“Peace is an illusion, the Havana agreement deceptive,” former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe wrote on Twitter on Sunday after casting his “no” vote for the referendum that would have granted the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) a path to inclusion in Colombian civil society and politics.
Last week, a peace deal between Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, was signed to end the fifty-two-year war that led to the killing of an estimated 220,000 people and the displacement of six million. Thousands of women were raped by fighters and children were forced to fight in the war. Conditions of the September peace deal required Colombians to ratify it. On Sunday, October 2, 50.2 percent of Colombians rejected the peace deal and 49.8 percent voted in favor.
The New York Times notes that just about every major poll indicated an approval of the peace deal, but now the future of rebels, who had planned to rejoin Colombia as civilians, is left uncertain. “The FARC reiterates its disposition to use only words as a weapon to build toward the future,” Londoño said in a statement. “With today’s result, we know that our challenge as a political party is even greater and requires more effort to build a stable and lasting peace.” President Santos appeared on Colombian television on Sunday and reassured the public that the cease-fire signed with FARC in September would remain in effect, adding that he would soon “convene all political groups,” especially those opposed to the peace deal, “to open spaces for dialogue and determine how we will go ahead.”
At the ballot, Colombians were asked: “Do you support the final agreement to end the conflict and construct a stable and enduring peace?” Many Colombians who voted “No” are in favor of the cease-fire, but they consider the agreement with the FARC rebels as too lenient.
The agreement, had it been approved by the public, called for the FARC rebels to immediately abandon their rebel camps for twenty-eight “concentration zones” throughout Colombia, where over the next six months, they would surrender their weapons to United Nations teams. The Times notes that rank-and-file rebels were expected to be granted amnesty, while those suspected of war crimes would be judged in special tribunals with reduced sentences- which included years of community service work such as removing FARC land mines planted during the war.
Santos has sent negotiators to Havana to meet with FARC rebel leaders to discuss the next steps. Santos is also reaching out to the Colombian Congress, where many will try to negotiate for harsher penalties against the FARC rebels. “Everyone has said, including those who sided ‘no,’ that they could renegotiate the deal, but obviously that would have political challenges,” said César Rodríguez, the director of the Center for Law, Justice and Society, a nongovernmental organization in Colombia. “It was a small majority, but a valid majority, and that has consequences.”