Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos.

Columbia Referendum Fells FARC Peace Deal

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After four years of laborious negotiations, the peace deal assembled by government authorities and FARC – the last vestige of the 20th century’s Latin American guerrilla organizations – has gone up in smoke.

Columbian voters opted to turn down the deal in a referendum this week, leaving authorities scrambling to salvage what many analysts considered the best hope for ending the 52 year-long conflict that has left 220,000 dead and more than 6 million displaced over its decades-long existence.

The “no” vote narrowly won, garnering 50.2% of the vote compared to the “yes” vote’s 49.6%. Turnout was a low 38%.

Despite the low voter turnout, the fact remains that those who show up to the polls make the decisions, and with this week’s choice to jettison the peace deal, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over Columbia.

Following the results, Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos has begun aggressively courting the opposition to the peace deal, hoping to change minds and cement his legacy as a moving force that brought the internal strife between the Columbian government and the left-wing revolutionaries to a close. Following the vote, he remarked that the country needs “unity, we have to leave behind our quarrels, the hatred and the polarization which causes us so much damage.”

For his part, Rodrigo Londoño, the head of FARC, also expressed commitment to peace, stating that “peace is here to stay.”

Londoño added, however, that the guerrilla group would only remain part to the deal it has already signed, indicating that further concessions to opponents of the peace deal are a roadblock to a final agreement.

A large point of contention in the peace deal involves a provision that allows guerrilla leaders to avoid jail time if they admit to crimes, as well as another permitting them to run for elected office.

While no deal is perfect when it comes to bitter opposing sides mired in a history of violence, there are parallels for other unsavory deals that nonetheless helped usher in peace.

The Troubles in Ireland – while not completely finished –  did partially conclude in a peace deal that included similiar provisions, permitting former IRA members to hold elected office. While FARC is responsible for criminal acts, including murder, the government is by no means guilt-free with regard to its own actions over the past five decades. Elites formed right-ring paramilitary groups in the 1960s, acting as death squads that wiped out villages considered sympathetic to FARC. Clearly, both sides have blood on their hands.

Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail, as it will ultimately prevent the further loss of life in a conflict so far removed from its origins its hard to understand the ideological fuel that keeps it running.

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