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Why would a country reject peace?

Por: | 17 de octubre de 2016

Hundreds of people gather for ‘The Peace Concert’ on Monday in Bogotá.

Voters march for peace days before the referendum / LEONARDO MUÑOZ (EFE)

I lived in Colombia when Scotland rejected independence from the United Kingdom. This became a sort of a joke to some of my Colombian friends there, “Why would you campaign for independence all these years just to reject it?” they asked. I remember being sent a meme saying ‘Viva la independencia..! Sigamos siendo una colonia inglesa!” (Long live independence… let’s continue to be an English colony!)

Two years on, people outside of Colombia are asking similar questions about the Colombian peace referendum. Why would a country with such a tragic history - a 52-year-long civil war which has caused 6.9 internally displaced victims - vote against peace?

It’s not a decision as simple as a 'yes' or a 'no', as the referendum required it to be.

For many Colombians who voted against peace, the deal was too lenient on the FARC and granted the rebel guerrillas too much political power.

Another major factor is the ongoing influence of Senator Uribe over the Colombian electorate. Álvaro Uribe Vélez was president from 2002-2010, and the current president, Juan Manuel Santos, initially served as a Minister of Defense under him. With Uribe’s support, Santos succeeded him. However, the two fell out due to their diverse attitudes in quelling the civil war. Their distinct approaches towards peace have divided public opinion. This culminated in Uribe launching a campaign against Santos in the 2014 election. Santos won narrowly, and Uribe remains his main political rival, staunchly against the peace negotiations.

El expresidente Álvaro Uribe habla a los medios después de votar, en Bogotá.

Uribe, moments after voting NO / GUILLERMO LEGARIA (AFP)

Uribe is the at the head of the ‘No’ movement. His father was murdered by the FARC and he is not forgiving of the rebel factions' past. Conversely, Santos claims forgiveness is the only way to achieve peace.

The 'No' campaign targeted different Colombian communities. For example, while the Catholic church leaned in favour of peace, the Evangelists were largely influenced by the 'No' campaign. One example of this is Oswaldo Ortiz, an Evangelist 'digital pastor' and prominent online personality who claims ‘only peace can be achieved with God.’ For many 'No' voters, Santos’ acceptance of the FARC was too far away from religious principles. Saying ‘No’ was a way to combat increasingly liberal influences. Additionally, Santos’ appointment of the openly gay politician Gina Parody as the ‘Yes’ campaign coordinator was interpreted by the ‘No’ campaign as a way to threaten conservative family values through the peace treaty.

Another motivation to vote against the peace deal was a fear of becoming like neighbouring country Venezuela.

If you look at an infographic of how regions of Colombia voted, there is an obvious correlation between areas worst affected by violence voting for peace, while those more distant from conflict areas voted no.

Uribe is a controversial figure, and an unpopular one for victims of the conflict. His methods of stopping the FARC were violent, and many believed that Uribe himself encouraged paramilitary activity to take down the FARC. It was largely fighting between FARC and other rebel groups that caused innocent deaths and civilian displacement. Victims of this do not wish to return to Uribe’s hard-line tactics, preferring Santos’ measured and diplomatic approach in securing peace.

Santos saluda el aplauso recibido tras conocerse el Premio Nobel de la Paz.

President Santos received a Nobel Prize for his peace efforts / JOHN VIZCAINO (REUTERS)

After the referendum outcome, Santos initially announced that a cease-fire would remain in place until the end of October. Since then, thousands of Colombians have marched for peace in Bogota and other locations throughout the country. Perhaps as a result of this, the cease-fire has been extended until the end of the year. 

Even if Colombia voted 'yes', it would be a small step towards peace. While the FARC is Colombia's largest guerrilla group, armed rebel groups and narco bacrims are still active in areas around the country. Peace talks with the country's second largest rebel group, ELN, have been announced for later in the month. 

Last week, President Santos was awarded a Nobel Prize for his peace efforts. It is hoped that this recognition will help the Colombian public come to an agreement in a resolution of the conflict. 

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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