El Premio Nobel, el Plebiscito, y la Paz Colombiana Posted by on Oct 17, 2016 in Uncategorized

Life in Colombia is more dramatic than any telenovela in 2016. With the recent signing of the acuerdos de paz and the subsequent rejection of the deal in last week’s plebiscito, this week took a tense turn when Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded el Premio Nobel de la Paz.

With an intensely divisive impeachment process next door in Brazil and other news-worthy and controversial elections across Latin America, 2016 has been the year of schizophrenic democracy, maybe more so in Latin America than anywhere else.

Like the internationally more familiar Brexit vote, the Colombian Acuerdo de la Paz was also subject to a national plebiscito in which the people of Colombia would have a final chance to approve or reject the deal. But even more so than Brexit, the Colombian plebiscito por la paz dashed expectations and shocked national and international media.

And just days after Colombians rejected the peace accord with the FARC, in a dramatic twist that evoked more hay dios mios than even the best telenovelas could hope to, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the Premio Nobel de la Paz.

santos nobel

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, controversial recipient of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize. Photo by Ministerio TIC Colombia via Flickr under CC BY 2.0.

With a peace process that’s living in limbo as the clock ticks away towards the end of the ceasefire on October 31st, here’s a quick look at what the Colombian referendum and the Nobel Peace Prize might mean for la paz and la democracia in Colombia and throughout Latin America.

El Plebiscito por La Paz: What Went Wrong?

After four years of diálogos de paz between Colombia and the FARC, it came as a great surprise that the historic accord was rejected by the Colombian people. But maybe it shouldn’t have.

The chief opponent of the acuerdo is former President Álvaro Uribe, known for his ‘mano dura‘ approach to the conflict. During his presidency, Colombia made some of its biggest military gains against the FARC and other rebel groups, but at the cost of, among other things, the propogation of rampant grupos paramilitares that now terrorize the Colombian people as much as or more than the FARC ever did.

El uribismo, named after its leader Uribe, is the school of political thought in Colombia that opposes el narcotráfico and chavismo at all costs, calling for more heavy-handed negotiation with Colombia’s leftist guerrilla groups. The parts of the acuerdo de la paz that Uribe and the uribistas found unacceptable were in the end the same sticking points for much of the Colombian public: justicia, restitución, y participación politica:

  1. Participación política garantizada de las FARC: The acuerdos de paz agreed upon by the FARC and the Colombian government were guided by the concept of ‘cambiar las armas por los votos–the premise that the FARC would foresake their weapons (armas) and instead make their voices heard in government (votos). Perhaps the most controversial part of the agreement is the FARC’s guaranteed representation in government during the transition period.
  2. Justicia para víctimasAccording to polls, many Colombians were okay with the idea of the leaders of the FARC having political representation, but only after jail time or other appropriate sentences for those who committed delitos de lesa humanidad. President Santos assured Colombians that “no habrá amnistía para delitos de lesa humanidad en Colombia“. But despite the president’s reassurance, much doubt remained regarding la impunidad in such cases of crimes against humanity.
  3. Restitución de tierras: The Colombian Internal Conflict began as and is still at heart a conflict over ownership of agrarian lands, upon which much of Colombia’s rural population is largely economically dependent. This is one of the most politically complex parts of the agreement, as nearly all parties are holding on to some kind of land assets that they gained in some way illegally, and after half a century of dispute, it’s less clear than ever who rightfully owns what.

For these and other reasons, while Colombians certainly want peace in their country, on October 2nd they took to las urnas to reject “la paz de Santos“.

So you can imagine the reactions when, five days later, Colombians got word that the same Santos had been awarded el Premio Nobel de La Paz for the same peace they’d narrowly rejected.

El Premio Nobel de La Paz: Prestige and Controversy

President Santos’ approval ratings were as low as 13% earlier this year, one of the reasons that the uribistas‘ labeling of the peace deal as ‘la paz de Santos‘ was so effective. That in combination with the rejection of the peace deal in el plebiscito made for many question marks in Colombia when they received the news.

Some news outlets have criticized the award as being politically motivated, and the Guardian even speculated that it may have been given as a gift of political capital by the Norwegian government (one of five countries at the table in La Habana for the peace talks), in hopes of giving Santos the moral authority to salvage the deal.

While the Wall Street Journal came to the interesting conclusion that it was in fact Álvaro Uribe, leader of the ‘No’ campaign, who deserved the peace prize, that idea was mostly met with sarcastic coverage in Colombia, even in El Colombiano, the biggest daily paper of Antioquia, where resistance to the acuerdo was strongest.

So while many in Colombia were skeptical–skeptical enough to reject the peace deal, at least–it’s unclear what effect the Premio de Nobel de la Paz will have on the road forward. One thing’s for sure: every Colombian is praying for peace in one form or another.

Colombia y su Futuro: The Road to Peace

In another Colombiano article, President Santos is characterized as an avid poker player, and the Nobel Peace Prize might be both a lucky draw and the last carta in his hand:

Santos es un amante del póquer y un apostador firme. Eso lo cuenta Cristian Rojas, politólogo de La Sabana, quien dice que esas habilidades en el juego se han visto en su gobierno. “Está claro que puso las fichas en un solo número y se lanzó con sus mejores cartas en la mayor apuesta de su vida: el plebiscito. Perdió. Su castillo de naipes parecía derrumbarse, pero jugó bien las pocas cartas que le quedaban y tendió la mano a sus enemigos. Logró mantenerse en la mesa y pasó la resaca por la gloria personal, que llegó con el Nobel”.

This week also saw progress on the front of peace talks with the ELN, Colombia’s second-largest guerrilla group, perhaps putting a positive face on the overall struggle for peace in the country that’s home to the hemisphere’s longest ongoing conflict.

In any case, la guerra y la paz in Colombia aren’t taking place in a vaccuum: the end of the ‘Pink Tide’, the falling prices of commodities like oil and minerals that keep many of the region’s economies growing, and shifting attitudes toward the War on Drugs are all leaving South America in what might be the most exciting and nerve-wracking transitional period in its history.

colombia dialogos de paz

Protestors against the FARC in faraway Spain. “No more kidnappings, no more terrorism, no more death”.
Photo by Camilo Rueda López via Flickr under Creative Commons BY-ND 2.0.

In October, before the awarding of the Premio Nobel, President Santos has climbed back up to 43% approval in his country, and it’s the hope of many that the Peace Prize will give him the last bit of moral authority he needs to usher in peace in his country. Regardless of the outcome, it’s bound to have profound impacts on not only our chances to travel in Colombia and its neighbors, but the meaning of words like la democracia and la paz in Latin America.

el acuerdo: (peace) accord, agreement
la amnistía: amnesty
la impunidad: impunity
los delitos de lesa humanidad: crimes against humanity
la paz: peace
el plebiscito: plebiscite, referendum
el premio: prize
el uribismo: the political ideology of Álvaro Uribe, often used in a negative connotation to denote far-right politics and militarism
el chavismo: Venezuelan style socialism, as popularized in South America by Hugo Chávez. Frequently in Latin America, the names of influential politicians or parties can receive an -ismo at the end to make a new word denoting that person’s or group’s ideology (Kichnerismo, petismo, peronismo, uribismo, etc.)
la mano dura: tough anti-crime or security policy; literally “hard hand”
las urnas: polls/voting booths

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About the Author: Jakob Gibbons

I write about language and travel on my blog . I often share my experiences with learning languages on the road, and teaching and learning new speech sounds is my specialty.