53,894 out of 12.8 million votes… That was the minuscule margin of votes that allowed the “NO” win over the “YES”, rejecting the peace treaty between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla. Before trying to understand this outcome, let’s take a quick look back at the conflict. The FARC guerrilla was founded in the 1960’s as a Marxist movement that vouched to fight for the rights of the poor rural people in Colombia. Many factors, including a lack of state presence in the countryside and rampant inequality, led to the strengthening of this group over the following decades. But it was in the 1980’s and 90’s that this guerrilla started to heavily finance its operations with drug trafficking to the point of becoming one of the biggest drug cartels in the world (and where many believe their political ideologies got very blurry). After Pablo Escobar was murdered and many other drug kingpins captured, the conflict with the FARC became the national priority. In these more than 50 years of conflict, we’ve had more than 7 million people displaced (1 out of every 7 Colombians), over 220,000 people killed, and two other failed formal peace processes.
So how could it be possible that after 6 years of intense negotiations, and having arrived for the first time to an agreement to end this conflict, 50.2% of the voters said “NO”? The first thing to realize is that 99.9% of voters do want peace, it just so happens that a majority felt that the cost of the agreement (what was granted to the FARC) was higher than what we were getting out of it (mainly the disarmament of the FARC and their transition into legitimacy and democracy). The remaining points of discord with the “NO” campaign are:
1- No jail time for the FARC leaders. While the agreement stated a restriction of their mobility to certain towns of Colombia and community work; many people felt that wasn’t proportionate with the horrendous crimes they have committed – murdering, kidnapping, bombing, etc .
2- Creation of a justice body above the current “Supreme Court” that had scope over anything related to the conflict (which in Colombia is almost everything) and that could reopen previously closed cases. Although this was to guarantee justice to all the victims of the conflict, people felt there was ambiguity over how this institutional Godzilla would work);
3) Lack of precision about the guerrilla having to hand back all the profits from the drug trafficking business. The agreement made the FARC transition from a drug cartel into a political party, so people feared the implications of a narco funding of the party.
4) Concerns that the many obligations of the government under the agreement were either impossible to carry out or would deviate focus from other economic and social priorities.
So is every hope lost? No! There is still a chance that what was a devastating blow in the voting could become an opportunity to unite a clearly divided country and create a stronger, more effective peace agreement that can finally carry us to the long yearned peace. The challenge is the transition from a two way negotiation (FARC – Colombian government) to a three way one (with the “NO” movement as the third party – under former president Uribe as its leader). Let’s hope it can quickly become again a two way negotiation that comes to an agreement and puts an end to the conflict allowing the country to tackle the many other challenges it’s facing.
Carlos is a second year MBA, who never learned how to properly draw, and is focused on corporate finance in the energy industry