Mario Murillo, Colombian activist, author and professor of communications at Hofstra University in New York, speaks with “Democracy Now!” about the outcome of the referendum on the proposed peace accord in Colombia.

With a vote of 50.23 percent to 49.76 percent — a margin of 61,000 votes — Colombians rejected a negotiated agreement that would have ended 52 years of war between their government and the leftist FARC militia and made the latter a legal political party.

President Juan Manuel Santos had been confident of a “yes” result. Both sides repeatedly described the deal as the best they could achieve, saying a renegotiation would be impossible. Santos said he had no plan B.

“Why did a fraction more than half the voters, in a country blighted for the entire lives of most of its citizens by a war that has killed 250,000 people and displaced 6 million, reject the offer of peace and the investment and prosperity that it might bring?” asked Isabel Hilton at The Guardian.

Colombia’s long history of violence and its tortured politics offer many possible explanations: Santos is not personally popular and by putting himself and the Farc commander-in-chief Timoléon Jiminez – Timochenko – front and centre of the agreement, and the lavish signing ceremony organised a week before the referendum, he alienated as many voters as he attracted. “If he had had the grace to step back and let the victims speak,” complained one Colombian commentator before the vote, “it would have been completely different. He would have held the moral high ground and people could have voted for peace without feeling they were being invited to support Santos. …”

The far-right former president Álvaro Uribe, who retains strong support in his home base of Antioquia, campaigned vigorously for “no” for reasons of ideology as well as self-interest. Under Uribe’s presidency, killing by the army and far-right militias escalated to new heights, as did the land grabs that fuelled much of the violence in that phase of the war. A national survey last year confirmed that nearly half of Colombia’s land is owned by 0.4% of the population, and even had the agreement passed, few of those who gained land through paramilitary violence were ready to hand it back.

In the days before the referendum, prospective voters in Medellín – a stronghold of Uribe’s – offered a range of reasons to vote no: that the Farc would be allowed to keep their ill-gotten gains; that once the ex-guerrillas entered politics, Colombia would end up with a leftwing dictatorship; that ordinary Colombians would have to pay for the deal while the men of violence reaped the gains of the peace; and finally that those with blood on their hands would not be punished for past crimes.

“It remains to be seen,” Hilton continued, “whether the Farc will finally put down their guns and accept less favourable terms: Colombia’s capacity for violence of both the far left and the far right is undiminished, and Timochenko’s authority has been shaken by this shock result, as has Santos’s: Uribe’s party lost no time in calling for the president to step down.”

Read more.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly

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