Pres­i­dent to push ahead on peace af­ter shock­ing de­feat

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Joshua Good­man and An­drea Ro­driguez

BOGOTA, COLOM­BIA >> Colom­bians re­jected a peace deal with left­ist rebels by a ra­zor-thin mar­gin in a na­tional ref­er­en­dum Sun­day, scut­tling years of painstak­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions and de­liv­er­ing a strun­ning set­back to Pres­i­dent Juan Manuel San­tos, who vowed to keep a cease-fire in place and forge ahead with his ef­forts to end a half-cen­tury of war.

Fi­nal re­sults showed that 50.2 per­cent op­posed the ac­cord with the Revo­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia while 49.8 per­cent fa­vored it — a dif­fer­ence of less than 54,000 votes out of a to­tal of 13 mil­lion. Pre-elec­tion polls had pre­dicted the “yes” vote would win by an al­most two-to-one mar­gin.

“I won’t give up. I’ll con­tinue search for peace un­til the last mo­ment of my man­date,” San­tos said in a tele­vised ad­dress ap­peal­ing for calm and in which he tried to re­as­sure vot­ers he was in con­trol of the sit­u­a­tion.

To save the ac­cord, San­tos or­dered his ne­go­tia­tors to re­turn to Cuba on Mon­day to con­sult with FARC lead­ers who watched the re­sults come in from the com­mu­nist is­land. He also promised to lis­ten to op­po­nents in a bid to strengthen the deal, which he said is Colom­bia’s best chance for end­ing a con­flict that has killed 220,000 peo­ple and driven al­most 8 mil­lion peo­ple from their homes.

“I’ve al­ways be­lieved in a wise Chi­nese proverb to look for op­por­tu­ni­ties in any sit­u­a­tion. And here we have an op­por­tu­nity that’s open­ing up, with the new po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity that has demon­strated it­self in the ref­er­en­dum,” he said be­fore de­scend­ing to the steps of the pres­i­den­tial palace to ad­dress a small group of sup­port­ers, some of them cry­ing and wav­ing white flags sym­bol­iz­ing peace.

The shock out­come, com­pa­ra­ble to Bri­tain’s de­ci­sion to leave the Euro­pean Union in the Brexit vote, opens an un­cer­tain out­look for an agree­ment that was signed less than a week ago by San­tos and the FARC in a cer­e­mony at­tended by heads of state, U.N. Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry — all of whom her­alded the ac­cord.

Op­po­si­tion to the ac­cord, led by in­flu­en­tial for­mer Pres­i­dent Al­varo Uribe, ar­gued that the govern­ment was ap­peas­ing the FARC and set­ting a bad ex­am­ple that crim­i­nal gangs would seize on by spar­ing rebels jail time if they con­fess their crimes and guar­an­tee­ing the group 10 seats in congress through 2026. If the “no” vote pre­vailed, Uribe said, the govern­ment should re­turn to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

But that is an op­tion San­tos has pre­vi­ously ruled out.

With the govern­ment’s abil­ity to govern now in ques­tion all eyes are on Uribe, the coun­try’s most­pop­u­lar politi­cian and whose al­most decade-long mil­i­tary of­fen­sive forced the FARC to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. In his home state of An­tio­quia, the coun­try’s sec­ond-most pop­u­lous, the “no” vote won by a whop­ping 24 points.

In pre­pared re­marks de­liv­ered at his ranch out­side Medellin, Uribe called for a “big na­tional pact” and in­sisted on “cor­rec­tives” that guar­an­tee re­spect for the con­sti­tu­tion, re­spect for pri­vate en­ter­prise and jus­tice with­out im­punity.

“We want to con­trib­ute to a na­tional ac­cord,” Uribe said, with­out ex­plic­itly say­ing whether he sup­ports San­tos’ call to con­tinue seek­ing a peace deal with the FARC. “We know that our com­pa­tri­ots who voted ‘yes’ will lis­ten to us upon re­ceiv­ing our mes­sage of good will.”

Pres­i­dent San­tos served as Uribe’s de­fense min­is­ter but the two haven’t spo­ken for years, lead­ing many pun­dits to joke that bring­ing the two for­mer al­lies to­gether is harder than achiev­ing peace with the FARC.

Early in the day, FARC lead­ers, in­clud­ing Ti­mochenko and Ivan Mar­quez, sat in leather re­clin­ers at Club Ha­vana, once Cuba’s most ex­clu­sive beach club, watch­ing the ref­er­en­dum re­sults on a flat-screen TV. Ini­tially the at­mos­phere was fes­tive, with the guer­ril­las laugh­ing and jok­ing while snack­ing on cheese­and-olive hors d’oeu­vres, smok­ing cigars and vis­it­ing an open bar.

But the mood soured as re­sults be­gan to come in, and the rebel com­man­ders talked in hushed tones on cell­phones, con­ferred qui­etly and asked jour­nal­ists to leave the room.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Op­po­nents to the peace deal signed be­tween the Colom­bian govern­ment and rebels of the Revo­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia, FARC, cel­e­brate Sun­day as they lis­ten to the re­sults of the ref­er­en­dum to de­cide whether to sup­port a peace ac­cord in Bogota, Colom­bia.

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