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In a country with such vast inequality, along with a significant disconnect between officialdom and the masses, to say Colombia’s ‘vote for peace’ is its moment of truth might be overstretching it a little.
Nonetheless, in the unlikely event of the Colombian electorate rejecting the October 2nd plebiscite on the agreement reached between the government and Farc rebels, such an outcome would be met with bewilderment by a watching outside world; a people says no to ‘peace’. (Although, as written about here previously, it wouldn’t be a complete surprise to those who have been following events closely.) It would also signal the need for a change of administration, one that would have to pursue a far tougher line on leftist guerrillas; not virgin, if largely unsuccessful ground that.
The opinion polls, in any case, tell us that the yes side should comfortably win the day, despite a not insignificant no minority that appears to cross class boundaries. From well-to-do business people and professionals to tienda owners and hard-pressed youths in working-class barrios, in my conversations I’ve encountered more people who are going to vote ‘no’ than ‘yes’. (Odd enough considering the no side is polling about 30 per cent.) I’ve also spoken with plenty who just won’t bother to cast their ballot; a symbol of that disconnect from ‘official’ Colombia in what, according to the powers that be, is such a momentous decision for the country.
Leaving aside the argument that the referendum question is of a leading type favouring a ‘yes’, Colombians must ask themselves the following: Is this an agreement that will be a positive game changer for the country, a step in the right direction? Or is it just a coming together of a few elites, unrepresentative of the reality on the ground, and something that will change very little? A ‘television peace‘ as one Colombian farmer put it.
You won’t find many, even the most optimistic of yes voters, expecting instant change. Peace won’t come overnight. We’ve seen that before in the likes of Northern Ireland — not that we can draw too many comparisons between the two conflicts.
One argument coming from the no side is that the agreement is overly lenient towards Farc from a financial and political point of view — guaranteed senate seats for the leftist movement is one bugbear in this regard. For a country that has traditionally steered a centre-right/right path in national politics, there seems to be some fear that this deal might mark the start of a drift towards some sort of socialism, a dirty word in these parts considering the situation in neighbouring Venezuela and Colombia’s sour relationship with that republic.
Another source of fuel for the ‘no’ ire comes from El Presidente himself, Juan Manuel Santos. His approval rating has been at an all-time low and it appears some Colombians just can’t bear to endorse anything that he is behind. The wrong occasion for a protest vote it might be, but it carries weight.
Other points being made against the agreement include the belief that there are greater problems in the country that need to be sorted out. This may be so, but the counter-argument is that by at least putting the Farc to bed, the other issues can then be tackled with more vigour. As for former Farc members carrying on their criminal ways under a different banner post peace endorsement, only time will tell on that one.
Should, as expected, the yes side win on Sunday, it’s not, at the risk of sounding facetious, going to be a case of peace and love from Monday onwards. However, the hope must be that it marks the start of a move to a more positive era in Colombia’s story. As Santos himself said, and here’s hoping he and his ilk mean it, ‘the hard work starts now.’ Creating a more equitable Colombia is something that requires much more than a few handshakes and the signing of an agreement. A sceptical Colombian public needs convincing that the times are indeed a-changin’ for the better.
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