Colombia rejects peace deal with FARC leaving nation shocked

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signing the peace treaty with FARC leader Rodrigo Londono Echeverri, also known as Timoshenko. (Colombian government photo via Wikipedia entry on the treaty, CC 2.0)

WASHINGTON, October 3, 2016 — Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos faced a severe political setback  after the country failed to reach a cease-fire with the Colombian rebel group known as FARC, the Spanish language acronym for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. In a close vote, 50.23 percent of the country opposed the deal, while 49.76 percent favored it. The decision keeps the future of Colombia in doubt as areas still under FARC control will continue to be plagued by the rebel group.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signing the peace treaty with FARC leader Rodrigo Londono Echeverri, who is also known as “Timoshenko.”

Negotiations were held in Cuba, where negotiators worked with FARC leaders to cobble together a potential peace deal. Santos believed the current deal was the best chance the country to end a lengthy, decades-long  conflict that has killed more than 200,000 people and driven millions from their homes.

The accord was signed by leaders of the Colombian government and representatives of FARC, and the pact was witnessed by Secretary of State John Kerry and several other world leaders. A FARC leader at the negotiations told reporters that he was committed to reaching a deal with the Colombian government. Supporters of the deal said that ending Colombia’s bloody nightmare was key to the agreement, and those who questioned the deal were “nitpicking” over details when they should have been celebrating.

A controversial part of the now-rejected deal would have allowed FARC rebels to walk free and not serve prison time for their offenses against the government and the Colombian people. They would have been required to work in social programs. Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a staunch opponent of FARC, criticized the deal, saying the government was appeasing the FARC rebels.

FARC representatives still expressed hope after the results were announced, tweeting, “The love that we carry in our heart is huge and with our words and actions will be able to achieve peace.” Speaking in Havana, the group’s leader, best known as Timochenko, said, “To the Colombian people that dream of peace, you can count on us.”

Questions remain on how the country will move forward after the agreement’s defeat. Under the deal, FARC fighters would have laid their weapons down and re-entered society. In addition, FARC would have also received 10 seats in Congress, another controversial element in the deal. The accord would also have ordered a halt to the cocaine production that has largely fueled the violence caused by the rebel group.

FARC first launched its guerrilla war on the government in 1964 after a peasant uprising that was crushed by the Colombian army. The ideological and territorial conflict drew in several additional leftist rebel groups, as well as right-wing paramilitaries and drug gangs.

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