By Estefanía Restrepo, LL.M. 2017
Last Sunday we had an historic vote in Colombia. That day, through a referendum, Colombians were asked if they “supported the final agreement between the government and FARC to end the conflict in order to build a stable and lasting peace.” From 4.00 pm, the time when the elections were closed, I began to closely follow the results. I was convinced that the support on the agreement was going to win, as polls had expected it to be that way. I truly believed that the polarization that I experienced around me, and the great support that NO had among many of my relatives and friends, would be diluted when regarding the country as a whole. This conviction became weaker at 4.30 pm when the 30% of the votes were counted, and the results showed 50% of the votes were for the YES and 50% of the votes said NO.
The final results consolidated the victory of the non-supporters of the agreements by a margin of 53,000 votes and one abstention of more than 60%. I really felt frustrated by the fact that we haven’t been able to say yes to the opportunity to put into practice a peace agreement. Although imperfect as most peace agreements negotiated, this agreement did guarantee repair for thousands of victims and gave opportunities to those who never in their life had a different option than going to the war. I felt frustrated to regard a country with a great difficulty to get out of the traditional standards to build peace, to see a country that demands traditional punishment and a great part of the population that doesn’t understand how a negotiation process could entail former criminals participating in politics.
In my heart I have a feeling of uncertainty, which I think is shared across the country. This scenario was not foreseen. I think even those who supported the vote against the agreements never imagined they could win. It is not clear what is next. Although the possibility of renegotiating has been raised and the Government and the Opposition have already had their first meeting, it is clear that the issues most concerning for the opponents of the process are the issues whose negotiation was more complex in Havana. Remember that the agreement is the result of more than four years of negotiation. Therefore, the big question is how long will it take to renegotiate complex topics such as justice and political participation of the top leaders of the guerrilla groups? Will the FARC agree to renegotiate these issues?
Despite the uncertainty, there is encouraging news: both the government and the FARC have decided to maintain the bilateral ceasefire. This invites us to think that at least for now there will be no more deaths generated by the confrontation between the armed forces and the guerrilla group. Nonetheless, it is not clear for how long this bilateral ceasefire could be maintained and until when the guerrillas will accept to stay in this limbo situation.
It hurts me when I think of the great number of lower level fighters that were already located in specific areas to begin their transition to legality, something that cannot be done now because it was subject to the society’s support of the agreement. Hopefully their dreams will not get troubled by this difficult moment, and they can still have the confidence, as well as I do, that soon something good will happen that will allow them to begin a process of disarmament and reconciliation.
There is a lot to learn from this process, but I do want to highlight three big mistakes that I think the Government did in the process prior to the referendum vote: first, not having done more to seek the inclusion of the opposition in the process. While it is clear that they had no willingness, I think if the Government had included them from the beginning perhaps the YES would have won; second, having made an event in Cartagena last September to sign the peace agreement, without having certainty of the possibility of its implementation (as this depended on the vote of last Sunday); and third, that the Government didn’t promote an educational and pedagogical process about the peace process on time. This allowed many people to be confused about the extent of the agreement, as well as to have misleading ideas of the main components of the agreement.
Today, and despite the difficult moment in the country there is a certainty: all Colombians want peace, and we are all united to achieve this goal. However, we need to find unity in the how, in the means and processes to achieve the peace that Colombia deserves, and do so quickly because the clock is ticking. Hopefully these means invite reconciliation and offer opportunities to those who had never had one before. Colombia deserves to write a new history so that the history of violence from now on will only be found in books. In addition to these wishes, I only have the certainty that peace is not only a goal to achieve as a country, but a mindset we should all have in our daily lives.
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