Voters, in Colombia, have rejected a landmark peace deal with FARC rebels in a referendum result with 50.2% voting against it. If backed, the agreement would have seen the group handing over weapons, ending its involvement in the drugs trade, and changing into a political movement. Under the deal, the rebels would have additionally taken part in legislative elections in 2018 and would have been guaranteed a minimum of 10 seats in Congress for their first two legislative periods.
President Juan Manuel Santos and rebel leader Timoleon Jimenez, who apologized to “all victims of the conflict,” both signed the agreement.
The plebiscite asked for a simple “Yes” or “No” answer to the question: “Do you support the final accord to end the conflict and to build a stable and lasting peace?”
Polls conducted ahead of the vote suggested a comfortable win for the “yes” movement, but in a surprise result, 50.2% of voters rejected the accord.
Colombia was divided regionally with most of the outlying provinces voting in favour of the agreement, while those nearer to the capital voted against it. In the province of Choco, which is one of the areas that is most affected by the conflict, 80% of voters backed the deal. In Bojaya, a town where, at least, 119 people were killed when a church was hit by FARC mortar bombs, 96% of residents voted “yes.” Colombia’s capital, Bogota, also voted “yes” with 56%. In the eastern province of Casanare, on the other hand, 71.1 % voted against the deal. Similarly in Antioquia, the home state of ex-President Uribe, 62% rejected the deal.
The “yes” movement had the backing, not just of President Santos, but also of a plethora of politicians both within Colombia and internationally, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
But, there was also a vocal campaign for a “no” vote, which was led by former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
Most of those who voted “no” said they felt the peace agreement was letting the rebels get away with too much, as under the accord, special courts would have been created to try crimes committed during the conflict. Those who confessed to their crimes would have been given more lenient sentences and would have avoided serving any time in conventional prisons. For many Colombians, this was far too generous. “No” voters also objected to the government’s plan to pay demobilized FARC rebels a monthly stipend and to offer those wanting to start a business financial help. They said this amounted to a reward for criminal behaviour while honest citizens were left to struggle financially.
Many also said that they simply did not trust the rebels to keep their promise to lay down arms for good. They pointed to previous failed peace negotiations when the rebels took advantage of a lull in fighting to regroup and rearm as evidence that the FARC had broken their word before.
President Santos has stated that in regards to next steps, the bilateral ceasefire between government forces and the FARC will remain in place.
President Santos has promised to “continue the search for peace until the last moment of (his) mandate, because that’s the way to leave a better country to its children.”
The FARC leader, known as Timochenko, also said that the rebels remained committed to ending the conflict.
“The FARC reiterates its disposition to use only words as a weapon to build toward the future,” he said after the result, “count on us, peace will triumph.”
However, before the vote, President Santos had told the BBC that there was “no Plan B” for ending the 52-year long conflict, which has killed an estimated 260,000 people.
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