On October 2, by a very narrow margin, Colombians voted to reject the agreement that their government had negotiated with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) that would have formally ended that group’s 52-year long struggle to overthrow that nation’s government. The result came as a shock to many both within and outside Colombia, given that polls taken shortly before the referendum predicted the accord would pass by an almost two-to-one margin. Indeed, in our confidence that the referendum would pass, had written and were waiting to go to press with a detailed article on the outlook for post-agreement Colombia.
Interpreting the results
The October 2 vote does not reflect Colombia’s rejection of peace, but rather, of an accord that many Colombians believed would bring neither peace nor justice. Colombians have long become accustomed to the breach between the erudite discourse of their leaders, and the realities of their daily lives. The rejected 297-page long accord was a good example of this contrast. Beyond the language used by the government to encourage acceptance of the agreement, a number of its provisions threatened to both worsen the security situation and exacerbate the difficulties of the Colombian economy.
In the agreement, the FARC had committed to demobilize less than 6.000 combatants, when the total number of guerrillas, including affiliated forces, were estimated to be 15,000 or more. The agreement had thus presented the risk that a significant part of the FARC’s clandestine networks would have remained active following the demobilization process. In addition, the agreement committed to the distribution of some 9 million hectares of land, requiring the expropriation of numerous private properties that likely would have significantly expanded social conflict in the rural areas. Finally, the cost of implementing the accord was calculated to be around US$30 billion over ten years– a figure which is not realistic at all given the situation of the Colombian economy, which is already under severe fiscal pressures, due to low international oil prices and other factors.
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