Colombians reject peace deal with rebels
> Shock referendum result plunges nation into uncertainty
BOGOTA: Colombians narrowly rejected a peace deal with Marxist guerillas in a referendum yesterday, plunging the nation into uncertainty and dashing President Juan Manuel Santos’ painstakingly negotiated plan to end the 52-year war.
The surprise victory for the “no” camp poured cold water on international joy, from the White House to the Vatican, at what had seemed to be the end of the longest-running conflict in the Americas.
The “no” camp won by 50.21% to 49.78%. Voter turnout was only 37%, perhaps partly owing to torrential rain through the country.
Both sides in the war immediately sought to reassure the world they would try to revive their peace plan.
Santos, 65, said a ceasefire already negotiated would remain in place.
He vowed to sit down today with the victorious “no” camp to discuss the way forward, and send his chief negotiator back to Cuba to meet with FARC rebel leaders.
“I will not give up, I will keep seeking peace until the last day of my term because that is the way to leave a better nation for our children,” said Santos, who cannot seek reelection when his second term ends in August 2018.
The commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, known by his nom de guerre, Timochenko, gave a similar message from Havana, where peace negotiations have taken place over the last four years.
“The FARC reiterates its disposition to use only words as a weapon to build towards the future,” said Timochenko, whose real name is Rodrigo Londono.
“To the Colombian people who dream of peace, count on us, peace will triumph.”
Santos recently said a “no” vote would mean a return to war, and opinion polls had predicted he would win comfortably.
Traditionally conservative Colombian voters, in favour of peace in principle but unhappy at perceived soft treatment for the guerillas, confounded those forecasts.
Opponents of the pact believed it was too lenient on the FARC rebels by allowing them to re-enter society, form a political party and escape jail sentences.
“I voted no. I don’t want to teach my children that everything can be forgiven,” Bogota engineer Alejandro Jaramillo said.
Opponents want a renegotiation of the deal with rebel leaders serving jail time and receiving no free seats in Congress.
“We all want peace, no one wants violence,” said influential former president Alvaro Uribe who led the “No” campaign.
“We insist on corrections so there is respect for the constitution. We want to contribute to a national accord and be heard.” – Reuters