Peace deal with rebels is defeated at the polls
Colombians enter unchartered territory as they try to figure out what’s next for the country that now finds itself divided
After a stunning referendum defeat for a peace deal with rebels, Colombians are asking what comes next for their war-torn country, which like Britain following the Brexit vote has no Plan B to save an accord that sought to bring an end to a half century of hostilities.
The damage from Sunday’s vote is still sinking in. Instead of winning by an almost two-to-one margin as pre-election polls had predicted, those favoring the accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia lost by a razor-thin margin, 49.8 percent of the votes to 50.2 percent for those against the deal.
BothPresident JuanManuel Santos and leaders of the FARC, having come this far after four years of grueling negotiations, vowed to push ahead, giving no hint they wantto resume awarthat has already killed 220,000 people and displaced 8 million.
“Iwon’t give up. I’ll continue to search for peace until the last moment of my mandate,” Santos said in a televised address appealing for calm.
But it’s not clear how the already unpopular Santos can save the deal given the stunning political defeat he suffered. For now, he has ordered his negotiators to return to Cuba onMonday to confer with FARC’s top leaders, who watched the results come in with disbelief after earlier ordering drinks and cigars at Club Havana, once Cuba’s most exclusive beach club.
“The FARC deeply regret that the destructive power of those who sow hatred and revenge have influenced the Colombian people’s opinion,” the FARC’s top commander, a guerrilla known as Timochenko, told reporters later.
The loss for the government was even more shocking considering the huge support for the accord among foreign leaders, who have roundly heralded it as a model foraworldbesetby political violence and terrorism. Many heads of state as well as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of StateJohnKerrywerepresent when Santos and Timochenko signed the deal less than a week ago in an elaborate, emotion-filled ceremony.
With the outlook uncertain, all eyes are on Santos’ Juan Manuel Santos, Ricardo Bernal, former boss and chief rival: Alvaro Uribe, the powerful former presidentwholed the grassroots campaign against the accord. With none of the government’s huge PR machine an angry Uribe gave voice to millions of Colombians, many of them victims of the FARC like him, who bristled at provisions in the 297-page accord sparing rebels jail time if they confessed their crimes and instead reserved them 10 seats in congress.
Uribe, in prepared remarks from his ranch outside Medellin after the results were in, called for a “big nationalpact” andinsistedon “correctives” that guarantee respect for the constitution, respect for private enterprise and justice without impunity. But he didn’t specify whether hewouldjoin Santos in trying to salvage the deal, and took more swipes at the FARC, whohedemandedputanend to drug-trafficking and extortion.
“The entire accord was full of impunity,” said Ricardo Bernal, 60, celebrating the victory for the “no” side in a Bogota neighborhood where opponents were gathered. “We all want peace but there has to be adjustments made.”
Across town, hundreds of supporters of the peace deal who had gathered in a hotel ballroom for what they expected would be a victory party with Santos wept in despair.
The FARC’s 7,000 guerrilla fighters are unlikely to return to the battlefield any time soon. For now, a ceasefire remains in place.
I won’t give up. I’ll continue to search for peace until the last moment of my mandate.” president Colombian The entire accord was full of impunity. We all want peace but there has to be adjustments made.” 60-year-old supporter for the “no” side
Supporters of “No” vote celebrate after the nation voted “No” in a referendum on a peace deal between the government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, in Bogota, Colombia, on Sunday.