On October 2, Colombians voted against a peace agreement that was meant to end the longtime fighting between the government and one of the country’s prominent Marxist rebel groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). Those who opposed the peace deal won by a very small margin; while 49.8 percent voted in favor of the deal, 50.2 percent of Colombians voted against it.
The unexpected vote against the peace agreement came as a shock to many Colombians who were in support of the deal. Days before the vote, major polls had predicted that the deal would pass by a significant margin, and many were hopeful that the 52 year war would finally end with the hopeful promise of peace.
Peace negotiations have been on the table between the government and the rebel group for four years – and for some, like former president César Gaviria, a vote by the Colombian people against the peace deal could mean only the continuance of the war.
Yet for others, especially victims of the violence carried out by FARC over the years, the peace agreement was far too forgiving. It would have given many rebel fighters amnesty and allowed them to start living their lives as normal Colombian citizens. Rebel leaders involved in war crimes would have received reduced sentences, with expectations for the rebels to complete years of community service work.
For Colombians who have known nothing but the gruesome kidnappings and killings of the FARC insurgency, the idea of having these fighters live among them was unsettling. They saw no future in which a peace deal between the government and the rebels would be effective.
The war between FARC and Colombia’s successive governments has taken a tremendous toll on the country. Over 200,000 people have been massacred in the fighting, and six million Colombians were displaced. Children were forced to go to war and given ready access to weapons. Now, with the rejection of the deal, the fate of the country is uncertain.
It is unclear what will happen to the rebels who were ready to acclimate to and reacquaint themselves with Colombian society. However, both sides have sworn to stop fighting. President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leaders agreed to a cease-fire prior to the vote, and during the signing of the settlement FARC leaders apologized to the Colombian people on national television.
Neither President Santos nor FARCA leader Rodrigo Londoño are interested in continuing the war, even after the rejection of the peace referendum. Londoño, who, along with many of the rebels, has been taking part in the peace negotiations from Havana, Cuba, said in a statement that FARC wants to use, “…only words as a weapon to build toward the future.”
Both Londoño and the Colombian president are determined to establish lasting and stable conditions of amity for the country. Despite this assurance, the country is divided, and Colombians are reeling from the vote’s results.
It is still too soon to tell if the vote against the peace deal will have negative consequences. While many Colombians have grown weary of the war and want to live peacefully, still others – including some of the nation’s former leaders – believe that peace with FARC is unattainable, and that the rebel fighters do not deserve any leniency or pardon. In the end, it was the latter group whose vote has now decided the still uncertain fate of the country.