World Politics

Colombia: The Plebiscite, Peace and Defeat


Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

04 October 2016

Without a doubt, the victory of the No side in the plebiscite on the 2nd of October came as a surprise to many, including the No campaign.  It represents a multiple defeat, on the one hand Santos was defeated at the ballot box, the Final Accord was defeated as were the FARC.  The defeat is not the same in each case.

Santos lost in his attempt to link the fate of the plebiscite to the future of his presidential candidate Humberto de La Calle.  The Accord was defeated without even forming part of the real debate and of course the FARC were defeated, part of the No vote was a clear rejection of the organisation.  There was also another defeat, the desire of Colombians to live in peace.  Although it is true to say that the last one could be predicted in any case as the Accord proposes bringing an end to the shooting match with the FARC and not so much about achieving Peace.

How did we get to this point?

The No vote is the result of a series of actions, agreements and connivances between the government, the FARC, the legal Left and the NGOs.

The first of these was the adoption of the Irish model of a process behind closed doors, whose content and discussions were secret and the people had neither a voice nor a vote, they had no right to know or opine.  The so-called experts thought that this was good, Vincenç Fisas from the School of Peace Culture in Barcelona said “It would be terrible that they had to emit a daily communiqué, like in El Caguán or Cuba with the ELN between 2005 and 2007.  The media have to be asked to be patient.”  He exaggerates in the aforementioned cases, they did not issue daily communiqués and in this process neither have they remained silent, but the basic idea was: lets do this behind people’s backs.  He demanded patience from the people not the press.

The people did not participate, despite some forums (where they attended and listened more than anything) and sending thousands of proposals to Havana.  Nobody knows what happened to the proposals that were sent.  The organisations that went to Cuba, expressed their opinion but nobody knows what happened to their opinions, the debate was between two parts, the state and the FARC.  After four years of telling people that they have no right to participate but just to appear, although it was unexpected, what happened in the plebiscite is not unusual.

In the debate, the campaign by ex paramilitaries, paramilitaries, drug traffickers, landlords, large companies represented by Centro Democrático de Colombia (Democratic Centre of Colombia) lied over and again.  But the truth be told, the Yes side also lied.  The left talked of agrarian reform when the Accord rules it out and the document of the FARC put to their 10th Conference acknowledges this.(2)  There will be impunity for the military and the businessmen who are equated to the rebels of the FARC (which in itself is an insult, a rebel is an altruistic dissident, the military are state criminals and the businessmen are criminals out for their own gains).  These and many more issues did not form part of the debate due to a simple reason.

The Colombian left made an alliance with the government of Juan Manual Santos in the name of peace, not just when they asked people to vote for him in the second round of elections in 2014, but also in the framework of discussions on peace.  It accepted that the people would not have a voice or a vote and when the draft agreements began to be published they said nothing about the disgraceful content.  They remained silent in the name of peace.  The legal Left of the Polo and the NGOs, with some exceptions, is not a world populated by idiots, but rather there are many people who are intelligent, capable, analytical and some even have a conscience.  However, they said nothing about the voids in the agreements.  They never opened up that debate.  The Left accepted that it was better to not discuss it and trusted that war weariness would win the plebiscite.

Who Voted No?

The minute the result came out, they began to claim that the cities voted No and the countryside Yes, the victims Yes and the non-victims No.  However, the situation is more complex than that and it cannot be reduced to crude arguments such as those.  It is true that Antioquia is the department that had the greatest impact in favour of the No.  But when you look at rural areas such as Segovia, the setting of the 1988 massacre when the Liberal Party (of which Uribe was a militant back then) gave the order to the paramilitaries and the military to massacre 43 people for having voted for the UP and against the liberals, we see a different reality.  In 1996, Captain Cañas led a paramilitary group that massacred 13 people in two neighbourhoods of the town.  In 1997 the paramilitaries and the military murdered 250 people, many of them human rights defenders.  In 1998, the ELN attacked the oil pipeline and the unintentional ensuing fire burnt 84 people to death in Machuca, Segovia.  Later in 2001 the paramilitaries killed seven people in the same place, just to mention a few incidents.  There can be no doubt, the municipality has its victims, it has suffered the war like no other, but it clearly voted No.  However, only 19% of the people voted.

In Bojayá where more than 100 people were killed in an attack by the FARC on paramilitaries entrenched in the town, 96% voted Yes.  It would seem resounding and it was used as proof of that rural/urban, victim/non-victim division.  But barely 30.37% of those registered to vote turned out in that municipality.  Segovia and Bojayá are proof of something that the media, the Left, the state and the NGOs do not want to acknowledge: the reasons for the No vote are more complex and the abstentions defeated them all, none of them could motivate the people to vote.  Almost 63% of the population did not turn out to vote and in the municipalities most affected by the violence the abstention rate rose to figures oscillating between 70% and 80%.(3)

This is the result of a process behind people’s backs.  That Uribe took advantage of the ignorance of the people, introduced fear, appealing to a reactionary Catholicism managing to even bring in the rights of the LGBT community in the debate, well yes, he did.  But he did so in the face of a Left which in alliance with the state decided it was better to ask the ignorant to vote than educate, debate and discuss.  The vacuum of ignorance is a creation of the very process; it is a requirement of the process.  Neither did those that voted Yes do so thinking of the content.  Some thought that there would be an agrarian reform, justice, truth etc.  But really, they voted because they were tired of the war.  And now that Uribe has come in to negotiate “changes”, they will vote yes again, regardless of the content of the changes.

Constituent Assembly

From early on in the process the FARC asked for a Constituent Assembly but accepted the state’s negative response.  The Left and the NGOs accepted it also, the latter like vultures go where the money is and there is no money in fighting for a Constituent Assembly.  However, now is the time to revive the idea.  A Constituent Assembly cannot be rushed, but it is the only chance to live in peace and at the same time build a scenario to struggle against impunity, the mining companies and the laws of plunder, amongst other things.  But in order to do that the Polo has to break its alliance with the state, the Right has said it is not willing to accept peace at any cost, so the left should also say “peace yes, but not at any cost”, i.e. the complete opposite of the four years they have spent on their knees with the self-deceit that a peace process would solve everything.  When you ask for little it is certain that you will be given less. 


(1) El Tiempo (29/09/2012) Entrevista con Vincenç Fisas

(2) See Que discutieron las FARC en sesión cerrada durante los 7 días de la X Conferencia

(3) Statistics on voting can be obtained from