As a fellow Colombian I felt that I could not stay silent after hearing this past week’s announcement that the Nobel Peace Prize had been given to Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos.
The Nobel Prize Committee’s press release states that Santos deserves this prize for his “resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year long civil war to an end”. https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2016/press.html
The bottom line is that his long effort has resulted in a peace accord that was rejected by the Colombian people in a referendum vote held on October 2nd and peace with the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion de Colombia – The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) has not been reached. I thought Nobel prizes rewarded true accomplishments like those achieved by the Chemistry and Physics scientists whose work has culminated in major scientific advances. Awarding this Nobel Prize to Santos trivializes it and in many ways makes it appear like the little plastic trophies our children get for mere participation rather than accomplishment.
I suspect that what really happened is that the Nobel Prize Committee got caught with its pants down and had no back up plan. From what most media sources were reporting, it was expected that Colombian citizens would ratify the peace agreement unanimously. Even President Santos was convinced that the peace accord would be approved and had made no formal plans for an alternative strategy. I can imagine the Nobel Prize Committee Communication’s department scrambling at the nth hour to add a paragraph at the end of their press release that would desperately support their decision in light of the October 2nd referendum results. Towards the end of their press release they acknowledge that although peace has not been achieved in Colombia they hope that this prize will inspire Santos to complete his mission. I find the Nobel Prize Committee’s comments trite and patronizing.
Colombia’s citizens have become polarized with a peace process that has dragged on for five years and with its resulting peace accord. Families and friends are divided with regard to how peace should be achieved. The referendum vote was very tight, 49.78 % of the population voting to approve the peace accord, and 50.21% voting against it, with only a 37.43% voter turnout. Many voted against the current peace agreement because it was unconstitutional. In other words in the many concessions agreed upon, the government would have had to set up different judiciary and fiduciary systems to accommodate the FARC’s requirements, ultimately mandating changes to the existing constitution. Furthermore, it was also believed by many of the victims who suffered at the hands of the FARC that there would be no justice for the crimes committed by this terrorist group. In addition, some Colombians believe that Santos is in cahoots with the communists in Havana and that the approval of the current peace plan could only lead Colombia down a path similar to that of Venezuela’s. Then there are the Colombians that voted to support the peace plan. They felt it was a good peace plan. They cried when hearing the results of the referendum vote. It is interesting because recently I mentioned to my dear Nigerian friend that many Colombians felt the proposed peace plan was not adequate enough. She offered a sage comment, “Sometimes we must accept the peace plan even if it is not perfect, forgive, and move on”. She observed this situation through a different set of lenses and offered me a different view. We must never forget how important it is to allow ourselves to listen to different and opposing views.
All Colombians want peace. Colombians are sick and tired of the FARC, they want hostilities to end, they want security restored, they want to put it all of this behind them, and move forward to a new prosperous Colombia. I have always felt Colombia’s potential is enormous if they can get past all of this. A tentative ceasefire holds and the negotiating parties appear willing to continue talks but they must move quickly on this. Santos, Colombia, and the FARC must continue working on a peace agreement that will bring Colombians together and satisfy the majority.
I leave you with a translation of a thoughtful verbal message I received from a high school friend in Colombia. It summarizes in my opinion how other Colombians may be feeling tonight. It shows how polarized family and friends are. To put the message in context, my friend is writing to three of us who live outside of Colombia. She wants to share her views with us. She explains why she has decided to exit “chats” that she belongs to because emotions are running too high and she feels friends are just hurting each other with so many negative comments.
“… The country is very polarized. I do not censor nor do I judge anyone based on his or her views regarding the peace plan. I try to maintain a position of respect especially towards those people with opposing views to mine. Respect not just towards my immediate friends but to all the leaders involved in this peace process, Santos, Uribe, and Timochenko*.
We are all human beings. We all have our fears and dreams. Inarguably in Colombia we all want peace. We all understand the road to peace in a different way. What I don’t appreciate is all the negative rhetoric on the Internet. Because if we let ourselves be consumed by these messages that make fun of others, make fun of the opposing camp, we are falling into a trap that as a human beings we should not fall into. I am not a supporter of Santos, Uribe, or Timochenko. I don’t identify with any of the political leaders.
I was going to vote “yes” for the peace plan but the day that I went to vote I voted “no” because I had seen Maduro** sitting at the Peace Accord signing ceremony and I got worried about the future of our country ending up like Venezuela. If I had not seen him at the signing ceremony I would have voted “yes”. My only fear was seeing Colombia become another Venezuela. Of course if the “yes” had won, it does not necessarily imply that we would have become like a Venezuela, it was a probability but not a certainty.
