior Colombia fellow at the Latin America Center and organizer of the political coalition in favor of the “Yes” vote.
In addition to the historically low voter turnout, Silva identified political divisions and disenchantment with President Santos as factors contributing to the victory of the “No” vote.
“Many people decided to vote against Santos, to vent their frustration and anger with the economic situation and to show their hatred toward the FARC. That was not a vote against the agreement” said Silva. “Uribe managed to convince some of his voters and the undecided that voting ‘No’ was a way of voting for a better peace.”
In the renegotiation process, the leaders of the ‘No’ campaign — Centro Democrático, the right-wing opposition party of former President Alvaro Uribe — will play a central role. President Santos has appointed Foreign Minister María Angela Holguín, Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas, and Chief Negotiator Humberto de la Calle to facilitate dialogue with the opposition and present the new proposals to the FARC. The main points to be discussed include mechanisms of transitional justice, jail time and denial of political eligibility for FARC leaders. Other concerns pertain to land issues and the economic commitment made by the government.
While all parties have expressed a desire to work together toward a lasting peace, the speakers explained that the reality is much more complicated. The negotiations are mired in uncertainty about how the FARC will react to the Centro Democrático’s hardline demands that members convicted of serious crimes not be granted any amnesty and be denied the possibility of political representation — both of which they were granted under the peace agreement signed on September 26.
“On the side of the FARC there was shock and disbelief,” said Ávila. “While the deal allows the main base of FARC members — 95 percent of the fighters — to receive political amnesty right away, the main problem has to do with the FARC leaders,” Ávila added. For peace negotiations to continue, “FARC leadership will have to pay a higher price than the price with the agreement that was not approved on Sunday.”
Similarly, with the 2018 presidential elections coming up, the experts questioned whether Uribe and his supporters will aid the government’s efforts to achieve peace in the near future or whether political divisions will ultimately thwart the entire process.
“The government hopes to save the agreement and, in the very short term, the bilateral ceasefire. I think the FARC want to save the peace agreement but historically they have shown that they will take any additional advantage in their favor. Any sign of weakness on the other part is good for them. And then what is Uribe’s incentive to help Santos achieve peace right now and become the savior of a peace that Santos designed?” stressed Silva. “I don’t think he has the incentive” he concluded.
Without a solid peace agreement in place, both speakers noted the difficult task of preserving the bilateral ceasefire and emphasized that the longer the negotiations take, the more difficult it will be to maintain peace.
“Time is of the essence. We have a few weeks to see if this process moves forward. If not, in some places people will probably be too tired to fight and in some places people will resume their old ways, including cocaine trafficking” stated Ávila.
Both Ávila and Silva urged the international community to support Colombia and push for a quick resolution to the peace process.
“The main support the international community can give today is related to two things: help the government and the guerrillas finance and maintain a bilateral ceasefire, and put enormous pressure on Uribe to make good on his promise to help negotiate a better peace deal,” Silva asserted.