Colombia’s future thrown into uncertainty after voters reject peace deal

A landmark peace deal between the Colombian government and the country’s largest guerrilla group has been left in limbo after voters narrowly rejected it in a referendum.

The result saw the no vote win by 50.2% to 49.8%. The result shocked the government of Juan Manuel Santos, who has spent four years locked in an intense peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). While both sides promised to try and fix the issues with the agreement, the government’s chief peace negotiator offered his resignation.

The government had been confident the vote would be in favour of the peace agreement and had received international support. But within the country many had criticized the terms for being too lenient and it is now likely that the population will not accept a future deal unless tougher sanctions are imposed on FARC.

Under the original terms, the FARC’s fighters would have ceased armed action and transitioned into a legal political party. The group’s leaders would also have been spared jail time if they confessed to their crimes and instead be ordered to do community service and face short term restrictions on movement.

Their crimes would likely have ranged from murder and kidnapping, to attacks on civilians and the recruitment of child soldiers. President Santos’s predecessor, Álvaro Uribe, criticised the peace terms arguing that the government was offering amnesty to war criminals.

Finding a way forward

Despite the public’s rejection of the deal it is unlikely either side will want to continue the war that has run for over 50 years, and claimed the lives of more than 250,000 and displaced millions. In a televised address the President said that the ceasefire, which has been in effect for over a year, will remain in place and he will call upon all political groups, including those who opposed the deal, to discuss what the next step will be for the country.

“Now we will decide among all what path we must take to peace – the peace that we all want – it is possible and we can still come out from this situation stronger,” he said.

On the day the result was announced the United Nations emphasised that it is fully committed to the peace process in Colombia and will continue to support the government in reaching an agreement with the rebels. UN special representative, Jean Arnault has been dispatched to Havana, Cuba where peace negotiations are taking place for consultations.

statement issued on Monday by a UN spokesperson said: “Following the result of the plebiscite, the Secretary-General welcomes the public commitment from the Government of Colombia, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) and all of the country’s political forces to continue working to end the armed conflict and build a lasting peace. After more than five decades of war, the Colombian people deserve no less.”

It added: “The Secretary-General acknowledges the tremendous efforts undertaken to overcome the conflict and calls on all concerned to build on that foundation.  He believes strongly that peace can still be achieved, and that the many Colombians who have committed themselves to this goal should not be discouraged.”

(Written by Steve Shaw; Editing by Robyn Hunter & Wenzel Frick)