Last Sunday, Colombian voters rejected a deal that would have ended over 50 years of conflict between the army and the FARC rebel group.
The outcome of a 50.2% majority against the deal shocked both pollsters and the majority of the country’s politicians, who had been confident that the agreement would gain widespread support. The country’s mood was perhaps best summed up by FARC leader Rodrigo Londono Echeverri (better known as Timochenko), who said the group had ‘no options’ other than a deal.
One of the longest running armed insurgencies in history, the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) were founded in 1964 and took up arms amid a climate of political repression, when their peaceful demands for increased rights over the rural land that many members farmed on fell on deaf ears. Much of this land was later sold off by the Colombian government during the 1950s and 60s to pay off its international debt.
The group has been accused of large scale drug trafficking (to the extent it was once nicknamed ‘the world’s largest drug cartel’ by George W Bush), and is suspected of large scale human rights abuses. Estimates suggest that around 260,000 people have been killed during the fighting, and millions more have been displaced.
Under the rejected 297-page agreement (for which President Juan Manuel Santos has now been awarded the Nobel peace price), FARC members who handed over their weapons and admitted their abuses would have escaped prosecution if they assisted with regeneration work in the areas most affected by the fighting.
Opposition voices, including former Colombian president Álavaro Uribe, condemned the deal as too lenient and urged voters to vote no to encourage the government to seek a more lenient deal. Points of contention include the right of FARC to be automatically guaranteed seats in congress as well as the promise of immunity for those suspected of crimes and potential changes to the country’s constitution. Opponents have also demanded that FARC use money they have obtained illicitly to pay compensation to those who have been affected by the fighting.
Such a compromise is now the only option if any hope of salvaging a lasting peace deal is to be retained. Both Timochencko and President Santos have reaffirmed their commitments to peace and said that they hope a deal can be reached, and peace talks between the two sides have now resumed in Havana. President Santos has also arranged meetings with those opposed to the original deal.
President Santos confirmed last Tuesday night that the ceasefire between FARC and the government is set to end on 31st October, although the defence ministry later confirmed that this was an initial extension and it could be prolonged further.