Yesterday, Monday August 29, after more than 50 years of confrontations, the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) and the Colombian government declared a definitive cease fire. The civil war in Colombia is the longest armed conflict in the Americas, and its human costs have been huge. As a result of prolonged war and violence during 5 decades more than 6 million of Colombians have been displaced from their homes and original lands, 25.000 people has been disappeared, and 220.000 Colombians have died, including civilians (more than 50%) and soldiers.
The scale of the human tragedy has been ignored by Colombians themselves, because violence has become normalized after so decades of armed conflict. It has not been until recent years that the scale of the human costs of the war became more publicly visible as the government created a law for the victims of the armed conflict (2011) and more academic, governmental, and civil society institutions published reports, created interventions, and spread information about how to end the war, build reconciliation, and create warrants for the no-repetition of the violence. The high economic and human costs of the prolonged armed conflict have become more visible to the general public.
The peace negotiations that developed at La Habana, Cuba, during the past four years finally arrived to an end. An agreement was signed by all the members of the government and guerrillas teams on August 24. The ACUERDO GENERAL para la terminación del conflicto y la construcción de una paz estable y duradera (General Agreement for the termination of the conflict and the construction of a durable and stable peace) is extensive (more than 200 pages) and provides the terms for the end of a war. In order to become effective, the Colombian citizens will need to vote a referendum on October 2, and democratically, decide if they want to implement the agreement.
The question Colombians will answer in the referendum is
“¿Apoya usted el acuerdo final para la terminación del conflicto y la construcción de una paz estable y duradera?”
4.396.625 is the minimum number of votes for the YES that are needed in order to approve the agreement. Although it is not a high number (just 13% of the electoral census), the political climate of polarization in Colombia has created a new challenge for the citizens who wish to build peace. The opponents of the president Santos, leaded by the ex-president and now senator Uribe have been campaigning against the peace process and negotiations, spreading disinformation among all their followers. Myths and lies about the peace agreement have circulated widely planting the seeds of doubt among many citizens. For instance, they have said that by making peace with the FARC Colombia will become a communist country, that there is no justice to the guerrillas, and other big lies that resonate well in both the Colombian mass media and the new social media.
In such context of polarization it is an imperative to remind Colombian citizens that beyond polarization, voting for the YES, opens opportunities to re-imagine the country, its history, and its democracy. Ending a long-lasting war is not easy, but even more difficult is to build peace. Even more than approving the peace agreement, voting YES, endorses a new vision of the country that is possible and will require responsible citizens committed to change and to constructing peace in their everyday life, and across multiple dimensions.