Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Crisis in Colombia: “No” Vote Shuts Down Peace Accord

The rejection of the agreement between the Santos government and the FARC has led to a serious crisis and an unpredictable political scenario.

Eduardo Molina

October 6, 2016
Facebook Twitter Share

This article was originally published in Spanish in La izquierda Diario, October 4.
Adapted and Translated for Left Voice by Marisela Trevin.

Last Sunday, Colombians rejected the terms of the final agreement signed just days ago by Juan Manuel Santos’ government and the FARC leadership by a slim margin of 50.2 to 49.8, despite expectations that the referendum would pass with an overwhelming majority.The stark divisions expressed in the referendum reflect an enormous social and political polarization and growing discontent over increasing economic difficulties. Only 37 percent of those eligible cast a vote, in a country where turnout for presidential elections normally ranges from40 to 50 percent–further exposing the limits of this “democracy for the rich.” An overwhelming majority of voters in rural areas most affected by the armed conflict voted in favor of the peace accord, while a majority of urban residents voted against it.

The agreement between the Santos government and FARC leaders was several years in the making and would entail the rebel group’s 5,800 fighters and a similar number of urban militia members handing over their weapons to United Nations inspectors,beginning a process of full integration into Colombian political institutions.The deal included a limited agrarian reform and a commitment by the rebel forces to put an end to “any relationship that it may have established with drug trafficking on the basis of the rebellion.” It would have also allowed FARC leaders to avoid jail by confessing to killings, kidnappings, attacks and child recruitment. With this agreement, the government sought to put an end to an armed conflict that has claimed 220,000 lives and resulted in the displacement of over five million people over the past 51 years.

A decades-long conflict

Colombia has traditionally been dominated by an elite sector of the industrial and landowning class; the FARC originally emerged in the 1960s in opposition to the oppression of the rural population by this elite. In the 70s, the mass dispossession of peasants under the Chicoral Pact of 1972 further strengthened the leadership of the guerrilla group in rural areas in the struggle against the ruling class, and the rebel group expanded significantly in the 1980s. Due to increasing rural poverty, many peasants were forced to resort to the production of illicit crops in order to survive and the FARC began to play an important role in the illicit economy. Over the years, guerrilla forces have confronted the State, its military, government-backed paramilitary organizations and drug trafficking cartels in a struggle in which it has often resorted to methods that are foreign to the needs and experiences of the working class and masses–sometimes even reactionary and inhumane, such as kidnappings, acts of retaliation against the civil population including massacres in rural areas, and others which have undermined the credibility of their proposed pacifist conversion. However, while great emphasis in mainstream media is placed on the violent actions of the guerrilla group, little is said of the fundamental role and responsibility of the State and its paramilitary forces in the emergence and persistence of this violence.

Political aftermath

In part, the defeat of the agreement in the referendum was a product of Santos’ own making, after sowing hatred among locals toward the guerrilla force, blaming them for the fallout from over half a century of violence, effectively siding with the most conservative right. The Sunday upset was a heavy blow for Santos, who had turned the negotiation process into a central key in his political agenda. Burdened by the weight of persistent economic decline and growing unpopularity, he planned to use the referendum not only to legitimize the agreement, but also to revalidate his policies and score a major victory against his main political rival, former president Uribe.

Both Uribe and Santos share the main objective of the peace dialogues, which is that of the Colombian ruling class: to achieve the “negotiated rendition” of the guerrilla force. However, they disagree on the terms to be imposed in the negotiations. While Santos favors a more moderate formula that is acceptable to the FARC leadership, Uribe, backed by a fiercely anticommunist sector of the industrial and landed ruling class, considers the concessions to the rebel force to be excessive, seeking a more conclusive victory over the FARC in the rendition process. He maintains that members of the guerrilla force should not be allowed to reenter society without facing punishment–logic that resonates with broad sectors of the population.

