A mere formality gone wrong?
What could have been an historic peace accord to put an end to a war that had devastated Colombia for the past 50 years and was touted to be the longest running civil war of Latin America, was voted out by the Colombian people.
The plebiscite was supposed to be just a step to be ticked in the checklist of getting the peace accord in action. A fait accompli. But maybe the selling of the plebiscite as such is what led to its defeat. Why go to vote Yes if the vote is already certain? This may explain the low voter turnout of less than 37%.
Though the ‘No’ camp won by a slight margin, it says a lot about people’s perception about the decision making procedures in the country and its execution.
What was the War about?
The war had started out as a minor tussle between the government and left wing guerrila group FARC- Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. FARC had risen from the remnants of the La Violencia period of agrarian rural warfare that had gripped Colombia in the 1920s. Like the requisite ingredients to blow up a civil war, the Colombian civil war too had a mixture of socio-political and economic factors. But the aim of achieving social justice for the citizens led the communist FARC to adopt to some pretty gruesome means like drug trafficking and child soldiering and they lost their earlier popularity with the masses.
US interference cannot be far behind whenever civil disturbances are in order.The Peace Corp set by JFK in 1961 was an effort to contain communism and the volunteers of the Corp were to help the natives in agricultural development, education and health amenities. Instead they started collaborating with the American mafia and led to a spurt in the growth of cocaine and narcotics in Colombia.
But the network and will of the FARC soldiers to keep the fight on, has seen a huge downfall in the recent years. In 2002, the no. of FARC soldiers was near 20,000 but recent studies have shown the no. to have dwindled to 6000-7000 soldiers. Discontent and hope to rejoin the society is high among FARC soldiers who just want to lead ‘normal lives’ again.
What’s the Big ‘DEAL’ about??
The peace talks had started in 2012 in Cuba, between Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader and negotiator Timoleon Jiminez. It went back and forth for 4 years, until in 2016, a consensus had been reached. They had finally arrived on a 6 point plan which would have formalized the cease-fire and would have confirmed that the weapons possessed by FARC would be “beyond use”.
According to the 297 page agreement the FARC leaders had agreed to hand over their weapons and to be monitored by UN inspectors. They would have formed a political party which would have an assured 10 seats in the Congress in the 2018 and 2022 elections.
Amnesty was to be granted to those FARC members who confessed of their crimes i.e instead of facing prison, they would engage in social work- helping victims and de-mining war zones, repairing damaged infrastructure etc
So why did the people vote No?
The ‘No’ wasn’t a denial for the peace accord but for the terms under which it was being finalized. The local phrase in trend to comment on the accord was “swallowing toads”. People felt betrayed by the though that the FARC leaders who committed grave crimes against humanity will not be serving jail time.
Former President Alvaro Uribe, whose father was slain by the FARC, had led the campaign for the “No” vote said that people had wanted justice and not impunity for the FARC leaders. While his military approach to deal with the rebels, was the reason they agreed to the peace talks in the first peace, Uribe feels that the present accord is in major need of corrections to serve the interests of the citizens.
Social media played a huge role in yielding influence. Many have blamed it for being a platform of misinformation spreading stories like the state of Colombia, post the accord, would be much alike Venezuela where the narco-traffickers work hand in hand with the government or that the accord would be the first step in establishing a communist regime in Colombia.
Women soldiers of FARC feel that gender equality exists more in the guerrilla army than in the Colombian society
Homophobia and gender insensitivity could also be a reason, as many voters were supposedly against the gender provisions made in the accord especially the segments on LGBTQ. A sub-commission on gender and women issues had submitted its suggestions as to how the reintegration of female FARC soldiers into the society, should take place. Their points had found a place in the accord but the strong opinion circulating in the media was that these issues could be tackled under a separate slab and were not as urgent.
A lot also fell on the campaigning style of the 2 camps. The Santos government actually put forth questions that were biased to the accord and placed emotional blackmail of sorts by retorting to statements in ads, that those who vote No are actually supporting the continuation of war.
The No camp could effectively communicate to people, in simple messages about the dangers of the peace accord while the Yes camp could never really portray its benefits. This goes on to show how manipulation works in modern democracy. Under the garb of political assertion of the masses, leaders work the questions in a certain way to get a certain response.
The Nobel Twist
The announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize just days after the thrashing of the peace accord is a positive development for Santos. Awarded in recognition of his efforts to bring peace to Colombia, the Nobel does add the much needed strength to his cause. The award is also a tribute to the victims of the conflict and to all parties that cooperated in the peace talks.
The Nobel surely softens the sting of the Uribe camp and implicitly shows the support of the international community to be with the Santos government.
While largely uncertainty looms over the next course of action for the Colombian government, the FARC-EP has maintained its stance on peace-keeping but with FARC leaders thinking that they have already given too many concessions, the possibility of them agreeing for jail team for their members is highly unlikely.
Thought the Santos government is quite unpopular now, Santos still has command over the congress and can still garner up support with the right strategy. The recent meeting of Uribe and Santos after almost 6 years to discuss the changes in the accord is a major step-up in the process.
Even if the renegotiated peace accord gets voted through by the people, problems for the government wont stop there. There are numerous issues to be confronted even then such as reintegration of the FARC soldiers, some of them children, into the society. To make those who have only known a life of violence abide by rules and follow societal norms will be a mammoth task.
But lets not jump the gun. The government has to keep aside the haste and arrogance it portrayed the last time and work on an inclusive accord and democratically fair plebiscite.
Swati Sudhakaran is pursuing Masters in Public Policy at Mount Carmel College, Bengaluru