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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The consequences of "NO"



Taking the lives of 260,000 and leaving more than six million people internally displaced, the 52-year conflict in Colombia came to a definitive ceasefire this past year. Talks began in 2012 with President Juan Manuel Santos and leaders of FARC, resulting in a peace deal that would have required the rebel group FARC to put down all weapons, end its involvement in the drugs trade and morph into a political movement, along with the guarantee that FARC would receive ten congressional seats for the next two legislative sessions.

As a method of showing popular consensus for what was negotiated, President Santos put this deal to the test -- a public referendum with a simple "yes" or "no" vote: "Do you support the final accord to end the conflict and to build a stable and lasting peace?"

Shocking the world, the Colombian people voted "no" by a narrow margin -- seizing 50.2% of the vote. While the Peace Deal was expected to have overwhelming support, many Colombians believed the government made far too many concessions.

Despite these critiques, the voter turnout revealed it was the communities most impacted by the conflict who overwhelmingly voted “yes” for the Peace Deal. Choco is one of the provinces hardest hit by the conflict and 80% of its voters backed the deal. In Bojaya, 119 people were killed when a church was hit by FARC mortar bombs; still, 96% of Bojaya residents voted "yes."

Conversely, regions less affected had a significantly higher “no” vote percentage, the eastern province of Casanare as an example with 71.1 % vote against the deal. While many factors influenced the vote, the correlation between geographical location and support for the deal is far too significant to not acknowledge.

Despite the imperfection of the Peace Deal, the thousands of Colombians devastated by the violence and displacement voiced their support for the Peace Deal and the wishes to move forward. Ultimately, the individuals least exposed to the violence made the decision, overwhelmingly voting a”No,” and thus making the decision for the most vulnerable people who were at the hands of the atrocities which occurred in the last half century.

The Human Rights Program has many partners in Colombia who were closely affected by the defeat of the peace plebiscite. From 2012-15, we hosted the Minnesota-Antioquia Human Rights Law Partnership with four schools in Antioquia, Colombia. The “Alianza,” funded by USAID and the Higher Education for Development (HED), provided a space for students, faculty, staff, and schools to come together to broaden their skills and experience in the field and study of human rights—all the while building a network of lifelong friendships and partners through mutual respect and empowerment. Alianza coordinator Zeller Alvarez noted, “Those of us who voted “yes” voted for hope, for a new opportunity, for reconciliation, for peace with an armed group. We must be conscientious and not respond with hate or rancor for the decision made in the plebiscite. We should remember that this country is our home, that we are all one big family and we need to continue to move forward together. We must be attentive to that which lies ahead and not lose the faith, hope and respect for others.”

President Santos appeared after the vote stating the cease-fire would remain in effect. He added he plans to “convene all political groups,” especially those against the deal, “to open spaces for dialogue and determine how we will go ahead.” While the vote against the referendum carries, Colombia awaits an abundance of uncertainty as to what will happen next.


Resources consulted:
- written by Trish Palermo