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“Civil society is mobilizing to save the peace process”
Sandra López
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Interview with Fernando Hernández, director of Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris

Colombia has not yet recovered from the surprise caused by the victory obtained by the NO vote on the referendum which took place on Oct. 2 looking to approve the Final Agreement for the End of the Conflict and the Construction of a Stable and Long-lasting Peace signed in Cartagena on Sept. 26 between President Juan Manuel Santos and Rodrigo Londoño (also known as Timochenko) for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

It took four years of negotiations in Havana, Cuba, between the government and the guerrilla group to finalize the agreement that would put an end to 52 years of armed conflict. But, that agreement, which had to be ratified by the citizenry in a referendum, was rejected by a mere 53,900 votes in a process where only 37 percent of the electorate participated in the voting.

In a conversation with Sandra López, Latinamerica Press correspondent, Fernando Hernández, director of Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris (New Rainbow Corporation), a non-governmental organization of reflection, investigation and social action, explains the before, now and after of this crucial decision taken by the Colombian people.

How can the results of the referendum, in which the NO option vote came victorious, be explained?
Here we went from very high hopes to surprise, extreme incredulity and frustration. We were really not expecting this. Everything indicated that the YES was going to double and in some polls even triple the NO votes. Without a doubt there was an undercurrent that we did not perceive and it manifested itself with the incredible victory of the NO vote, albeit by a small margin, it did come out victorious in the end. The big winner was former president Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010) and the big loser was the country. We went from the euphoria of the signing in Cartagena, to disappointment; and for President [Juan Manuel] Santos, who eight days ago was a Nobel Peace Prize candidate, his government came to an end on Oct. 2. The end result is that the Havana Peace Agreement is practically worthless now.

According to you, what were the reasons for the rejection of this agreement?
In first place, the government did wrong in facing the propagandistic strategy of the uribismo [name given to the political mainstream of former president Uribe], which simplified the negotiating process to a few simple phrases that resonated on the population. For example, he said that with the agreement, the government would turn over the country to the castrochavismo [in reference to the Cuban leaders Fidel and Raúl Castro and the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez], to communism and for certain, in a crisis like the one Venezuela is living now, this left a mark on the people. They said that the agreement granted the FARC impunity for crimes against humanity, when this is not true. Uribe said that criminals were being awarded with political posts. The agreement proposes to redistribute 3 million hectares of uncultivated lands, or recovered from drug traffickers, that today belong to the State, to landless peasants. The uribismo converted that proposal in a threat for the expropriation of land from legal landowners. For the population, these were very effective messages. Everything was fair game for the far right campaign.

It seems that this message was well received in the cities.
The cities voted for the NO, except for Bogotá. The department of Antioquia, where former president Uribe is from, voted for the NO, Cundinamarca, the central department where Bogotá is located, voted for the NO. The Coffee Belt, Risaralda, Pereira, Santander voted for the NO. However, the regions where the victims are present, Afro-Colombians, the indigenous populations, those who really suffered from the violence, voted for the YES. The Chocó, where the Afro-Colombian communities have suffered terribly, and where the community of Bojayá that was bombarded by the FARC on May 2, 2002, killing 119 people is located, 95 percent of them voted for the YES. Places like the department of Cauca, which is indigenous territory, purely peasant population, or Putumayo, Vaupes, that have had the largest guerrilla fronts, voted for the YES. Paradoxically the cities, which have suffered less, were the ones that rejected the agreement.

And what about absenteeism that was 62.2 percent this time?
It is traditional in Colombia to not get out to vote [voting is not mandatory in Colombia], but this time it was worse. Some people explain that the presence of hurricane Matthew in the Atlantic Coast, where a large YES vote turnout was expected, slowed that vote down. Other people trusted the polls that predicted that the YES vote would win by a big margin so there was no need to get out and vote.

Do you believe that the leadership of former president, now Senator Uribe, had a big influence?
We need to accept the fact that former president Uribe is a very capable and persistent politician. Of course we also have to accept the fact that the government started a campaign very late from the peace pedagogy point of view. I believe that the government mixed up the governmental propaganda with the peace pedagogy. It conducted a campaign that was centered too much in the same old politicians and unfortunately the same old politicking is what in the end took place.

Senator Uribe has stated and has even appointed his representatives to discuss a renegotiation of the agreement with the government. Do you see this as positive?
Even if Uribe says now that he looks to renegotiate and the government accepts, what he really wants, in my personal opinion, is to dismantle the agreement. The sectors of the extreme right landowners are interested in dismantling the agrarian issue. These are sectors that are afraid of Transitional Justice because it proposes that one must be completely truthful; among these truths is to divulge the source of the lands they acquired during the violence. Some of them do not want their relationship with the paramilitaries to be exposed.

But the participation of Uribe is some progress to not totally discard what was agreed upon in four years of negotiation.
Of course. That is why we are looking for different directions to take at this time. The government has named a commission of ministers, including chief negotiator Humberto de la Calle, to come to an agreement on some terms with the uribismo. The parties that support the peace process met with the President Santos looking for solutions. There is a meeting taking place in Havana right now between the delegations of the FARC and the government to find a solution. There are demonstrations in the streets, of students, peasants, demanding the realization of peace. However, I do not believe that the guerrillas are going to say: OK, so I go to jail for 10 or 12 years. They are not going to say: OK, so I put down my weapons and I will not participate in politics. A lot of imagination will be needed to try to save the peace process.

Although they are not going to give in on all points, as you say, do you think that the FARC has the will to renegotiate?
I have no doubt that the leadership of the FARC has all the good intentions to negotiate. They unanimously ratified the agreement in the congress that they organized in the Selva del Yarí [in the central part of the country] in mid-September. The problem is that now everything is at a standstill. I think that the young men and women of the FARC must be bewildered. The days following the referendum they were supposed to be marching to the concentration areas and now they do not know what they are going to do.

Everything is stopped. The UN, who was the guarantor and whose participation was essential in complying with the agreement is immobilized. The international economic assistance that should have arrived for the post conflict is also paralyzed. We are in complete limbo at the moment. 
Would you say then that immediate measures must be taken?
We should at least know the paths where we must go. I do not see this as an easy task because, as I said before, as far as I am concerned, the wish of the uribismo is to dismantle the process. I hope that the wisdom of the FARC, based on the fact that they have already decided to turn in their weapons and to make a transition will help them look for political solutions. We must also keep in mind the role of civil society in all this, which is mobilizing to save the process. That is positive.

Here we not only have to restate what was negotiated with the three parties, but include more. The ELN [National Liberation Army, the second largest guerrilla group in the country] has announced their desire to join a new negotiation, and this is a good sign. So it is possible to achieve a broad table where the government, the FARC, the ELN, the opposition and civil society are present. We need to prevent that this becomes a closed table again.
The possibility now is also open to organize a National Constituent Assembly, of course not in the medium term, but this is a formula that was proposed by the FARC and also by the uribismo.
—Latinamerica Press.


Fernando Hernández/ Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris
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