Colom­bia war zones split over re­jected peace deal

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The ar­eas hard­est hit by Colom­bia’s half-cen­tury con­flict were deeply di­vided over a peace deal be­tween the FARC rebels and the gov­ern­ment re­jected by vot­ers in a shock ref­er­en­dum de­feat. The deal, which failed Sun­day when Colom­bians nar­rowly voted against it, broadly split the coun­try be­tween those who have ex­pe­ri­enced the war first-hand and those who have mainly watched it on the news, ex­perts said.

“The ru­ral world, which has lived through the con­flict, bet on peace. The ur­ban world said ‘No,’” said Ariel Avila of Colom­bia’s Peace and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Foun­da­tion. “Be­cause ur­ban Colom­bia didn’t live through com­bat, air strikes... it doesn’t see the need” for mak­ing con­ces­sions to the left­ist rebels, he told AFP. But even ar­eas that en­dured the war were deeply split over the deal, the prod­uct of nearly four years of ar­du­ous ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Pres­i­dent Juan Manuel San­tos’s gov­ern­ment and the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia (FARC). “We’re po­lar­ized in many ways. Even vic­tims of the con­flict are po­lar­ized,” said po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Juan David Car­de­nas of La Sa­bana Univer­sity in Bo­gota.

Op­po­nents of the deal at­tacked it for be­ing too soft on the FARC, a Marx­ist guer­rilla group launched in 1964. The prospect of light sen­tences with no jail time and the FARC’s re­launch as a po­lit­i­cal party did not sit well with Colom­bians who as­so­ci­ate the group with civil­ian mas­sacres, hostage seizures and sow­ing ter­ror in the coun­try­side. The prom­ise of repa­ra­tions for vic­tims and a spe­cial sys­tem of courts to try crimes com­mit­ted dur­ing the con­flict failed to sway many of the mil­lions of Colom­bians be­reaved, maimed or up­rooted by a war that has killed 260,000 peo­ple.

It was no sur­prise the “No” vote won in con­ser­va­tive ar­eas such as the cen­tral cof­fee-grow­ing re­gion or the north­west­ern depart­ment of An­tio­quia, the strong­hold of for­mer pres­i­dent Al­varo Uribe-the deal’s chief op­po­nent. But San­tos, who has staked his legacy on the peace process, and FARC leader Ti­moleon “Ti­mochenko” Jimenez, who guided the guer­ril­las to­ward a ne­go­ti­ated exit, got a rude up­set in other re­gions where they ex­pected strong sup­port.

In Mar­que­talia-the cen­tral re­gion where the FARC was launched in the after­math of a peas­ant up­ris­ing crushed by the army-the “No” camp took 63 per­cent of the vote. And re­jec­tion of the deal was “over­whelm­ing” in some ar­eas the FARC has tra­di­tion­ally con­trolled, such as Norte de San­tander and Arauca on the Venezue­lan bor­der, said Car­de­nas. “There was a hid­den, un­der­ground mind­set among peo­ple who re­fused to say openly that they would vote ‘No.’ They never sup­ported amnesty, po­lit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion,” he told AFP.

Un­ex­pected re­sults

Still, the elec­toral map fea­tured some un­ex­pected para­doxes. For ex­am­ple, in the north­west­ern town of Bojaya-the scene of a FARC mas­sacre that killed 79 peo­ple in 2002 — al­most 96 per­cent of vot­ers cast “Yes” bal­lots. Ev­ery mu­nic­i­pal­ity in the western depart­ment of Cauca, one of the con­flict’s main bat­tle­grounds be­cause of its lu­cra­tive co­caine trade, voted “Yes.” And in Mitu, a south­ern city seized by 1,500 rebels in 1998, more than 75 per­cent of peo­ple voted in fa­vor of the deal. Eimer Sandino, a 29-year-old driver from San Vi­cente del Caguan, a south­ern re­gion that has tra­di­tion­ally had a strong FARC pres­ence, said op­po­si­tion to the deal was rigid in his area.

“You want Colom­bia to be dif­fer­ent, for your chil­dren’s fu­ture. But it’s dif­fi­cult to kick-start peo­ple’s think­ing. The war has af­fected lots of fam­i­lies,” he said. But in the end, the area voted nearly 63 per­cent in fa­vor of the deal-well above the na­tion­wide fig­ure of 49.78 per­cent. “I have lived through the ship­wreck of war, and I am for peace,” said Naime Cometa, a 58-year-old mer­chant, ex­plain­ing her vote. “Here in th­ese re­mote ar­eas, the guer­ril­las were the law.” —AFP

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