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Surprising Referendum in Colombia Does Not Spell End of Peace Process with FARC

By: Julián Villabona Galarza - Oct 3, 2016, 5:19 pm
"No" was the surprise of the plebiscite for peace in Colombia (YouTube)
The referendum in Colombia came as a surprise to authorities and international observers. (YouTube)

EspañolUncertainty is sweeping Colombia following the narrow rejection of the government’s peace deal with the FARC guerrilla in Sunday’s referendum, against all odds.

Colombians were left wondering whether there would be a new agreement and negotiation process or whether the rebels would unleash violence, among many possible scenarios.

The possibility of the “no” side winning in the referendum was never contemplated by Colombian authorities; President Juan Manuel Santos confidently boasted in June that he had “no plan B.”

The only certainty is that this FARC deal, the result of years of negotations with top guerrilla leaders in Cuba, now cannot be legalized, according to a ruling issued by Colombia’s Constitutional Court.

The Opposition Wants a New Deal

The first to speak publicly on Sunday was the conservative Democratic Centre, the party founded by former President Álvaro Uribe and the main opponent of the Santos-FARC agreement.

The “no” camp said the referendum’s result opened up the possibility that the agreement can be redrafted and put to a vote a second time.

Francisco Santos, former vice president of Colombia and Uribe’s right hand during his administration, made the announcement.

He called for the peace process to continue, but seeking a deal that secures broader support from Colombian citizens. The former official argued that if the FARC rebels really want peace they must return to the negotiating table.

President of Congress Pledged to Continue Peace Process

Senator Mauricio Lizcano from the ruling Social Party of National Unity said he will continue to support President Santos and seek consensus among legislators.

In saying that he wants to reduce the differences between the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps he implicitly invited Uribe’s party to work together for a solution that brings peace to Colombia.

FARC Argues the Referendum Is Not Legally Binding

On Sunday, FARC announced that they would respect the results and the ceasefire would continue, for now, as they work out a solution with the government.

However, on Monday morning, the guerrilla’s top leader hinted that they could ignore the referendum altogether because, they argue, it is not legally binding. “The effect is [just] political,” reads a statement released by FARC.

Last Resort: A New Constitution

The National Constituent Assembly is a mechanism by which a new Constitution is written, the only point on which both the opposition and the FARC agree.

In addition, this process could bring together political sectors from across the spectrum, as many could enter negotiations and focus on a document of greater legitimacy.

A new Constitution could effectively settle many differences and allow with the demobilization of the armed group that has wreak havoc in Colombia for the past 52 years.

What the Future Holds for Colombia

FARC returning to violent tactics, at least for the commanders, is unlikely given the years of effort and how advanced negotiations are. Chances are that other ways will be found to continue the peace process and implement the agreement.

It is worth noting that one of the president’s roles in Colombia is “[to] agree and ratify peace treaties, of he shall give immediate notice to Congress.” Santos has therefore constitutional power to go ahead with the agreement as it stands, regardless of the results of Sunday’s referendum.

However, this would be unpopular and contrary to democratic principles. Moreover, the administration’s political capital even before the referendum was quite low, and Sunday’s outcome confirmed it.

Julián Villabona Galarza Julián Villabona Galarza

Julián is a reporter with the PanAm Post with studies in Politics and International Relations from the University Sergio Arboleda in Colombia. Follow him: @julianvillabona.