Nobel Peace Prize Awarded to Colombian President Santos

  • Prize seen strengthening government’s hand in ongoing talks
  • Peace process suffered blow Sunday when voters rejected accord

Colombia's President Santos Awarded Nobel Peace Prize

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to bring an end to a more than 50-year civil conflict, strengthening his attempt to salvage a peace accord rejected by voters earlier this month.

Colombians voted against the agreement on Oct. 2 after four years of talks between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Santos, 65, has since continued to press for peace, holding talks with both the FARC and opposition leaders to break the deadlock.

Juan Manuel Santos

Photographer: JP Yim/Getty Images

He is trying to get former president, Alvaro Uribe, and other opponents of the accord on board to find a swift resolution, warning of the risks of the cease-fire breaking down if the impasse continues. The Nobel bolsters Santos’s position in the ongoing talks and may mean Uribe has to give more ground, said Adam Isacson, senior associate for regional security policy at the Washington Office on Latin America.

“The Nobel committee clearly hopes to put a thumb on the scale and strengthen Santos’s position in the debate inside Colombia,” Isacson said in reply to e-mailed questions. “Uribe is already wary of being seen as the politician who caused the peace process to collapse. Now, he’s opposing a Nobel laureate, and a very prestigious body just told him, “the rest of the world is not with you.””

Uribe tweeted to congratulate Santos. Still, rather than offering to soften his position, he said he hoped the announcement would “lead to the change of an accord that is damaging for democracy.”

UN Monitors

Negotiators in Cuba said Friday they have arranged for guerrillas to congregate in special zones, to be monitored by the UN, to prevent any incidents that might pose a risk to the cease fire. They didn’t say this was the start of the demobilization process that had been scheduled to start this week.

“It’s for the victims, and so that there won’t be a single other victim,” Santos said in a televised address Friday. “We need to reconcile and unite to end this process and start to construct a stable and lasting peace.”

Local Caracol Radio reported on Twitter that young people gathered in Bogota’s main square were celebrating the decision.

The international community including the U.S., which had provided military and intelligence support in Colombia’s battle with the FARC, has backed Santos’ efforts. The accord was signed last month before 2,500 guests dressed in white including the presidents of Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela and Cuba as well as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. None of this was enough to overcome voters’ skepticism.

The prize “will help transform the uncertainty that emerged after the no vote into renewed hope for positive change after 52 years of civil war,” said Annette Idler, Director of Studies at The Changing Character of War Programme, University of Oxford.

200,000 Killed

Colombia’s $1.5 billion of debt due in January 2026 was little changed after the announcement. The notes fell this week, sending yields up 25 basis points to 3.45 percent, after Santos failed to gain popular support for the peace deal that had helped support a bond-market rally last quarter.

Formal peace talks between the two sides started in Cuba in Nov. 2012 and culminated with Santos and Rodrigo Londono, a FARC leader, signing a final agreement on Sept. 26. The agreement includes an end to hostilities, rural reform and political representation for the Marxist rebels. Over 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed in conflict, with millions more displaced from their homes.

“The award should also be seen as a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, haven’t given up hope of a just peace, and to all the parties who have contributed to the peace process,” the Oslo-based Norwegian Nobel Committee said. “This tribute is paid, not least, to the representatives of the countless victims of the civil war.”

The FARC sought a Cuban-style revolution, citing rampant inequality and terrible living conditions for the Andean nation’s small-scale farmers. The group, labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S., mainly operated in remote mountainous and heavily forested regions, ambushing army patrols and blowing up oil pipelines.

Not Enemies

While FARC never managed to capture any major towns and despite suffering heavy losses over the past decade, the army was unable to eradicate the guerrillas completely, with recent estimates somewhere about 6,000 fighters.

“The soldiers and police in Colombia are no longer our enemies,” Londono, better known by his alias ‘Timochenko’, said at the Sept. 26 signing ceremony in Colombia’s northern city of Cartagena. “No one has renounced their ideas, but we’ll fight them in the political arena with respect and tolerance.”

Former President Uribe led a campaign against the peace talks and final agreement, saying the rebels should spend time in prison. Most would have been pardoned under the recent agreement.

The Peace Prize, along with literature, physics and medicine honors, was created by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel and first awarded in 1901. Past winners include Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot by the Taliban, U.S. President Barack Obama and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.. The Norwegian Nobel Committee selects the peace prize recipient. The economics prize was instituted by the Swedish central bank.

— With assistance by Katerina Petroff, and Daliah Merzaban

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