It was 1 a.m. when she found out. The Colombian people rejected the peace agreement.
A-fifty-two-year-old conflict between the Colombian government and the anti-governmental insurgent group, principally the Revolutionary Armed Force of Colombia (FARC) was about to end, as the two sides signed a peace agreement on the 27th of September. However, the referendum held a week later messed up the plans, with 50,2% of Colombian people expressing their denial to forgive FARC for the war crimes they committed.
Unlike the majority, Laura supports the peace agreement. “Voting ‘no’ was not a smart decision. I was very disappointed”, she says.
Laura Cecilia Marenco Galavis is half-Dutch and half-Colombian. She obtained her first bachelor degree in Social Communication and Journalism back in Colombia, but she quickly realized that she wanted to change her career path. The private education in Colombia was very expensive, and being half-Dutch, she chose to head to the Netherlands. Currently, the 23-year-old lives in Groningen and is studying Economics.
Laura was already living in the Netherlands when the referendum took place. “I wish I was there. I am very angry! The majority of the Colombian people didn’t even go to vote. Despite the fact that many people were killed during this war, they chose ignorance”. The turnout was indeed low, with fewer than 38% of the population casting their votes. Moreover, nearly 270,000 ballots were rejected as unmarked or annulled. These are the votes of people who failed to express their opinion. “It is surprising that so many ballots were spoiled. This means that claiming that ‘the-no-vote’ won, is at least inaccurate”.
The demographic review of the referendum results reveals that Colombia was divided. The votes casted in favor of the agreement mostly came from the provinces, whereas the majority of the urban population voted against it. “People from the countryside, those actually affected by the war, with massive indiscriminate killings taking place, voted in favor. And people from cities, who were never threatened, voted against”, Laura explains. Nearly 260,000 people were killed and 6 million were internally displaced during the war. Indeed, this is hard to forget. But, if the no-vote indicates that Colombians are not willing to forgive FARC, then the ones expected to vote against are those living in the countryside.
According to Laura, the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos failed to sufficiently promote the agreement. “He hadn’t conducted any campaigns to encourage people to vote ‘yes’. He didn’t inform people about the importance of that vote. He took it for granted that he will have the public’s support. He was relying on the fact that people were getting tired of the war”. Santos underestimated his opponents. The opposition, led by the former populist president Alvaro Uribe, was promoting the no-vote through the media intensively, spreading the fear that Colombia will end up like Venezuela – a longstanding ally of the FARC. “People were not willing to read all 297 pages of the agreement. They chose to be brainwashed by Uribe and the media. They felt that by voting ‘yes’ they will give the country up to the FARC”, Laura says.
The fact that Uribe found supporters concerns Laura. “People forgot the crimes that he committed and voted under his mandate”. Under Uribe’s presidency, killings by the army and far-right militias escalated, fuelling violence int he country. These crimes were never investigated.“Indisputably, the FARC guerrilla group generated violence. And yes, they caused unspeakable pain. But these paramilitary groups, first created to fight FARC, ended up massacring innocent people who had nothing to do with the rebels. These groups were backed up by Uribe. And I wonder: is he the right man to follow? I honestly don’t know who is worse, Uribe or the FARC”.
Despite the fact that Laura is not planning to return, she hopes for the best possible outcome for her home country. For her, this would be implementing the peace agreement. “The President is the only one who has the power to undertake this decision”. The referendum was only held to see where the public opinion stands. The opinion polls predicted that the agreement would be supported by the majority, with 66% percent of the population voting in favor. “When the opposite happened, Santos was not ready. He didn’t have a plan B. It was silly! You should expect the most unexpected in Colombia”.
The last weeks, following the referendum, are being intense for Laura. Everyone is waiting for the President to decide whether he is going to proceed with the agreement that will end the war. “Santos gave time to his opponents to express their concerns regarding the agreement. This was taking too long. And when they finally made some proposals, one could notice that everything they came up with was already part of the agreement. They should have read it before voting against”, Laura says. But still, the opponents insist that the agreement is to lenient for the FARC. The fact that it allows rebels to enter the parliament dissatisfies the majority.
Despite the uncertain future of the agreement, President Santos has won the Nobel Peace prize. But the 23-year-old doesn’t feel proud. “I think the International Community is just pushing Colombian people towards a more favourable position regarding the agreement. They are trying to show Santos that ending the war is the only right thing to do”.
When the two parts signed the peace agreement in September, they were all dressed in white clothes, symbolising their intention for peace. The pen they used was made from a bullet. The guerrilla leader Timochenko apologized for the war crimes. This is something that would be unthinkable years ago. However, Laura doesn’t believe in the “pure intentions” of “these terrorists”. When FARC was created in 1964 their goal was to overthrow the government and install a Marxist regime, but they ended up threatening and killing innocent people. “I think they just realized after fighting against the government for 52 years that they could not win this war. Now, they are just trying to settle things down”.
“I realize that it is hard for Colombian people to forgive and forget. I understand their anger and it is totally justified. But I really hope that the President will make the right decision. This ridiculously long war should come to an end!”