Can we build sustainable peace in a country where half of the people do not believe in the peace pro

Colombia lives in the middle of a half century war. While in all other countries of the region, the rebels or militarist defeated their opponents back in the 1960s, Colombia has maintained the longest armed conflict of the continent. The differences between conservatives and liberals, and the civil wars that came out of these differences, were not just a Colombian matter. The entire continent went through revolutions, as well, led by leaders such as Jose Marti, Luis Ernesto Guevara (Che Guevara), Fidel Castro, and Subcomandante Marcos. Throughout these conflicts, around 560.000[1] people were killed during military movements, and the military won these wars in almost all countries, with the exception of Cuba, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.

After the victories of those times, the subsequent governments and the people of these countries have been facing infinite challenges to overcome social and economic issues. Due to various matters such as corruption, poverty, lack of education, and others, these countries remain as third world countries with a long road ahead to becoming more developed.

But in Colombia, nobody won. The guerrilla moved into to the mountains and all the subsequent governments fought them through different military strategies. But the ensuing support of narcotrafficking made the guerrilla a powerful and rich terrorist group. Furthermore, the complexity of the situation involving other actors such as other guerrillas and paramilitary groups has perpetuated this conflict to the present day. The Unit for Attention and Comprehensive Reparation of Victims in Colombia has registered 8.2 million victims by 2016[2]. All kinds of human rights violations have been committed by all parties of this conflict. Murder, kidnapping, forced displacement, gender violence, forced disappearance, extortion, and the recruitment of children are just some of the crimes that have left behind a complex psychological and social situation for all the victims.

After the two periods of Alvaro Uribe Velez’s government (2002-2010), the main guerrilla group, FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), became highly debilitated as a result of one of the strongest military strategies. However, during this time, the military forces were also accused of committing crimes against humanity. Many human rights defense organizations were threatened, and human rights defenders were assassinated by paramilitary groups.

Subsequent to this period, and during the presidency of Juan Manuel Santos (2010-), the government announced in 2012 the beginning of a peace process negotiation with the FARC guerrilla group. This negotiation took place over 4 years in La Habana, Cuba, and came to a final agreement in June 2016. As part of the negotiations, the following six-point agenda was defined as a starting point towards peace:

  1. Agricultural development

  2. Political participation

  3. End of conflict

  4. Solution to illicit drugs issue

  5. Victims and truth

  6. Implementation of agreement

Since the very beginning, president Santos declared that the Colombian people were the ones who had the final decision in regards to the approval and implementation of the final agreement. He proposed a referendum where the voters had the possibility to enforce or reject the agreement by voting “YES” or “NO”. This referendum took place on October 2, 2016 and the final winning decision was “NO” with 50.21% of the votes over 49.28%[3].

The main opponent to the peace process and the leader of the “NO” campaign is the ex-president Uribe, who, as mentioned before, led one of the strongest military mandates against the guerrillas. However, he also approved a highly controversial disarmament process with paramilitary groups who were also responsible for crimes against humanity. Uribe is part of many investigations, as well, regarding his own involvement in various cases of human rights violations committed during his presidency. He is now senator and leader of the opposition party Centro Democrático.

The main reasons behind Uribe’s opposition are related to certain points of the agreement, such as the possibility of the guerrilla to recover their political rights and their participation in political elections despite their crimes against humanity, the different options proposed in the agreement to substitute incarceration, and the possibility to link narcotrafficking crimes with rebellion - which means it would no longer be an extraditable crime to the United States.

The result of the referendum divided the country into two flanks with profoundly deep differences that make the peace-building scenario a highly complicated one. After the rejection of the agreement, the government led several meetings with opposition groups to collect their feedback and renegotiated the groups’ specific issues with FARC members. After one month, the government and FARC achieved a new agreement that has since been rejected again by the opposition groups, but approved by the parliament. This means the peace process has finally reached a good legal conclusion.

Even though the legal framework is now successfully approved, implementation will be full of challenges. Not only in terms of the following bills that need to be approved to be able to implement the agreement, but also in terms of driving the society into a more forgiving one. The reinsertion of the ex-militants, the reparation of the victims, and the trials against the leaders of the FARC guerilla group are just a few examples of the major debates that are to come.

The footprint of the referendum that aimed for the people to legitimize the agreement only achieved to divide and separate the society. Will the Colombian people be able to build sustainable peace in the middle of this division?

[1] J. del Pozo. Historia de América Latina y el Caribe 1825-2001 (Santiago, 2002), 198-201, at 200.

[2] Unit for Attention and Comprehensive Reparation of Victims (

[3] National Civil Registry (

Nota: Las observaciones y opiniones que figuran en este artículo son del autor(a) y no reflejan necesariamente las afiliaciones profesionales del mismo, los Tres Cocos o ninguna otra organización.

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