Struggle for peace continues after referendum disappointment in Colombia

These past several weeks have been emotionally wrenching for Colombia. The country has been divided and polarized. The reason: The vote to consummate a peace treaty between the president Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

On Sunday, October 2, the people were to decide whether to approve the peace deal that the president and the FARC had been working intensively to agree upon for 4 years during negotiations Havana. It did not pass, devastating the hopes of millions of citizens who have been affected by the 52 years of internal war between the FARC and the national army along with government-aligned paramilitary forces. The conflict has claimed about 220,000 lives and has made Colombia the number one country in terms of internal displacements in the world – 6,044,200.

The conflict has been greatly exacerbated by the brutal and decades-long intervention of U.S. imperialism. Colombia has been a key U.S. ally in Latin America, and the “Plan Colombia” packages of military aid and “advice” from intelligence agencies has facilitated the horrible crimes inflicted by the Colombian state and its allies on the country’s working class and campesinos.

“No” won by a minuscule margin of 0.43 percent – 53,894 votes. In a country with a population of 48,747,632 million, where 34,899,945 had the opportunity to have a voice in ending the longest armed conflict in the Americas, only 13,066,047 cast their ballots. Of these votes only 12,808,858 were counted as valid, 86,243 were not marked, and 170,946 were nullified. Some 257,189 votes were discarded, which with such a small percentage difference, which raises suspicion of fraud.

Why did “no” prevail?  

Why would the Colombian electorate vote against the opportunity for peace after half a century of devastating war? It is simple: a campaign of shameless fear-mongering carried out by the country’s ruling elite and their international allies. The No campaign focused all their resources on inciting fear. The campaign manipulated the emotions of el pueblo colombiano. The campaign centered its efforts in dramatizing and intensifying the fear of “castro-chavismo,” the demonization of Venezuela, claiming that FARC will take over the country and Rodrigo Londoño, known by his guerrillero name Timochenko, will become president. They promoted false rumors about the elimination of subsidies for the poor people to keep supporting the guerrilleros, the absurd claim that justice will be denied to victims of the violence, and the homophobic fear that the family will be destroyed.

Yes, they went even that far. The month before the vote took place, there was a very conservative and moralistic campaign about how family should be formed: A mother, a father, and kids. Many feared that by allowing the FARC to hold governmental offices, they would threaten the “perfect family” model of Colombia.

Of all the absurdities claimed by the campaign machine of the No campaign, there is one that shines on its own: the idea that the peace deal would pardon the FARC members from the supposed crimes against humanity the right wing alleges that they committed. This is quite a paradox coming from the leader of the No campaign, Álvaro Uribe, who is the most violent, corrupt, hypocritical, despicable political figure in Colombian politics, who has earned the nickname “para-president” for his ties to paramilitary death squads.

Not in vain, the term paraco is used to refer to him. This term is Colombian slang used to refer to an individual who is part of the paramilitary forces or to its supporters. It is disturbing that a paraco ex-president, now senator of Colombia, has the power to manipulate the citizens into voting against a peace deal, which the whole country wished for desperately in one way or another.

Despite his troubling strings to the violence in Colombia, he is still allowed to hold a governmental office. He campaigned on the refusal to let the FARC hold any governmental offices, to be pardoned, or to be given amnesty for the crimes they supposedly committed against the Colombian people.

It seems Álvaro Uribe suffers from amnesia. It was during his presidential years when he proposed a similar pact aiming to disarm, and in a perversely legal way, protect paramilitaries who were willing to give up their arms. A penal bill also knows as alternatividad, which was going to benefit those who would demobilize if they confessed their crime by giving them convictions of 5-8 years of prison. But this deal forgot about the victims, Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC’s did not. Álvaro Uribe seems to have no remembrance of that, nor the Colombian voters who opted for the NO.

It is not that Álvaro Uribe cared about the Colombian people nor their well-being. His main goal was to protect his very small and powerful group of friends whose interests were in jeopardy if the peace deal were to pass, starting with the landowners who were going to see themselves impacted by limited land redistribution.

This campaign was mainly sponsored by Ardila Lülle Organization, Grupo Bolívar, Grupo Uribe, Corbeta y and Codiscos, all who have benefited from this five-decades-long conflict. According to the administrative manager of the No campaign, Juan Carlos Vélez, who proudly declared that this campaign had the cheapest and most effective in the history of Colombia, it only cost 1, 300, 000, 000 Colombian pesos, which is the equivalent to $444,951 in today’s Colombian pesos conversion. Vélez went on for about two hours explaining how simple it was and how it was done: Fear. After his declarations, a complaint of fraud was filed by the Yes supporters. Vélez was asked to resign. Another reason that Uribe mounted such an intense campaign against the peace deal is his apparent intention to run for president of Colombia in 2018. He is preparing a political campaign and a possible appropriation of this deal if he is to become elected.

After the devastating results of the plebiscite, Colombia was demoralized. But the FARC’s reaction kept the hopes lit up for all those Colombians who cried at the defeat of Yes: They were not going to retreat back to the jungle and raise arms again. They are going to wait, willing for the next step. They want to be able to participate in legal politics and continue the struggle for peace, social justice and independence. That is the reason why they formed the FARC in the first place – to fight for the rights of Colombia’s underrepresented.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets to defend the peace deal and minimize the damage from the right wing fear campaign. Progressive people the world over are inspired by their struggle in spite of the bitter setback earlier this month.

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