In order to achieve peace in a country, in our homes, or in anything I feel that the most important thing is to lower one’s guard especially in our hearts. We must be kind and respectful to others. We must try to have compassion and empathy so that we don’t get caught up in harmful attitudes, negative attitudes that don’t contribute to anything. I chose to exit various chats where emotions are running high. We end up making others and ourselves feel bad. I was too caught up in the Internet “noise”. I decided to quiet myself. I decided to spend time reflecting on the situation asking God for clarity, generosity, and sanity for all of us. I love you all. Don’t worry about us. This too shall pass. Our group of friends will come together again. I left the group intentionally because I don’t want to ruin friendships that are 45 years old. I hope you are all well. Chao..”
*Juan Manuel Santo: President of Colombia 2010 – present. He won his second term with the promise of bringing peace to Colombia. He has spent 5 years negotiating with the FARC. A peace treaty was signed in September 2016. The peace treaty was rejected in a Colombian referendum vote in October 2016.
Alvaro Uribe: President of Colombia 2002 -2010. Revered by many for using military force against the FARC and effectively diminishing it power while restoring security to the country.
Timochenko, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri: Took over as head of the FARC in 2011.
** Nicolas Maduro: Venezuela’s President
Below I include some links to help the reader better understand Colombia’s history and the background to this peace process.
- This report presents a detailed background to the peace process including history of Colombia, the FARC and other rebel groups. The report also outlines the agreement reached between Colombia’s government and the FARC. The report ends on September 26, 2016 just 6 days before the referendum vote in Colombia. As you read the facts listed for the month in September there is a real sense that the peace agreement would pass with flying colors. Presented also in this report are details of the rejected peace agreement: Rural Reform, Political Participation, Illicit Drugs, Victims, End of Conflict, and Implementation – http://colombiareports.com/colombia-peace-talks-fact-sheet/
- This article was written on October 3rd, one day after the referendum vote. The article talks about what happened and what needs to be done next. – http://colombiapeace.org
I am willing to accept that when the FARC was formed in the early 60’s, all of Latin America, and for that matter the United States was in need of reform and was going through revolutionary changes. The United States was going through the Civil Rights and Women’s rights movements. Many Latin American countries were fighting dictators and looking for equality for its people. This is the time that Fidel Castro developed his strategy to fight Batista in Cuba. This is the time that Che Guevara, having grown up in an affluent Argentine family, would travel throughout South America to discover the harsh inequalities in society. Colombia, although a democratic republic, can be viewed as an oligarchy. The few rich rule the poor majority. This is what inspired the FARC to take up arms. Other leftist rebel groups in Colombia did the same. The M-19 was one of those groups who eventually laid down their arms and became a political party. The FARC and the ELN (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional – The National Liberation Army) have continued to use violence to try to achieve their goals unsuccessfully. But 52 years later, the goals of the FARC and ELN have gotten obscured. Although the FARC still wants redistribution of wealth and help for the poor rural communities, they do not have the support of Colombian citizens because the FARC commits terrible crimes such as kidnapping, murders, extortion, running the Colombian drug trade, destroying infrastructure, and hurting the economy of the country. The FARC has lost any popularity that they may have enjoyed in the sixties. I used to visit Colombia frequently throughout my childhood and early adult years. In 1997, I visited my relatives in Colombia when I was pregnant with my first child. Insecurity in Colombia got so bad because of the FARC that I would not return to the country for 9 years for fear of having my children kidnapped because they looked foreign. Many Colombian presidents attempted to negotiate peace unsuccessfully with the FARC and other rebel groups. Alvaro Uribe, the president between 2002 -2010 decided to take on the FARC and fought them with military force. He was able to restore security to the country. So it was that in 2006 that I felt it was safe enough to take my children to Colombia for the first time to meet their great grandparents and extended family. We went again in 2008 and 2011. My children really appreciated learning about their cultural background and meeting all their relatives. When Santos came into office in 2010 Colombia started to see a rise in the FARC’s power and a decline in the county’s security once again. I cannot help but be distrusting of Santo’s peace plan. He has let the country’s security slip. I often ask myself why did the peace talks have to take place in Havana. I have not been back to Colombia since 2011. I also want peace. I want the best for everyone. I want the rural communities to prosper. I want for my friends and family to feel safe. I want everyone to feel they have a future in Colombia. I want for foreign investment to flood the country. I want to bring foreign friends to Colombia to show them what an incredible country it is. I want for the rest of the world to see Colombia for the amazing country that it is.
My children meeting their bisabuelita (great grandmother) for the first time in Medellin in 2006.
My children in el Peñol, a town outside of Medellin. This part of the country had become inaccessible because of the FARC and drug lords for a time period.
Celebrating my 50th birthday in 2011 with my children in Colombia and a handful of cousins.