Opinion: Shadows of Pacifism: What to Expect after ‘No’




 One of the longest armed conflicts in Western history would have virtually ended on Oct. 2; however, the Colombian plebiscite that sought to put an end to this war between the forces of the FARC and the Colombian State answered “No” to the Havana agreements signed earlier on September twenty sixth. This would have been indeed an historic moment, comparable to the collapse of the Berlin Wall. So it seems irrational to foreign eyes, even to its Latin American neighbors, that 52 years of pain do not have an ending imposed by the people themselves. More than 220,000 dead, more than 25,000 missing, more than 30,000 kidnappings, more than 5.7 million victims of forced displacement. What made the voters say no to the peace?


Reviewing the History:

 In the early decades of the 20th Century, there were conflicts between landowners and proletarians, polarizing the nation between conservatives and liberals. On April 9, 1948, liberal party presidential candidate Jorge Gaitán was killed, leading to years of political and economic unrest, plus social discontent which turns violent in a short time, followed by a barbaric dispute of power, known as the Bogotzo, that left thousands deceased.

 In 1964, the left-wing group formed the Republic of Marquetalia, a Marxist nation not recognized by the Colombian State or the United Nations, which came to be constantly bombarded by the conservative government. Later that year, the army attacked the independent Republic, killing the greater part of the farmers. The survivors joined on May 30 to officially create the Forces Armed Revolutionary of Colombia (FARC, its Spanish acronym), a guerrilla group.

 With Marxist-Leninist ideals, they had the purpose of establishing a Socialist State in Colombia. They were considered a terrorist group by the United States, the government of Colombia and the European Union, among others. Using kidnappings, military attacks and aggressions on the civilian population, they managed to gain territory and increased their economic power. They used the Soviet Union as national model, although unlike other guerrillas in different places of Latin America, they did not receive significant economic or military support from any Communist power.

 In 1984, after two decades that left thousands dead, the government of Belisario Betancur made the first attempt at a peace process, with mixed reactions due to the controversial fact that the FARC would receive a large territory without major interventions by the federal government. The treaty established a temporary truce and bequeathed a political party, the Patriotic Union (UP), composed by members, civilian sympathizers of the left and trade unionists. The government and the FARC failed to fulfill the process of peace, which was also worsened by the involvement of drug cartels.

Colombians celebrate the peace process

 The war continued and more than 5,000 members of the UP were killed, including two presidential candidates and eight congressmen. In this decade, the FARC, that originally was opposed to the drug trafficking, entered in it, through charge taxes to the traffic, earning a fortune of more than $20 million. In César Gaviria’s presidency (1990-1994), FARC formed the Simon Bolivar Coordinator Guerrilla who tried, without success, to negotiate with the government under the mediation of Mexico and Venezuela.

 In August 2010, Juan Manuel Santos who was Minister of Defense of Uribe, came to power and had a different approach that focused on education and culture. In 2012, he announced new peace efforts, and although he originally said that it would take some months, negotiations took until September 2016. Santos established a plebiscite that took place on Oct. 2. The results were extremely polarized; contrary to the poll predictions, the “No” triumphed with 50.21 percent, although it seems that the real winner was the abstentionism, a total of 13,065,025 abstained votes of 34,899,945 possible (37 percent). In the early hours of Oct. 7, 2016, the Nobel Committee announced that Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.


 If was Colombian and I was old enough to vote, I definitely would have voted “Yes” in favor of the plebiscite, but I don’t have the moral authority to protest against those who voted“No”.

 And of course the “No” won not because Colombians reject peace but because of the immense displeasure that there is about the process. The treaty was criticized harshly by a large number of independent international organizations; for example, José Vivanco, Director of Human Rights Watch, called it “a pinata of impunity.” Let us remember that the FARC have attacked human rights: recruitment of minors, abduction, inhumane treatment to hostage-taking, sexual abuse, rapes of female members and subsequent forced-abortions, among others. Yet, the sanctions applied to members of the armed conflict are way less severe than is expected. To be more specific, if a FARC member admitted to committing crimes, promised to repair the damage and swore never to commit such felonies again, the person would receive eight years of freedom with limitations, without stepping in jail, and would do work in order to repair the social fabric of the country. If the treaty had passed, FARC members could have been sentenced to eight years in prison, if they cooperated; if they did not cooperate with the processes of jurisdiction and guilt was proven, they could be incarcerated for up to 20 years.

 Although accepting the treaty would be a great sea of impunity, it would also be a gift with regards to political participation. The FARC would get 26 seats in Congress, making them the political party with the highest income (without democratic support) and a centre of thought paid for by taxes to support television/radio frequencies. It should also be remembered that the FARC has a patrimony estimated $10 billion, according to The Economist.

