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

China Daily (USA) - - WORLD - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Bo­gota

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

JOHN VIZCAINO / REUTERS

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.

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