The No Campaign Extends from Britain to Colombia

By, Cecilia de Almeida CAS ’19

On June 23rd, the results of the Brexit voting shocked many who were following the polls. Never was it truly expected that the majority of the British community desired to leave the European Union, ultimately changing trading dynamics and immigration laws that were established over the course of twenty years. Little was it known that Brexit would be only one of a series of shocking events surrounded by uncertainty throughout this year. Not even six months later, the world has experienced yet another shocking outcome in a national referendum, this time in a Latin American country that envisioned ending a 52-year-old civil war. On September 26th, the Republic of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed a peace treaty in Havana, Cuba that was supposed to symbolize the end of all hostilities between the federal government and the guerrilla group. The signing of the document held an incredibly hopeful message, one that would become an image of successful diplomatic arbitration, the cessation of armed hostilities and the country’s ability to move past the red stain in its history.  All this would quickly be overshadowed by the rejection of the Colombian population to the peace deal the following week.

The main criticism Columbians had about the deal was its significant leniency. “At the height of its terror campaign, the armed group seized territory, attacked government forces and conducted high-profile kidnappings. The Rebels also hijacked planes, made millions on trafficking cocaine and forced children to fight”[1]. In a country where most of its people have yet to live in an area free of political and civil unrest, 50.2% of the population could not see it within themselves to accept the moderate terms of the peace accord. Some of the conditions included that the FARC, “…immediately abandon their battle camps for 28 concentration zones throughout the country, where over the next six months they would hand over their weapons to the United Nations team”[2]

The half-century conflict is believed to have killed 200,000 civilians and displaced a total of five million people. The government of Colombia has attempted  to reach a peace negotiation with the FARC since 2012, when the current president Juan Manuel Santos, “confirmed rumors that his government had been holding secret peace negotiations with the FARC in Cuba”[3]. The main agent behind the no campaign was Colombia’s ex-president Álvaro Uribe, who claimed that the peace treaty would actually reward the guerrilla by allowing them to hold Congressional seats and not be persecuted. Both political figures have had friendly relationships in the past (Santos served as Minister of Foreign Affairs under the Uribe presidency). On the contrary, since the rumors of peace talks in 2012 were confirmed, Uribe has made constant remarks about the ineffective nature of the deal.

In a press conference after the polling results, Santos stated that he heard the concern of “…those that said no and those that said yes and we all want peace. Tomorrow we will get all our political parties together to continue dialogues and finding alternatives for peace. I will not give up; I will continue to fight for peace”[4]. Santos will now return to the drawing board with the leader of the rebel group, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri (alias Timochenko) to draft a new proposal that meets the severity the Colombian people demand while still keeping the FARC interested in a cease fire.

The parallels with Brexit are uncanny. The same way the Leave campaign did not have a realistic alternative to the opposition, the no campaign in Colombia did not have a replacement peace deal at the ready – merely criticisms and unattainable expectations. This year is turning out to be the year of the unexpected, of silent complacency and conviction of the norm; only to be startled when voting booths don’t exhibit the same granted assumption. Now it’s a waiting game until November to see if the United States will break the cycle, or fall in line with the theme of silent, complacent awe of the unexpected.

[1] McKirdy, Euan, and Rafael Romo. “Colombia Rejects FARC Deal: What’s Next?” CNN. Cable News Network, 3 Oct. 2016. Web. 07 Oct. 2016.

[2] Simms Cobb, JULIA, and Nicholas Casey. “Colombia Peace Deal Is Defeated, Leaving a Nation in Shock.” The New York Times. New York Times, 2 Oct. 2016. Web. 6 Oct. 2016.

[3] News, BBC. “Colombia Leader Juan Manuel Santos: From Hawk to Dove.” BBC News. BBC News, 28 Sept. 2016. Web. 07 Oct. 2016.

[4] McKirdy, Euan, and Rafael Romo. “Colombia Rejects FARC Deal: What’s Next?” CNN. Cable News Network, 3 Oct. 2016. Web. 07 Oct. 2016.


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