 Because of the impunity and the political participation, there is a great unhappiness with the dialogues; for many, there is an unfair lack of Justice. Former President Uribe (main sponsor of the “No” in the plebiscite) claimed, “Peace is exciting; the Havana Treaty is disappointing.” But I question the moral legitimacy that Uribe has to claim the process. Wasn’t it he who demobilized paramilitaries without further punishment to all their members? He justifies his actions by calling them self-defense groups, such self-defenses that happen to be involved in the drug trade. And if we look for reasons, didn’t the FARC have enough reasons to take weapons? Certainly  the violations against humanity that both groups committed can’t be denied, but for Uribe, it is OK to forgive those who identify more with his right-wing ideology.

 Those ‘No’ voters argue that the state should have put far more pressure on the guerrillas and not let them make decisions in government; however, we must be realistic with regard to the possibilities of the state. Despite the numerical weakness of the FARC, their dejected economic situation and the enormous popular disapproval, the FARC have ideological roots, and an ideology is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to exterminate; in the eyes of many historians, the guerrillas would become martyrs of socialism and the government would carry out terror of state. Destruction of Marxism should be primary in order for a group of this nature to not resurface; it is useless and inhumane simply to try to eradicate the members, although that was promised by Uribe since the beginning, as he said in a speech in 2003, “…to these bandits, it has arrived the time of the total defeat.” Yet, you have to undermine the Marxism.

 Colombia has fought a war that can’t be won with brute force. Wars must have a goal; they should not be adopted as an existential purpose or force people to get used to the pain of it. As former Uruguayan President Pepe Mujica said, “If Colombia says, ‘No,’ they would give the impression of being a schizophrenic people who cling to the war as a way of life.” And the fact is that Colombia’s middle-aged residents have lived their entire lives in war; they don’t know peace. That’s why the treaty has been an opportunity to amend this because the Colombian people deserve and should have progress; a strict justice has been searched for for five decades and has definitely failed to be discovered. Despite the valid criticisms of opponents, someone sooner or later has to ease up; even if the treaty gives forgiveness to crimes against humanity, it is naive to believe that the FARC will accept peace without any conditions. As president of the newspaper El País, Antonio Caño said prior to the treaty, “To finish [the war], there shall be efforts, shall be sacrifices… You have to make concessions…[it] is undeniable that if the peace does not interest the two parties, it is not going to last.”

 Choosing “yes” or “no” is reduced to having to choose between peace and justice. Is it ethically correct that a kidnapper spends eight years in a village, painting schools as payment to the society? Or acceptable that someone who murdered dozens of people just spends eight years in prison, while someone who committed money laundering serves time almost twice as long? All this to avoid continuing with the war. In my opinion, yes. What is in play here is the common good: repair a society destroyed by violence. Although, it is not just a grotesque degree of impunity; it is not just that thousands of people and future generations will have to suffer the consequences of human stupidity. Quoting Diana Uribe, Colombian historian and philosopher, “The truth and the reconciliation gives us a rung more in the [ladder] of the spiritual advancement of humanity, as a species because it proposes an output to the more atrocious conflicts.” Peace is an opportunity that should not be passed over; countries such as South Africa, Ireland, Lebanon and Rwanda have exemplified reconciliation as a solution, which in some points of view is irrational but effective. The Peruvian writer and Literature Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa said, “The air of time is no longer for guerrilla adventures that, in the 1960s, only served to fill Latin America’s bloody and corrupted-to-the-core military dictatorships.” The truth is that all parties in the conflict live in a surreal universe. Perhaps the agreement that is currently being negotiated has the conviction that will be approved and accepted by the population.

 However, the news that more surprised me wasn’t that the “No” triumphed but that Santos has won the Peace Nobel Prize; it is a fact that this award is always controversial, and the definition of “peace” is often problematic. Historically, there have been serious failures on part of the Nobel Committee, including Henry Kissinger in 1973, who supported dictatorships in South America, Yasir Arafat in 1994, whose efforts to get peace between Israel and Palestine failed and are overshadowed by his quasi terrorist actions, or surely more popular the case of current US President Barack Obama in 2009, a leader who has been very militant regarding Iraq and Afghanistan. And I seem to compare the Nobles of Santos with Obama’s: both awards are subject to “intentions” rather than results. Santos promised negotiations that would last months, and they lasted years, so the FARC knew that a president was so vain that his role in history was
competing with instilling peace in his country. I do not think that he deserves it until the conflict has an efficient and durable ending. Although, his Nobel Prize also represents a symbolic opportunity for the ongoing government, as well as for the opposition and rebels to collaborate with greater effort to achieve reconciliation.

 The failure of the treaty was resulted from a weak negotiation from the government and feeling of revenge from the citizens. The media sale of the agreement makes it more difficult to progress; the international community doesn’t knows how to intervene, the members of the FARC are in a limbo and there is a constant risk of them returning to war. Santos won an unfair Nobel Prize that can be added to the list of the Norwegian Committee’s disappointments. Those who suffer the most risk of continuing to lose blood are the Colombian people.