Our organization, the Colombia Support Network, supported a “Yes” vote in today’s Plebiscite, a vote in favor of the Peace Agreement arrived at between the FARC-EP guerrillas and the Colombian Government. The Agreement, consisting of some 297 pages of carefully considered provisions under which the guerrillas would lay down their arms and pass through a transitional justice system, took some four years to negotiate. We believed that the Agreement represented a positive step towards arriving at a just solution to the conflict, particularly since great emphasis was placed upon the rights of victims of the conflict.
However, the Colombian people voted, by a margin of less than 1%, for “No”, leaving the implementation of peace uncertain. While the rainy weather in much of the country held down the vote—reportedly only 37.43% of eligible voters made the effort to vote—the fact is that a majority of the voters rejected the Peace Agreement. It might be possible for the Government to allow people in areas where rain and rushing water kept them from voting—there were no polling places even in some rain-drenched towns in the countryside—to vote on a determined date in the near future. Whether that would affect the ultimate margin in favor of the ”No” vote is unclear.
What does this vote mean for the future of peace and justice in Colombia? First it should be said that it may still be possible to implement a Peace Agreement. As the Constitutional Court determined several weeks ago, it was not necessary for President Santos to hold a plebiscite to implement the negotiated agreement between the FARC and the Government. Commentators have already begun to discuss possible future means of implementing a peace agreement, by renegotiation of the existing agreement or by holding a Constituent Assembly to provide a new Constitutional structure incorporating the terms negotiated between the FARC and the Santos Government. Renegotiation has been proposed by the leader of the campaign for a “No” vote, former President Alvaro Uribe Velez, who wants much harsher terms for the FARC and elimination of some penalty provisions applying to members of the Colombian Armed Forces who might be judged for committing violations of human rights or war crimes or commanding Army units that did so. FARC leaders have spoken out against renegotiation and the negotiators for the Santos Government appear reluctant to undertake renegotiation.
We should not overlook the importance of the media in motivating people to vote, and ultimately enlarging the “No” vote, by giving a substantial voice to the shrill comments and charges of Alvaro Uribe Velez and the negative pronouncements of former Procurador General Alejandro Ordonez. In addition, the numerous surveys and hyping of the competition, instead of calmly explaining what a vote would mean, may have had a negative effect on the “Yes” vote.
Whatever President Santos and FARC leaders may decide to do, one thing we believe is absolutely essential: we must continue support for the many non-government organizations and grassroots organizations throughout the country which have worked tirelessly for peace and a more just society. We at the Colombia Support Network have been privileged to have been able to form relationships with several community organizations in areas of conflict. We are determined to continue to support the valiant efforts of these organizations and of human rights leaders throughout the country who will continue to work for peace with justice.
Colombia Support Network
October 2, 2016
John Laun, CSN President, July 9, 2016