There was little hope left in October of bringing Colombia’s 52-year old conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to an end, when voters narrowly rejected a proposed peace plan in a referendum. Fears swelled that violence would break out again.
President Juan Manuel Santos, however, was undeterred and set about piecing together a revised peace deal.
Six weeks on, gloom and uncertainty have made way for cautious optimism.
A commitment by both sides to uphold a ceasefire, initially seen as little more than a sticking plaster, required follow-up steps and a Plan B.
Responsibility was also placed on the shoulders of the “no” side. Buoyed by the award of a Nobel Peace Prize and support from the international community, Santos gave opponents of the peace plan an October 20 deadline to submit their own ideas, including from his most formidable detractor, former president Álvaro Uribe.
Santos and Uribe haven’t been on speaking terms since the former, then a defense minister, resigned from Uribe’s government to run against him in 2009.
Santos also relaunched long-stalled peace talks with Colombia’s second largest guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN).
With less than 40 percent of the electorate having participated in the referendum, Santos’ goal was to find a basis that would take into account a more disparate array of views and voices.
500 counterproposals were submitted, which were divided into 57 thematic sections and scrutinized by the government and the FARC.
The outcome — a tweaked, but not a reshaped peace accord — calls for the FARC to hand over its assets, which will go to compensating victims of the war.
Many who voted “no” in October felt the original text set a precedent for impunity.
Fears remain that the FARC’s reentry into the political sphere will result in the emergence of popular mass movement of the kind that brought Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez to power in Cuba and Venezuela, respectively.
Such fears seem overblown when the last the time FARC participated in elections, it received only 5 percent support in the presidential contest and won 23 seats in Congress, a dozen or so mayoralties and a couple hundred local council seats.
Uribe remains skeptical, arguing that “cosmetic changes will not suffice” if a just peace is to be reached with what he calls “terrorists and narco-traffickers.”
It remains to be seen what mechanism Santos will use to legitimize a still fragile new peace deal. Having been rebuked by voters last time, Congress may provide a more amenable pathway.
The president must tread carefully. He needs to bring about a broad consensus in favor of the terms of a lasting peace, one that will be a victory for him as well as ordinary Colombians.