On Sunday 2nd October Colombia has a plebiscite to decide whether to accept the peace deal that was signed on Wednesday this week between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).
If the country votes Si then FARC’s guerillas will continue the process of disarming that began last weekend, following a unilateral ceasefire that has largely held for the past year. The FARC have been at war with the Colombian state since 1964.
This means that the majority of the friends I have made here in Colombia have never known their country at peace.
For the past four years the government has negotiated with the FARC in Habana, Cuba. For most of that time the talks were held in secret. What has emerged is a detailed agreement, with the headline being that the FARC will disarm in exchange for their legitimisation as a political entity.
Controversially, there will be an amnesty for combatants who admit to their crimes, up to and including murder. The FARC are also being guaranteed representation in both the upper and lower houses of the Congress of Colombia, five seats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives until 2026.
From what I can gather most, but by no means all, of my colleagues support a Si vote. Now, voting Si doesn’t mean that somebody necessarily thinks the peace deal is perfect, or that they necessarily trust President Santos.
Many Colombians are suspicious of their politicians and Santos is certainly no exception. His approval ratings have recently dipped with one widely reported Gallup Colombia telephone poll giving him a 21% approval rating.
So, a Si vote tomorrow might involve compromise and an act of faith on the part of many Colombians where the compromise will be judged to have been worth it if the outcome is a peaceful future for Colombia.
If many Colombians are expected to vote Yes, while accepting that the peace deal contains difficult compromises, there are others who will vote No because they cannot accept the impunity it offers.
The No campaign has been lead by former President Uribe. While he was president Uribe’s government lead a strong military campaign that seriously weakened the FARC. He and his supporters contend that Santos and his government are now conceding too much to the FARC when they believe that the guerilla group were on the verge of defeat.
As well as rejecting the amnesty, No voters are often concerned about the guarantee of political representation for the FARC and some of them see the accord as a step towards communism, taking Colombia a step along the road to becoming a second Venezuela.
After the vote
There is no public plan for what happens if Colombia votes No tomorrow, although the expectation is that Colombia will vote Si. However, opinion polls have a poorer reputation than they do in the UK even. If Si wins, the process will only really be starting.
There are concerns about what will happen when the FARC withdraw from the areas that they control. These are mostly rural areas and are often places where the government have effectively withdrawn.
I’ve read reports about villagers who are seeing their first policemen, for instance. There are other armed groups that exist in Colombia and it is possible, even likely, that they will try and move into the areas vacated by the FARC.
It seems that for the peace to hold the government will need to re-establish itself in parts of the country where it has been absent for many years, improve infrastructure and support civic society. This is difficult in a country where being a civic leader has been a dangerous position to hold. Many of the killings over the past 52 years have been of community leaders.
Whatever happens tomorrow, I hope that it leads to a long peace and a better life for all Colombians.
Obviously the above is an extremely brief and inadequate summation of the issues around Sunday’s plebisicite. For English speakers the Colombia Reports website has a comprehensive series of articles about the peace process. The site reports from a neutral to pro-Peace Deal perspective. The comments below the articles often include opinions from people intending to vote No and so give an idea of arguments for and against the deal.