The results of the referendum signals a fortified position for Uribe, who led the “no” campaign and is now arbitrator in the renegotiation process. It also constitutes a political defeat for the FARC and sectors of the left that supported the agreement and accepted Santos’ referendum proposal.

“No” vote in context

The vote against the agreement may reflect greater conservative mobilization among the middle classes, especially in the cities and in regions that have traditionally voted for Uribe, such as Antioquía or Casanare, while the “yes” vote was supported by peasants and workers in rural areas more directly affected by the armed conflict.

The rejection of the agreement also reflects a right political turn that has been advancing throughoutLatin America, with the decline of progressive and nationalist projects in the region, the results of which include Mauricio Macri’s election in Argentina, the Temer-led institutional coup in Brazil, and the deepening crisis in Venezuela increasingly pushed by imperialism and the national right to impose a “post-Chavist” transition. Within this context, the defeat is also a setback for Obama, who hoped to include thepacification of Colombia in his legacy of foreign policy “achievements.”

In Colombia, neither the broad support of US imperialism and decisive sectors of the dominant class, nor the collaboration of progressive sectors (ie., the Alternative Democratic Pole), the reformist left (ie., the Colombian Communist Party, Patriotic March) or the leadership of unions and social movements were enough to prevent the agreement’s rejection.

In search of a new pact

The government admittedly possessed no “Plan B” for the referendum’s unexpected defeat, leading to a political maelstromim pacting the entire regime. After the results became known, both the government and the FARC issued conciliatory statements.

Santos confirmed that the bilateral cessation of hostilities will remain in force and that he will continue to “seek peace until the last minute” of his term. He called on all political forces to open dialogue, particularly those that promoted the “no” vote.

In turn, FARC leader Timoschenko reaffirmed that they will continue to strive for peace and only use the spoken word as a means of construction, stating, “The Colombian people who dream of peace can count on us. Peace will triumph.”

On Monday, the first contacts were made between Uribe’s people and the government in order to get the “peace process” back on track. The Embassy(i.e. US imperialism), the UN and friendly governments (starting with the European Union and Cuba, both mediators during the negotiations) will also participate.

Uribe, who has stated that he would like to “contribute to a great national pact,” has expressed his intention to achieve an amendment to the agreement including punishment for FARC leaders, including jail time and the prohibition to run for office, and the payment of reparation and reconstruction costs with the property and resources of the guerrilla group.

Within this framework, any renegotiation means a rightward shift from the terms originally agreed upon with the FARC, with the limitation or annulment of several of the guarantees of “transitional justice” or disarmament methods, reintegration into civil life and political participation as a legal party. The guerrilla commanders will be pressured to make more concessions in order to relaunch the agreement and they will have to convince their base to accept them. This is one of the main factors that will possibly complicate the resolution of the crisis.

Underlying objectives of the bourgeois peace plan

Although Santos and Uribe’s political needs may appear to be contentious, the strategic objectives of the different sectors of the ruling class they represent ultimately converge. They both support a neoliberal agenda and the defense of the benefits accumulated by the industrial and landowning elite during decades of war at the expense of the people, which the final agreement did not actually threaten.

Plan Colombia, funded by the United States, contributed about $10 billion in financial and military aid over the past 15 years and was decisive in the strengthening of the Colombian State and the reinforcement of the Armed Forces that led to increased pressure on the guerrilla group. The country’s political and military leadership and imperialist forces have acknowledged that it is not possible to eradicate the FARC solely through military means, and that a political (i.e. negotiated) resolution is necessary. The war waged with generous imperialist aid created the conditions for the negotiation in Havana. Now, under the new name of “Peace Colombia,” that plan continues and will be expanded to $500 million in 2017, reflecting Colombia’s importance to Washington as one of its main economic, political and military agents in the region.

