Colombia’s long march toward lasting peace ran into trouble on Oct. 2, when voters rejected a deal with Marxist guerrillas that was four years in the making. Now the government of President Juan Manuel Santos, seeking a way to end the deadlock, is holding simultaneous talks with the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and the political opposition, led by former President Alvaro Uribe. For his efforts to end the five-decade conflict, Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 7.
1. Why was the peace deal voted down?
Many Colombians -- including Uribe, who urged a "No" vote -- objected to what they saw as lenient treatment toward a group known for kidnapping, extortion and bomb attacks. The deal would have granted the FARC, the largest guerrilla army in the Americas, seats in Congress, agricultural reform and reduced sentences for crimes in return for handing in their weapons. The rejection of the deal was both unexpected and narrow (50.2 percent to 49.8 percent). The government appears to have been telling the truth when it said there was no Plan B in place if voters rejected the accord.
2. Will armed conflict restart?
Probably not for the time being. The government, the FARC and the opposition all say they want the bilateral cease fire to continue while things are worked out. Government negotiators and FARC leaders announced a plan for guerrilla units to concentrate in special zones, monitored by the UN, aimed at preventing any incident that might jeopardize the cease fire.
3. Is the peace process dead?
Not yet. Santos is working with Uribe’s Democratic Center Party for a quick resolution, aware of the risks of the cease fire breaking down. The FARC’s senior leaders are in Havana, where the peace talks were held. They may start to lose control of their approximately 6,000 fighters in Colombia if the peace process drifts for a long time without any clear progress.
4. Who’s demanding what?
FARC leaders were content with the peace deal as written and initially said they wouldn’t consider changes. More recently they said that they’re open to dialogue and that the peace process can’t be allowed to fail. Uribe insists the 297-page accord needs alterations that are more than merely “cosmetic." He wants FARC leaders guilty of serious crimes to serve "effective imprisonment" -- five to eight years on a farm, say, instead of in a jail cell.
5. What happens next?
Santos appointed three of his closest allies -- the defense minister, the foreign affairs minister, and his chief negotiator -- to hold talks with leaders of the "No" campaign.
6. What effect will Santos’s Nobel have?
The prize may pressure Uribe to give ground, since this award from a prestigious international body is more evidence that the world community wants the conflict resolved as soon as possible, according to Adam Isacson, senior associate for regional security policy at the Washington Office on Latin America. Uribe doesn’t want to be seen as the person who caused the peace process to collapse, Isacson said.
The Reference Shelf
- A story on Santos saying lasting peace is near.
- A Bloomberg View editorial on dismay over the Oct. 2 vote.
- A look at the Colombia government’s economic agenda.