On October 2, the people of Colombia went to the polls to vote on a historic peace agreement negotiated over a four-year period by representatives of the guerrilla group FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) and the Colombian government. Against all expectations, the "no" vote won, although only by less than one half of 1 percent--53,894 votes out of more than 12.8 million.
While heavy rains and winds from Hurricane Matthew made access to polling places difficult in much of the country, with some polling places not able to open, many Colombians decided not to vote. Others were convinced to vote "no" or not to vote by a campaign orchestrated by former President Alvaro Uribe Velez, which sought to sow fear by falsely alleging, among other things, that government pension funds would be transferred from retired persons to the demobilized FARC guerrillas and that private lands would be expropriated and handed over to FARC members. Only 37 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.
It was a terrible setback, but there is still reason for hope. On November 12, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, winner of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize, announced a revised accord that could provide a basis for lasting peace.
As Americans who followed the development of the talks very closely and have been involved in solidarity and peace work in Colombia for decades, we were greatly disappointed by the initial rejection. The war has touched us closely. After decades of fighting, we remember many victims of the war who worked for peace, good government, ending the armed conflict, and developing a more just society.
For instance, we remember Alheiro Bustamante, the president of the Apartado city council, a gentle, friendly man who welcomed our Colombia Support Network delegations to Madison, Wisconsin's sister community of Apartado. He was a member of the Patriotic Union Party and was murdered because of his party membership.
Likewise, we remember Patriotic Union Senator Manuel Cepeda, who met with us in Bogota with other leaders of his party in 1994 to ask if we could help them escape threats on their lives, as we tried to do by publishing and circulating "urgent action" messages. Tragically, before we had a chance to act, Senator Cepeda was murdered at the order of paramilitary commander Carlos Castano. And Luis Eduardo Guerra, the legal representative of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado, who had visited Madison to speak to our organization...