Any popular vote against peace is disappointing. Sunday’s in Colombia, where voters rejected a peace plan four years in the making that would have ended the country’s 52-year-old civil war, was especially disheartening.
I spent three months in Bogota and Cali last year where I met dozens of people whose lives have been directly or indirectly impacted by the war. Even in areas where the conflict was no longer visible on the surface –besides the typically strong military presence, that included most areas– people seemed genuinely weary. Even with a strong mistrust of the FARC guerillas, a majority seemed ready to cautiously forgive and move on.
That was the reading in most polls leading up to Sunday’s referendum which asked Colombians to give their stamp of approval on the deal, championed by President Juan Manuel Santos, that was signed in Cartagena, the country’s colonial jewel, just one week earlier.
By conservative estimates, the war has claimed some 250,000 lives, and displaced millions; currently about six million Colombians are internally displaced. In sheer numbers, that’s currently second only to Syria.
Few expected the No side to win, even by its slender 50.21 to 49.78 percent, a difference of less that 54,000 votes from some 13 million cast. Not even former President Álvaro Uribe, the far right voice who led the No campaign.
The voter turn out was just 37 percent. Some of that due to heavy tropical rains in coastal areas.
Most of the headlines yesterday were downbeat, at least from the point of view of those who support a cessation of hostilities. While there is no Plan B, Santos and FARC leaders have pledged that the cease-fire will hold.
From Greg Grandin, writing in The Nation:
That bad-weather luck almost wants you to invoke the apocalyptic conclusion to Colombia’s most famous novel, Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, where an unending hurricane washes all away. But the peace might not be lost. Lisa Haugaard, of the indispensable Latin American Working Group, told me, “The Colombian government, fully engaged in finding a negotiated solution, did not do the outreach, socializing, and explaining of the accords that was necessary. The ‘no’ campaign effectively organized around its negative message. Fortunately, after it was clear the ‘no’ vote narrowly won, both President Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño pledged that the cease-fire will hold and that they remain committed to peace.”
According to The New York Times, the government and FARC have already announced that they would send diplomats to Havana to begin discussing how to salvage the peace. The FARC responded to the vote by announcing that they remained committed to peace; indeed, the UN has already started disarming the guerrillas. Santos stated that the cease-fire will hold, and the historian Robert Karl, who just wrote a terrific “centuries long history behind Colombia’s peace agreement with the FARC” in The Washington Post, tells me that Santos, as president, has “a good deal of discretionary power” over the military, so let’s hope Santos can keep the security forces on a leash. What Washington, who has spent billions on this war (for the lethal effects of Plan Colombia, see these very useful charts by the Latin American Working Group), will do is unclear. As of early morning Monday, the State Department hasn’t commented.
Since yesterday morning my thoughts were and remain with people like Oscar Gonzalez, aka Guache, a muralist who I met in Bogota and had the opportunity to watch at work. (Check here for a project at a school in a marginalized barrio in Bogota.) The piece at the top of this post, declaring that ‘Peace is Ours’, is by Guache, widely considered as one of the finest street artists and muralists working in Latin America today.
His was the first message I saw on Facebook on Monday morning reacting to the vote.
“50,21% de Incertidumbre, miedo, guerra sucia, dios castigador, bombas asesinas, amenazas, latifundio, homofobia y sinrazón.
Al otro lado, nosotros tranquilos, honrando la vida y manteniendo el fuego encendido: solidaridad, libertad, amor eficaz!” he wrote.
A rough translation:
“50,21 % for uncertainty, fear, dirty war, God as punisher, murderous bombs, threats, large estates, homophobia and unreason.
On the other side, we shall be in peace, honoring life and keeping the fire going: Solidarity, freedom, love!”
In the meantime, Santos and Uribe have agreed to meet tomorrow, Wednesday, to seek a way forward.
A couple related and lengthier pieces for background, written and posted when I was in Colombia last year:
- ‘I’m a beautiful man’ – The Homeless and Colombia’s False Positives (17 June 2015)
- Colombian Military Top Brass Linked to Extrajudicial “False Positives” Killings (25 June 2015)
For the record, today’s Pic du Jour, the site’s 1,005th straight, was snapped in Bogota, Colombia, on 17 June 2015.