The “plebiscide” that FARC feared and the public misunderstood

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By: Ainara Lertxundi / Source: GARA / The Dawn News / October 4, 2016

Photo credit: El País
Photo credit: El País

The peace agreement committed suicide by calling to an ill-conceived plebicite.

The FARC had denounced the “strange and exotic” way in which this plebiscite was launched: too late and with errors. There were right to be concerned, because international backing to the agreement hasn’t found a correlation in society, especially urban population, who feel disconnected from a war they see as distant.

The campaign for the plebiscite was launched too late (or the voting was held too soon), and many have voted mainly with the faces of Santos and Timochenko in mind, which resulted in a sort of double-punishment vote.

The rejection to the Final Agreement has put before the eyes of the world something that was already visible although it hadn’t been addressed, the elephant in the room: the unanimous international support to the peace process didn’t reflect what was really going on in Colombia. The pedagogy of peace has failed despite the marathonic campaign that the negotiators of the government made between the closing of the dialogue, on August 24, and the plebiscite on October 2. It wasn’t enough to achieve closure for a cycle of violence that, over the span of fifty years has killed 220,000 people, 81,5% of whom were civilians.

The plebiscite, which was promoted from the beginning by President Juan Manuel Santos, has left all of the compromises expressed in the Final Agreement in a limbo and the FARC in a labyrinth. It’s worth remembering that the delegation of the guerilla outright opposed the plebiscite as a mechanism of refrendation, and instead proposed to convene a National Constituent Assembly. In an internal document to which GARA had access, they qualified the plebiscite as a “strange and exotic way to reach the desired end” and that they “reject it not only because it is unconsulted but because it is the most irrelevant and less convenient of all initiatives”.

Nevertheless, on June 23, at the presentation of the agreement to end the conflict (with the presence of Santos and the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon) the delegations of the FARC and the government announced that they had agreed on leaving it up to the Constitutional Court to choose the way in which the agreement would be refrendated, and the court ended up picking the plebiscite.

In an article published on September 8 in Times, journalist John Carlin asked: “Plebiscite or plebiscide?”. He highlighted that “such an opportunity to end with war (…) doesn’t present itself every day”. “Say yes to the future and no to the past. The world is watching you”.

On the same day in which the agreements were signed, in a roundtable organized by the TV show “Semana en Vivo”, hosted by journalist María Jimena Duzán, Carlin asked the other guests if they were “really sure if the result was going to be ‘Yes’”. The director of the “Semana” magazine, Alejandro Santos, answered that he trusted “the sense and wisdom of a people that has endured a lot”, and warned that a victory of the “No” would be “a jump to the abyss” in a “fragile” political and economical scenario.

The favorable opinions expressed by famous Colombian journalists and the media coverage of the agreements in the interior of the country, mainly in the final stage of the process, were insufficient to popularize the agreements and their importance. According to a source close to the peace delegation of the FARC, “one of the big problems” of the peace dialogue has been the lack of interest in the agreements, to read the small print, understand them and make every citizen understand them, especially those who haven’t suffered due to the conflict and see the FARC as mere “terrorists” who are linked to drug trafficking. They can’t see the importance of peace and how the solution to the conflict would benefit them. Therefore, for them, the abstention or the vote for the “No” was a way to punish both Santos and Timochenko.

The results also reflected the internal division of the country, between the rural and the urban areas. While the “Yes” to the peace agreements won in the areas most afflicted by the armed conflict, the “No” won in urban centers, where war hasn’t been felt as much.

Also, despite the express support of the Pope to the process, the Catholic Church has had a decisively negative influence on the results. Ecclesiastics have raised their voices against peace by saying it would end with “traditional families”, that Colombia would become a “homosexual dictatorship” (sic) or that the country was being “handed over to communism”, and therefore to “the devil”. The main reason for this was that the agreement included a pioneering gender approach, which had been praised by the UN.

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