On the one hand, you have a plea from the President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos: “to give peace a chance.” On the other hand, you have the former President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe demanding that Colombian voters get a chance to, for a second time, reject the Santos Government’s peace agreement with the FARC rebels.
Uribe says Santos’ agreement fails to give Colombians justice, fails to hold FARC leaders accountable for a war that lasted 25 years and killed more than 200,000 people. Uribe wants some of them in jail, and none of them in politics, no chance of any FARC candidate winning seats in the Colombian Congress.
Uribe campaigned on those issues against an agreement signed on September 26 and shocked everyone when his No voters rejected the agreement by a margin of 57,000 votes out of 13 million – 50.2% to 49.8.
Polls had predicted a Yes win by almost 2 to 1…but turnout was dismal, 38% of registered voters, and was especially bad where Hurricane Matthew was raging in some of President Santos’ strongest regions.
Still the vote was the vote and negotiators for both the Government and the FARC had to make a new agreement…one with 50 changes in it from the original. But none of them change the immunity granted to some low-level FARC fighters and reduced sanctions for some bigger FARC fish who committed notable violent crimes, bombings, massacres and large-scale drug deals. And the new deal still lets the FARC make itself into a political party.
Still, the Colombian Congress, where there is a majority coalition for the peace is expected to pass it soon, without citizens getting another chance to vote.
Come 2018, when Colombians vote on a new President, the peace agreement and how it came to pass could be a big issue. But long before then, it will be a huge administrative burden for the Government, and, there is fear, it coul become the predicate for a new round of savage violence as other armed groups try to take over the turf and the cocaine business now being relinquished by the FARC.
Joshua Goodman is the Associated Press (AP) Bureau Chief for Northern South America, based in Bogota. He attended both signing ceremonies for the peace agreements between the Colombian Government and the FARC rebels, and President Obama’s last Latin American visit, to the APEC meeting in Lima, Peru.