Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos called on the country’s elite Sunday to endorse a peace deal with the FARC rebel army, as prominent right-wing politicians have joined forces to push for a “No” in the upcoming popular vote on whether or not to accept the peace accords.
A New Era of Peace in Colombia
“I am sure that the Colombian people have the intelligence to think that even though this peace is not perfect, it’s better than 20 or 30 more years of war,” Santos said in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais.
The final peace deal was unveiled on Aug. 24 in Havana, Cuba, where talks between the government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia of FARC were underway for nearly four years. Santos and FARC leader Timochenko will officially sign the peace deal on Sept. 26 in Cartagena, after which the rebel army will have 180 days to disarm and demobilize, paving the way for the group to become an unarmed, legal political movement for the first time in its 52-year history.
The plebiscite on the peace deal, aimed at ratifying the accords with Colombian society, will take place on Oct. 2. The ballot will have a single question, asking voters whether or not they accept the final accord between the two sides of the conflict.
As the day approaches for Colombians to go to the polls, Santos called for “pragmatism,” noting that it has been the victims of the conflict who have been most willing to forgive past abuses and embrace a new era of peace.
“I don’t understand how my fellow elite — because I am part of it, I am a member of the most exclusive clubs of the capital — are left to misinform about the benefits of peace,” continued Santos. “Sometimes I feel sad that there are people that, after getting information, don’t understand the importance of taking this step toward leaving a more peaceful country to all our children.”
Former conservative President Andres Pastrana and former far-right president and current Senator Alvaro Uribe are both behind the “No” campaign against the peace deal. Pastrana, who as president crafted with Bill Clinton the multi-million dollar U.S. military aid package Plan Colombia for counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations, recently confirmed his opposition to the peace deal.
Uribe, on the other hand, whose term in office saw record level of human rights violations and people fleeing the country as refugees, has been whipping up opposition to the peace process for months, claiming it offers impunity for demobilized FARC rebels.
In a recent interview with teleSUR leading up to the signing of the peace deal, FARC combatant and peace negotiator Alexandra Nariño argued that Uribe and his allies have promoted false narratives that have above all sidelined and obscured the many positive aspects of the peace deal, from rural reform to peace tribunals to substitution of coca crops for legal production.
Colombia’s half-century internal armed conflict claimed more than 260,000 lives and uprooted some 6.9 million people.