Colombians didn’t vote against peace

Julian de Lavalle is a US-Colombian dual citizen living in Doral. He teaches economics and civics at iPrep Academy in Downtown. You can follow him @jdelavalle.

profilepicThere was too much at stake. And the promising outcome — a chance to bring to an end a brutal armed conflict that has spanned generations — was too valuable to risk.

That is why I felt the need to swallow my objections and support a peace treaty between the Colombian National Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC (Marxist guerrillas? Rebel group? Narcoterrorist organization?). Heck, I flew to Washington, D.C., just to cast my vote.

But, to me, it was never a clear-cut decision. It was never #ObvioQueSí, a condescending hashtag used by treaty supporters to spread their enthusiasm over social media.

And in the end, the majority of Colombians who cast their votes on this historic referendum put the brakes on the peace process by voting No by the slimmest of margins – essentially revealing a country divided into juxtaposing halves.

Many privileged Colombians and foreigners in particular are left perplexed as to why a nation would vote against a negotiated treaty to end a violent conflict that has cursed it for 52 years.

Make no mistake about it – just about every single Colombian you will ever meet wants peace for the country. It’s the greatest national aspiration. But, in the case of millions of Colombians, the price to pay for that peace has its limits.

And while it is true that the rural regions of the country inhabited by victims of the conflict overwhelmingly voted , understandably seeking an immediate end to violence, there are many Colombians in cities who, while not direct victims, have been hurt by this conflict and opted to vote No.

They might fit the following profiles:

  • Colombians who are unemployed, internally displaced, or working in the informal sector could object to the agreement’s plan to pay FARC militants integrated into civil society a stipend of 90 percent of the monthly minimum wage for a period of two years.
  • Middle class Colombians who dutifully pay taxes to the state could object to the use of taxpayer funds to finance the cost of reinserting FARC militants into civil society.
  • Colombians with family members jailed for minor offenses could object to the agreement’s transitional justice arrangement, which eliminates jail sentences and offers reduced penalties to the perpetrators of crimes against humanity (upon admitting their crimes).
  • Colombians with strong religious convictions could object to much of what was left out of the agreement, such as the exclusion of specific provisions to adequately compensate for decades of forced recruitment of child soldiers into the FARC ranks.
  • Other Colombians have reasonably objected, from the beginning of the peace negotiations, to the exclusion of the political opposition from the negotiating table… which just happens to be set in Cuba – a country with a regime that offers very few democratic guarantees to its own citizens.

Of course, there are also those who ideologically object to any sort of “impunity” for high-ranking FARC officials, to granting them political participation, to facilitating their transition from an armed force to a political movement.

These people, largely supporters of former President Uribe, have been accused of harboring resentment and hate, of being “enemies of peace” and fundamentally incapable of forgiving (be mindful that this group includes the family members of fallen victims, soldiers, national police officers, etc.)

This is the profile of the No voter that is getting exported following the confusion over the outcome of the referendum.

The fact of the matter is that the country is not divided over the question of Peace. As it is becoming increasingly clear, it is divided over the terms of the agreement. The actual question the ballot might as well have been “Is this worth it?”

In a sense, the outcome presents a remarkable opportunity for the Colombian people. The early reaction by all parts including the government, the FARC and the Uribe-led opposition, has been to extend olive branches – reaching out to counterparts, expressing commitment to continue the process, presumably incorporating the voices of the No vote to the negotiation. There even seems to be an assumption that all the parties would be willing to revisit the terms of the agreement.

This is a high risk, high reward proposition. The peace process and the bilateral cease-fire hang by a delicate thread now.

But should all parts agree to the terms of peace, with the participation of the previously excluded opposition, it could give way to a great national compromise that leads to real reconciliation. Allowing for opponents voices to be heard and their grievances addressed within the framework of the deal could lead to an accord much stronger than one which yields a 50-50 vote, and potentially, a more perfect and inclusive democratic national union.

Perhaps this inconvenient outcome may yield a real “stable and lasting peace” for Colombia.  

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