What is the Colombian peace deal and what does it mean that it failed?


After four years of exhaustive and emotional negotiations between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia insurgent group to arrive at a peace deal, the people rejected it in a referendum Sunday — but just barely, by one-fifth of a percent.

The "no" campaign squeaked by with a 50.2% majority against the 49.8% of voters in favor of the deal.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was deeply disappointed by the results, which polls suggested would end with a victory for the "yes" campaign. Pundits are comparing the referendum and its surprising results to that of "Brexit."

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Despite previously declaring there was no "plan B," President Santos said he would "continue the search for peace until the last moment of my mandate because that's the way to leave a better country to our children," the BBC reports.

"I won't give up," Santos added.

What is the FARC?

The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia — translated as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — is a branch of a Marxis-Leninist Communist party, which engages in guerrilla warfare.

The FARC have been fighting the central government for more than half a century. The protracted civil war has has resulted in nearly a quarter million deaths and the displacement of 7 million people. 


The United States Department of State has designated FARC a Foreign Terrorist Organization since 1997.

In the early 2000s, the FARC was financed largely through the production of cocaine. During this time, Colombia was producing 90% of the global supply.

What is the peace deal?

The peace deal was largely designed to allow FARC rebels to reintegrate into society. 

The deal proposed to achieve this by having insurgents give their arms to the United Nations, admit to their criminal offenses and create their own, legitimate political party, Reuters reported.

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The last of these proposals would have secured 10 congressional seats for the FARC's political party until 2026 and permitted the hypothetical party to participate in national elections.

Opponents of the peace deal have argued it does not demand enough accountability from FARC rebels who have, for example, relentlessly participated in violence and drug-trafficking. 

One of the main proponents of the "no" campaign is former President and current member of Congress Alvaro Uribe

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Despite the failed referendum, FARC leader Timochenko has committed to the ceasefire. 

"The FARC reiterates its disposition to use only words as a weapon to build towards the future," Timochenko said, according to Al Jazeera. "To the Colombian people who dream of peace, count on us: Peace will triumph."

But the deal was rejected — so, what's next?

Despite the shock of the referendum's outcome, domestically and internationally, all might not be lost. 

"Well, last night there were two important statements: The first was President Santos said he would continue talks, including with the opposition, and the second is the FARC made a statement saying they still don't want to go back to arms," José Antonio Ocampo, who has served various ministerial positions in the Government of Colombia, said in a phone interview. 

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"Negotiations were painful, but I think the opposition want much tougher conditions," added Ocampo, who is currently a professor at Columbia's School of International Affairs and, among numerous other positions, an expert committee of the United Nations Economic and Social Council. "The two issues that are most controversial are the penalties for crimes against humanity and, secondly, the FARC's political party and participation."

Ideally, only these aspects of the deal should be opened to renegotiation, argued Vanda Felbab-Brown, senior fellow in the Brookings Institution's Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, part of the Foreign Policy program. Felbab-Brown has written extensively on Colombia. 

Reopening the entire peace deal could lead to pandemonium.

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Still, the extent to which the FARC will be held accountable is one of the more challenging things to negotiate.

"The FARC will have to find someone in the organization to be the sacrificial lamb or there will need to be some sort of deeper reckoning," Felbab-Brown explained. 

Either way, an immediate failing on the part of Santos comes in his commitment to negotiate with politicians like Uribe and other powerful actors with vested interests, rather than focussing on the public and the needs of the middle-class, she added. 

"The danger is we end up with a deal that cloaks itself in justice and accountability but carves out all the social justice elements."