The key sectors of the bourgeoisie and imperialism supporting Santos’ plan believe that it is the best way to consolidate and legitimize the political regime though a “national reconciliation” that would close the gaping wounds caused by half a century of extreme social and political violence. They intend to do this while opening up territories under guerrilla control to national and foreign investors in mining, oil, livestock farming and agro-industries and, ultimately, to project Colombia as a regional player with greater influence in continental affairs.

Agreement at an impasse

A politically complex and unpredictable conjuncture has begun to unravel in Colombia, although the least likely scenario for now seems to be the recommencement of armed conflict. The coming days will likely hold significant new developments. They also signal the need to discuss the support from a significant section of the left for the “peace process” and referendum, and the alternatives for workers, peasants, afro-descendants and indigenous people of Colombia.

Facebook Twitter Share

Eduardo Molina

Eduardo (1955-2019) was a lifelong revolutionary militant in Argentina, Bolivia, and other countries. An obituary in English: Forever Until Socialism!

Latin America

Students at UNAM in Mexico raise the Palestinian flag in front of the university in May 2024.

“There Are No Separate Fights”: Interview with a Mexican Student at the UNAM Encampment for Gaza

We interviewed a participant of the student encampment for Gaza at the National Autonomous University of Mexico about democratic assemblies, anti-imperialism, and how Mexican workers and students are fighting to free Palestine.

Samuel Karlin

May 9, 2024

Argentina’s Far-Right President is Once Again Advancing Legislative Attacks on Workers

After a setback in February, Javier Milei, the far-right president of Argentina, is once again pushing a set of laws that would hurt workers. The union bureaucracies and center left parties are containing the ability of the working class to fight back.

Samuel Karlin

May 4, 2024

‘You Have to Change Things from the Root’: Interview With a Young Immigrant

Left Voice interviewed a 23-year-old immigrant, factory worker, and student, who told us about his experience crossing the border from Mexico to the U.S. and about the life of Latin American youth in the United States.

Left Voice

April 5, 2024
A square in Argentina is full of protesters holding red banners

48 Years After the Military Coup, Tens of Thousands in Argentina Take to the Streets Against Denialism and the Far Right

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets across Argentina on March 24 to demand justice for the victims of the state and the military dictatorship of 1976. This year, the annual march had renewed significance, defying the far-right government’s denialism and attacks against the working class and poor.

Madeleine Freeman

March 25, 2024

MOST RECENT

A Russian tank fires toward Kharkiv on the May 10 offensive against Ukraine.

Russia’s Offensive in Ukraine May Be a Turning Point in the War

Russia’s May 10 offensive in Ukraine may be a turning point in the dynamics of the war, and the specter of Ukraine’s defeat is exposing the cracks that divide the Western powers.

Claudia Cinatti

May 21, 2024
Signs and banners at the picket line in front of the UC Santa Cruz in May, 2024. UC student workers are beginning a historic strike for Palestine, against genocide.

University of California Student Workers Begin Historic Political Strike against Repression and Genocide

This week, student and postdoctoral workers at the University of California began a historic strike in response to the brutal, violent repression of students, faculty, and staff protesting for Palestine. The action marks an important escalation of the labor movement’s struggle in defense of Palestine and the right to protest.

Olivia Wood

May 21, 2024
Protesters carrying Palestinian flags march on a street in front of a line of cops

Activists, Including Left Voice and Detroit Will Breathe Members, Arrested at Protest of Biden in Detroit, Free All Arrested and Drop All Charges

Detroit police brutally arrested activists who were protesting outside of Biden's speech to the NAACP.

Left Voice

May 19, 2024
Tents at the Rutgers University in NJ during the Palestine encampment in May, 2024

What the Movement for Palestine Can Learn from the Rutgers Encampment Deal

The Gaza solidarity encampment at Rutgers New Brunswick ended in a deal between the administration and a negotiations team at the camp. It’s been a highly controversial decision. The experience at Rutgers shows the need for a truly democratic, bottom-up fight for Palestine.

Jason Koslowski

May 17, 2024