Negotiations for a peace deal between the Colombian government and its largest rebel group has come to a screeching and surprising halt.
As of last week, hopes had been high that the 52-year long period of conflict between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) would come to an end. However, the deal was ultimately defeated by the citizens of Colombia in a referendum.
The margin that defeated the deal was extremely narrow, with 50.2 percent of voters opposed and 49.8 percent in favor of ending the conflict, according to the Associated Press. The referendum does not represent a desire to continue the conflict. Indeed, the Colombian citizenry have been seeking a peaceful resolution to the prolonged fighting for years.
The Colombian government and Marxist FARC militia have been pursuing peace negotiations for the last four years. However, some citizens of Colombia felt obligated to reject the truce based on principle. These citizens saw the terms of the peace deal as too lenient on the rebel group, whose members would be incorporated back into society with little to no strings attached.
Though the leaders of FARC will face some form of retribution for their involvement in perpetuating war crimes, their sentences would be significantly reduced. These terms, in the view of many Colombian citizens, do not go far enough. Essentially, they feel these moderate stipulations would allow the rebel group’s members to get away with horrible atrocities.
The people of Colombia suffered greatly for decades from the agressions of FARC. Spanning 52 years of conflict, an estimated 220,000 Colombians were killed, and approximately 5 million people were forced out of their homes.
When FARC was at its height, its terrorist activities encompassed seizing Colombian territory, mounting attacks on government forces, trafficking cocaine as well as carrying out high profile kidnappings.
As a part of their fighting tactics, FARC even forced children to fight as full-fledged soldiers amongst their ranks. The referendum’s rejection of the long-negotiated peace deal has left the country in a state of uncertainty and limbo. The status of the conflict now remains unresolved. Neither wants to continue the fighting, yet the Colombian people have, for now, rejected peace.
Furthermore, the referendum’s outcome has come as a complete surprise to the Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos. Because he did not anticipate such an adamant refusal of the proposed truce, President Santos failed to formulate a backup plan.
Now, the rebel leaders and government officials will have to recommence negotiations starting from square one. A new peace deal may be difficult to reach that will both satisfy rebels as well as the people of Colombia, who have long been victims of murder, extortion, kidnapping and other attacks committed by FARC.
Moving forward, the future is uncertain for Colombia. Despite the referendum’s rejection of the peace deal, the ceasefire will remain in place while negotiations continue. The Colombian referendum has made it clear that the country is deeply divided.
Colombian government officials have recognized the importance of bridging the gap and making compromises to mend the split. Otherwise, trying to implement a peace deal that is favored by only half of the population would pose a great difficulty.
Worries have surfaced that the referendum is not only a reflection on dissatisfaction with the deal itself but also the Colombian government itself, which is reflected in eroding support for President Santos.
With such a wide array of interests fighting each other on both sides, trying to reach a new deal will pose a great difficulty, negotiations will likely not come to a smooth resolution in the near future.