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Columbia Referendum: Voters Reject FARC Peace Agreement

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On 3 October, voters in Colombia shockingly rejected a landmark peace agreement with FARC rebels. In the shock referendum result, 50.2% voted against the deal, which was signed last week by President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez after nearly four years of negotiations. The deal needed to be ratified by Colombians in order for it to come into force.

Colombians were asked to endorse or reject the peace agreement in a popular vote that took place on Sunday 2 October. The “yes” campaign had the backing not just of President Santos, but also of a wide array of politicians both within Colombia, and abroad, including United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. There was also a vocal campaign for a “no” vote, which was led by former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. Polls conducted ahead of Sunday’s vote suggested a comfortable wind for the “yes” campaign, however in a surprise result, 50.2% of voters rejected the agreement compared with 49.8% who voted for it. The difference with 98.98% of the votes counted was less than 54,000 votes out of almost thirteen million ballots. Turnout however was low, with fewer than 38% of voters casting their votes.

Country Divided

The country was divided regionally, with most of the outlying provinces voting in favor of the agreement and those nearer the capital and inland voting against it. In the province of Choco, which has been one of the hardest hit by the conflict, 80% of voters backed the deal. In the town of Bojaya, where at least 119 people were killed when a church was hit by FARC mortar bombs, 96% of residents voted “yes.” The capital, Bogota, also voted “yes” with 56%. In the eastern region of the country in the province of Vaupes, 78% voted in favor of the deal however in the eastern province of Casanare, 71.1% voted against it. It is an area where farmers and landowners have for years been extorted by the FARC and other illegal groups. In Antioquia, the home state of ex-President Uribe, 62% also rejected the deal.

Most of those who voted “no” have disclosed that they thought that the peace agreement was letting the rebels “get away with murder.” Under the agreement, special courts would have been created in order to try crimes that were 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 one step too far. Many also balked at the government’s plan to pay demobilized FARC rebels a monthly stipend and to offer those wanting to start a business financial help. “No” voters indicated that this amounted to a reward for criminal behaviour while honest citizens were left to struggle financially. Many also stated that they simply did not trust the rebels to kept their promise to lay down arms for good, pointing 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. Others still were unhappy that under the agreement, the FARC would be guaranteed ten seats in the Colombian Congress in the elections in 2018 and 2022. They said that this would give the newly created party an unfair advantage.

What Does the “No” Campaign Want?

The main proponent of the vote against the agreement was former President Alvaro Uribe. Following the vote, Mr Uribe insisted that he was not opposed to peace however that he wanted to renegotiate some of the agreement, which he said needed “corrections.” Amongst the “corrections” he has demanded are:

Addressing the nation after the surprise election result, President Santos disclosed that he accepted the result, noting however that he would continue working to achieve peace. He further indicated that the bilateral ceasefire between government forces and the FARC would remain in place. He has also told government negotiators to travel to Cuba in order to consult FARC leaders on the next move. Meanwhile the FARC leader has disclosed that the rebels remain committed to securing an end to the conflict, stating, “the FARC reiterates its disposition to use only words as a weapon to build toward the future

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