Hundreds of thousands of Colombians marched in silence in cities across the country holding candles and torches on October 5 in support of a peace deal that only just lost a plebiscite on October 2, Morning Star said.
The huge marches came after the shock victory of the “No” vote in a plebiscite on whether to accept the peace deal negotiated between the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
The deal, which was signed on September 26, would end the more than five decade-long civil war, while providing political space for the FARC to continue struggling for its socialist aims through peaceful means.
The agonisingly narrow vote (with about 70,000 votes difference) means the deal failed to receive popular ratification in a poll marred by a turnout of less than 40%. Among factors behind the low turnout was torrential rain on the country’s east coast, which made it impossible for up to 4 million people to vote.
The results went against all polls that had the "Yes" vote winning easily in areas most affected by the conflict. In particular, TeleSUR English said, the “Yes” vote was strongest in the poorest, rural, Afro-descendent and indigenous departments.
For example, in the heavily affected area of Choco, with 95% of the vote counted, 79% voted “Yes”. The Caribbean provinces also voted “Yes”, as did the capital of Bogota, where the “Yes” vote won with 56%.
The “No” campaign was led by hard-right ex-president Alvaro Uribe, infamous for his ties with paramilitary death squads, the big land-owning oligarchs and right-wing media outlets. They campaigned hard against the proposal to grant former FARC guerrillas “amnesty” for any alleged crimes and for a smooth transition into civilian life.
A key part of the deal was to allow democratic space for FARC members to campaign peacefully for their politics. This is essential for the FARC, as a move to electoral politics in the 1980s by the group was met with savage state-sponsored violence that killed thousands of leftists.
However, the Uribe-led “No” camp condemned such moves as a free pass for “terrorists”, in a campaign denounced as “dirty and fear-mongering” by supporters of the deal.
After the referendum, both the FARC and Santos reiterated their support for the deal and a peaceful resolution to the conflict. However, following meetings with the hard right led by Uribe, Santos said the ceasefire between the Colombian military and the FARC would not be extended beyond October 31 — raising the prospect of a resumption of violence.
The plebiscite was non-binding and the Colombian congress can still elect to pass the laws necessary to comply with the accords, although the amnesty law was built into the plebiscite and basically makes the agreement null.
TeleSUR English reported on October 2 that the FARC “had consistently called for a Constituent Assembly instead of a plebiscite, arguing that an assembly would be much more representative and would guarantee the participation of the most marginalised and affected peoples in Colombia and would go beyond a simple yes or no vote”.
After the vote, FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez said: “The FARC-EP commits itself to use only words as weapons for peace. The struggle for peace continues ... there is still hope [despite the campaign led by] destructive powers planting the seeds of hatred and resentment among Colombia's people.
“Whoever wishes peace in Colombia can rely on the FARC-EP. Peace shall win!”
Santos also said that day: “We all want peace, without exception. I will not surrender. We will all come out stronger from this. We will find peace and move forwards.”
However, on October 4, TeleSUR English reported that Santos unilaterally announced during a televised address that “the ceasefire with the FARC only runs until October 31”.
Clearly caught by surprise, the FARC’s Jimenez tweeted soon after: “And after that, does the war continue?”
The next day, after meeting with Uribe over the peace deal, Santos said he believed that “peace was close”. The president sought to downplay the significance of the concessions Uribe and the “No” camp are demanding in order to secure their support for the deal, TeleSUR Engish said that day.
In a short statement to the media, Uribe insisted that the deal signed with the FARC required “adjustments and corrections”. Uribe claimed the issues centred on the illegal growing of coca plants and small-scale narco-traffickers, which the FARC are accused of supporting — ignoring the fact these issues are already dealt with in the peace deal.
The man infamous for connections with death squads also failed to mention the large-scale narco-trafficking in which high-ranking military personnel, politicians and other state officials have been implicated.
TeleSUR English said: “The future of the deal seems to hang on whether the FARC-EP will accept tougher conditions for demobilisation, perhaps combined with a softening of Uribe’s hard-line demands.
“The government made clear that the decision to reopen talks lies with the rebel leadership.”
After meeting with Uribe, Santos indicated the ceasefire might be extended indefinitely after October 31. However,
FARC commander and peace negotiator Pastor Alape advised rebel fighters to seek safe positions to avoid provocations.
Marching for peace
It was in this confused, dangerous and tense context that the large marches for peace took place. Under the slogan “In Silence for Peace”, protests filled the streets of the capital Bogota and other cities across the country.
Morning Star reported that one banner read: “For everything that unites us and against everything that separates us.”
The demonstrations coincided with Santos’s meeting with Uribe.
The People’s Congress, a coalition of hundreds of peasant groups, said in a statement on the previous day that the meeting equated to a “pact between elites”.
The coalition said: “We firmly reject the path of a closed and elitist pact of the right wing, which again excludes the common people and it is a sure way to a ‘new cycle of violence’.”
Morning Star said: “As Uribe’s defence minister from 2006 to 2009, Santos was responsible for working with US forces and paramilitaries in the bloodthirsty ‘Plan Colombia’ campaign against the FARC.
“But since his election in 2010 he has trodden a more independent path towards peace with the communist rebels and Colombia’s left-wing neighbours [Venezuela and Ecuador].”
The People’s Congress has called for further mobilisations in support of the peace deal