Colombia Gives War a Chance

Colombians yesterday narrowly voted down a referendum which would have allowed the leftist guerillas of the FARC to transform themselves into a legal political party after decades of war. As La Silla Vacia’s Juanita Leon writes in this passage from a longer article, the driving force behind the No campaign was former president (and former right wing paramilitary leader) Alvaro Uribe, constitutionally banned from seeking the presidency again, but now a senator who wields enormous influence:

The victory of the “No” vote is a victory for Alvaro Uribe, the most recognizable face of the “No” campaign. It was he who succeeded in giving the campaign a language, in intensifying the repugnance of Colombians for the FARC and toward the government, and also for president Juan Manuel Santos for abandoning [Uribe’s] Democratic Security policy [which attempted to involve the general population in counterinsurgency efforts].

But perhaps it is not the former president’s popularity that explains everything. After 52 years of inflicting damage on the population, people passed the bill to the FARC; and until the final hours, the group did not have the humility to ask Colombians for forgiveness, or commit to recompense its victims from its own coffers. It was simply not possible to do everything the FARC has done and get away clean. Its actions had left tracks. And now they will not have the pretext of media manipulation to explain the failure, since in this case the propaganda apparatus was working in its favor.

With 6.4 million votes “No,” any future scenarios regarding the FARC will have to go through Alvaro Uribe, and he must now be held partly responsible for relaunching the negotiation of a “better agreement” that he claimed would be possible if his option won the referendum.

The vote also opens the door for Uribe to return to power either in a different person’s body, or maybe even in person if this No vote opens the gate to a constituent assembly in which anything and everything goes, including the constitutional prohibition on reelection of presidents.

President Santos, obviously is a big loser in this contest. But he is not the only one, or the biggest loser. The biggest losers are the millions of Colombians who live in the areas most affected by the conflict, and who voted in the majority for the Yes option, with the illusion that urban Colombia would put their interests at the forefront when it voted as well.

But perhaps all is not lost. After all, it has once again been demonstrated that there is a democracy in Colombia, and the department of elections is not a mere appendix of whoever is in power. More than thirteen million people showed their commitment to the future of the country one way or another, without needing to be paid for their votes. And even in the peace accords there is a change that something might be saved after all the efforts.

In December of 1989, the Barco government sank a referendum on the peace accords with the M-19 [urban leftist guerillas]because of a disagreement on prohibiting extraditions, but the M-19 and the government were able to save the peace process even as the accords were scrapped.

Perhaps with generosity, creativity and composure, the opportunity for peace can finally be saved, now that the FARC, Alvaro Uribe, and practically all Colombians agree that peace is the best way forward for this country. The formula itself will be found soon enough.

Juanita Leon Translated from Spanish by International Boulevard.