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Colombia’s Referendum on FARC Deal: A Perversion of Democracy

By: Guest Contributor - Oct 2, 2016, 9:11 pm
Colombia's Referendum
The Colombian government could have made the deal-drafting process a democratic one, but chose not to. (Youtube)

EspañolBy Louis Kleyn

The views surrounding the peace agreement reached between President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC guerrilla are so dissimilar and diverse one realizes that we Colombians do not have a consensus on the kind of society we want.

We do not share the fundamental values on which, in theory, our coexistence rests: justice, democracy, civic rights and duties, freedom of speech, free enterprise. We don’t agree on their meaning.

Democracy is a value that many Colombians would have thought essential to society. In essence, it means that the rights of every individual are equally important. No one is above the law.

The peace agreement intended to foster greater political participation and pluralism. However, a tiny minority — without any popular representation whatsoever — determined the terms of the deal.

The perversion of democracy began with the negotiations, and that’s why the government sought legitimacy through a referendum.

Let us consider the following scenario: if 11 million people vote to ratify the agreement and 7 million people vote against, this will mean that 7 million Colombians disapprove the agreement that 10,000 guerrilla members have proposed.

Whose opinion should prevail? Even if the referendum ratifies the agreement, how is it possible that the will of the 10,000 FARC members trumps that of 7 million Colombians?

One of the most evident paradoxes of the deal and its approval process is that once implemented, the agreement aims to encourage guerrilla members to widely and directly participate in all sort of everyday activities of Colombia’s general population, such as in the rural area.

Thus, in theory, FARC members will be able to intervene, for example, in all infrastructure plans, from the smallest to the largest ones, or on land use based on collective interests.

However, the government did not allow this type of community participation from Colombians in drafting an agreement that directly affects them and core issues of justice, political participation, rural life, coca production, etc.

The government could have taken its time to educate citizens, who are busy with their daily obligations, about the agreement with concrete data and examples of its application. Moreover, they could have taken into consideration a range of opinions of millions of Colombians on how the conflict should have been settled.

Based on true participation, the Colombian people could have voted for specific chapters of the agreement in a referendum, and then renegotiate the controversial issues, seeking for broad consensus.

The word “democracy” has been stripped of any meaning in this process. We all know that the voices and votes of the FARC members are worth millions of times more than those of an ordinary citizen.

This is because they have shown their ability to strike terror on Colombians. At the end of the day, the agreement and the referendum emerge from fear.

We cannot pretend that this agreement falls within the scope of true democracy, and much less that it will make Colombia’s democracy stronger.

Louis Kleyn has spent over 25 years working in investment banking. He is a member of the Colombian Derivatives Market, and supervisor of the Guarantee Fund of Colombia’s Stock Exchange. This article was originally published in Portafolio.