No to reconciliation in Colombia

In a referendum held on Sunday a narrow majority of Colombians rejected a peace deal with the Farc rebels. 50.2 percent voted against the agreement that was to end decades of civil war-like circumstances in the country. Commentators examine why the Colombians voted against the deal.

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T24 (TR) /

Peace doesn't come at the flick of a switch

Colombia is not yet ready for peace, writes human rights activist Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu on the online portal T24 based on his own experience with the failed Turkish peace process with the PKK:

“Clearly the agreement is unacceptable to a large part of society. If a slim majority had voted Yes the peace may well have collapsed within a short period of time, causing additional setbacks that would prevent a resumption of the peace talks. ... For that reason this result is perhaps more conducive to enduring peace. I made the same objection during the two and a half year peace process in Turkey. An agreement obtained merely between the state and a given organisation cannot last for long without the participation of society as a whole. In an environment that has been poisoned by the state for many years and in which mutual distrust has been fomented continuously, an agreement reached only at the negotiating table cannot guarantee lasting peace.”

ABC (AU) /

Politicians ignored their people's needs

Australian public broadcaster ABC also explains why the Colombians didn't vote for the peace deal:

“Many people who voted No are angry. ... To them, Farc must be contained either through annihilation or incarceration; there is no alternative. ... The high proportion of non-voters, meanwhile, reflects not just popular alienation from the peace process, but also a much longer history of political distrust. Most voters have seen this all before: a deal is done behind closed doors and, outside of election campaigns, leaders take little or no interest in their people's needs. Ironically, that's what started the war, and what perpetuated it. Belligerents on all sides claimed to be fighting for 'the people'. But most Colombians recognised that some or all of them ended up fighting for their own interests.”

Daily Sabah (TR) /

Government miscalculated

The referendum would have had a different result if the Columbian government had not made a strategic mistake, Daily Sabah believes:

“Those who decided to negotiate with the FARC apparently were not able to explain to the people what they were doing and why. It seems they could not address the people's real expectations. They had to pay more attention to public opinion and work on changing that. ... The Colombian nation is now divided 50-50 and the politicians will have to rule over a polarized country. ... It is obvious that asking for foreign mediation on a domestic issue was not a good idea. One always imagines third parties as being impartial and in favor of peace; but this is only our imagination. They may pursue completely different agendas, and while they seem to be working for peace, they may create a ticking time bomb instead.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Colombians weren't just voting on peace

As in other referendums the vote in Colombia was not just about the question at hand, NRC Handelsblad comments:

“It wasn't just about the agreement with the Farc, but also about the popularity of [President] Santos himself, the poor state of the economy, the violence in the cities and drug-related crime. As is often the case, in this referendum too the real question was obscured by other issues. That's never desirable, and certainly not when the issue at stake is a precarious peace deal. Santos played a risky game with peace and lost with 49.78 percent against 50.21 percent. But this extremely narrow result is also cause for hope. Because even the no voters want peace, and a large part of the population could live with the treaty. So there's room for further negotiations.”

Verslo žinios (LT) /

Peace process stalled

The entire peace process is in danger, political scientist Gintarė Žukaitė fears in Verslo žinios:

“The bad news is that the Colombian government is now under pressure to make the Farc's previous acts liable to prosecution in any new peace process. But the Farc's basic position in negotiations up to now was precisely that fighters who hand themselves over would not go to prison. As a result the peace process threatens to end in an impasse. The negotiators of the Colombian government and Farc will meet in Cuba to seek a solution. President Juan Manuel Santos has called peace his highest priority. The Farc leaders say the same. But now there is cause to doubt whether a consensus is at all possible.”

Sydsvenskan (SE) /

Desire for reconciliation remains

Even though a narrow majority rejected the peace deal with Farc the will to establish peace is still there, Sydsvenskan comments:

“President Santos is not the only one who used his credibility to have the peace deal signed. Although the United States still sees Farc as a terrorist organisation, US President Barack Obama's government backed the agreement and promised to increase funds by almost 50 percent. … Naturally one can argue that peace wouldn't have been sustainable in the long term if a large section of the population viewed it as unfair. But the turnout was conspicuously low, roughly 40 percent. On top of that heavy rain affected the results of the vote - it had been assumed that the yes vote would be stronger in rural areas. Fortunately nothing points to the desire for peace having been washed away by the rain.”