By a razor-thin margin of less than half a percentage point, Colombian voters narrowly rejected a proposed peace plan that would have formally ended the longest-running war in the Western Hemisphere.
Almost everyone thought the referendum would pass, that it was a mere formality after years of painstaking negotiations in Cuba, but no.
The UK’s Independent calls the vote “Farcxit.” Indeed, the peso crashed hard against the dollar for the same reason the British pound fell after Brexit—international markets hate uncertainty, especially where war and peace are concerned.
“If Colombians were dinosaurs,” one supporter of the peace deal said on social media, “we would vote for the meteorite.”
For more than five decades, the Soviet- and narco-backed Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has waged a brutal insurgency against the Colombian government and its people. When Soviet largesse dried up at the end of the Cold War, the guerrillas turned to kidnapping and drug trafficking to fund their insurgency, and they’ve used just about every terrorist tactic short of suicide-bombings since the very beginning. More than 220,000 people have been killed since the war started in 1964, and more than seven million have been displaced.
So why did a slim majority of the population vote “no” in a national referendum to end the war once and for all?
Because the peace deal was too nice to the FARC.
Amnesty was part of the package, of course. All the FARC leaders could have stayed out of prison if they confessed and made reparations. Worse, the peace treaty would have given the FARC ten seats in Congress—five in the Senate and five in the House—for ten years.
Plenty of wars history have ended with amnesty for the losing side, including the American Civil War. Confederate soldiers, officers and political leaders surrendered partly because they lost on the battlefield but also because they knew they’d be citizens with equal rights rather than corpses, prisoners or subjects. President Andrew Johnson, who followed Abraham Lincoln in the White House, issued the Proclamation of Amnesty and Pardon to all but a few who had participated in the rebellion against Washington. The war would have lasted longer and ended even more bitterly otherwise.
Giving the FARC ten seats in Congress, however, would have rewarded them for their violence. Colombia is a democratic country. The only people who deserve seats in the Congress are those with enough popular support to win a proper election.
The FARC is and has always been communist. Communists prefer bullets and barbed wire to ballots. Every communist nation in the history of the world has been a police state. All communist rulers murdered their way into power and murdered and jailed opponents to stay in power. Rewarding the FARC’s kidnapping and bloodshed with an unearned share of an otherwise functioning democracy would have been a travesty far worse than amnesty.
Former president and current senator Álvaro Uribe led the political opposition to this treaty, which should surprise no one. He’s the man who turned the conflict around during his presidency between 2002 and 2010. He did it by clearing and holding guerilla-occupied territory, ramping up the police and army presence in dangerous areas, improving the government’s human rights record, assisting internally displaced people and convincing murderous right-wing militias to disarm. Call him Colombia’s David Petraeus. He knows how the beat the guerrillas and is confident that they can be whipped even harder if need be.
If I lived in Colombia, I probably would have voted for the peace deal with extreme reservations. At the same time, I’d probably be relieved that it failed by a miniscule margin because it will force the FARC to accept harsher—and much fairer—terms.
Make no mistake. The FARC is willing to negotiate because the government spent a good solid decade kicking its ass. It has been losing and losing badly for a long time and has absolutely no chance of a miltary or political victory, ever.
Even without a final peace treaty, violence in Colombia has dropped so sharply during the last couple of years that the country is becoming a must-visit tourist destination. The city of Medellín, once among the most violent and hellish on earth, has won a number of international awards for its urban dynamism, including the City of Year Award from the Urban Land Institute, the Lee Kwan Yew World City Prize, and another for urban design from Harvard University.
We’ll know the Syrian civil war is well and truly over, whether or not it says so on paper, if Aleppo ever wins these kinds of prizes.
The Colombian vote was so close that the results were in range of a rounding error. Just 50.24 percent voted no. Another treaty with just slightly harsher terms should at least narrowly pass, and it might even pass by a lot.
So the FARC leaders are spectacularly unlikely to ramp up the violence again. They’ll go back to Havana and swallow that pill if the alternative is more fighting that they can’t possibly win and that could easily lead to their death, imprisonment or permanent exile.
I could be wrong, of course, but if they’re willing to risk that by setting the country on fire again, I’ll eat my hat. Colombians are used to war. Most of them have never known anything else. If it takes a little more fighting to end this thing properly, they’ll do it. And they’ll win.