The News
The News
Thursday 04 of March 2021

52 Years … and Counting


Colombia's President Juan Santos acknowledges the applause while addressing people who worked for the peace accord to be approved in the recent referendum, after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, at Narino Palace in Bogotá,photo: Reuters/John Vizcaino
Colombia's President Juan Santos acknowledges the applause while addressing people who worked for the peace accord to be approved in the recent referendum, after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, at Narino Palace in Bogotá,photo: Reuters/John Vizcaino
When they went to the polls, the Colombian people were looking for retribution, not reconciliation

Perhaps it was too much to hope for, that a nation marred by more than 52 years of vicious political murders, kidnappings, drug trafficking and other heinous criminal acts could somehow forgive and forget the slaughter of 220,000 civilians.

But after nearly six years of internationally brokered negotiations, a blueprint had at long last been hammered out that finally could have brought an end to one of the world’s longest armed conflicts.

The international community held its breath last Sunday, Oct. 2, as 6.4 million Colombian voters went to the polls to cast their ballots on a proposed peace treaty between the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

For many outsider observers — and even many Colombians — the deal seemed like a no-brainer: peace in exchange for amnesty for the Marxist revolutionists.

But in the end, the Colombian people rejected the 297-page agreement in a razor-thin vote of nay, and all the best-laid plans of politicians and peacemakers seemed to unravel in a single day.

Although the referendum did not pass, the Nobel committee decided to present its Peace Prize to Santos for his attempt to bring an end to the war in order to nudge the negotiation process to continue.

But even before the referendum, there were signs that the treaty would not endure.

The accord, which would have provided for the 7,000 FARC paramilitary fighters to set down their arms and confess their crimes in exchange for what would have amounted to little more than a wrist slap for odious acts of murder and torture, was viewed by many Colombians as being too lenient.

Indeed, the wounds of five decades of war against the FARC were far too extensive and too fresh to be forgiven by many of its victims and their families.

So when they went to the polls, the Colombian people were looking for retribution, not reconciliation.

Any new accord will have to provide for harsher sentences for FARC assassins.

Also, there is still considerable mistrust on both sides, and trying to reassimilate an entire generation of combatants into civil society would have been a difficult task for all concerned.

Moreover, the treaty only extended to the FARC, but there are countless other — and often more radical — insurgent groups in the country who would have been eager and ready to pick up where the Revolutionary Armed Forces left off, ensuring that war and bloodshed would continue to be the norm in Colombia.

So perhaps it was too much to hope for.

But peace — at whatever cost — is the only path to bringing an end to the vicious cycle of carnage that has scarred Colombia for more than half a century.

And, sooner or later, past grievances will have to give way to hope.

Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]