Prize of peace still eludes Colombia despite Nobel award

Nobel Peace Prize comes just days after country voted against Farc peace deal

Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos: “I receive this not under my name, but under the name of all Colombians.” Photograph: John Vizcaino/Reuters

Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos: “I receive this not under my name, but under the name of all Colombians.” Photograph: John Vizcaino/Reuters

 

When Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize yesterday for his work in negotiating a peace deal to end Colombia’s long guerrilla war, he claimed it for all his compatriots.

“I receive this not under my name, but under the name of all Colombians, particularly the millions of victims left behind by this conflict that we suffered for over 50 years. Colombians, this is your prize,” he said.

But fine words belie deep and bitter divisions among those Colombians who narrowly voted to throw out the peace agreement with Farc in a referendum last week.

The former president who led the effort to defeat the deal was quick to dampen Mr Santos’s fervour.

“I congratulate the Nobel for President Santos. I wish it leads to changing the accords that are damaging for democracy,” tweeted Álvaro Uribe.

Peace agreement

The Nobel committee said the president’s efforts had brought the search for a permanent peace “significantly closer”. After several failed attempts that is true. Mr Santos convinced the Marxist rebels to negotiate an end to a 52-year war that killed more than 250,000 people. The backchannel talks lasted about a year, before the official announcement of peace talks was made in August 2012.

Today, after four years of negotiations and despite the referendum setback, Colombia has begun a cathartic process of reconciliation.

Farc says it will continue searching for peace. “The only prize that we aspire to is peace with social justice for Colombia,” tweeted its top commander, Rodrigo Londoño, better known as Timochenko.

Mr Santos said he accepted the award as a “mandate to continue working, without resting, for the peace of Colombians”.

The problem, though, is that many Colombians are ambivalent about something the rest of the world – from Pope Francis to US president Barack Obama and now the Norwegian Nobel committee – enthusiastically supports. They see the timing of the prize as premature.

Mr Uribe said the peace pact was too soft on rebel leaders by allowing them to re-enter society, form a political party and escape traditional jail sentences. He was able to capitalise on deep divisions in Colombian society, which hates Farc for its human rights abuses and involvement in cocaine trafficking.

Out of touch

Bogotá

“This morning President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize even if he did not reach peace with the Farc narco-guerrillas and, moreover, sparked the indignation of those Colombians who on October 2nd said ‘No’ to the accord with the guerrillas, and ‘No’ to his administration,” wrote Thania Vega, a senator with Mr Uribe’s party. She accused the Nobel committee of being “untruthful”.

María Fernanda Cabal, a political ally of Mr Uribe, said the prize did not mean opponents of the deal would give in to pressure to “reward crime”.

Some in Colombia, although thrilled with the award, also believe the Nobel committee should have formally recognised the country’s eight million victims of the civil war, along with Timochenko. To some, the Farc leader is a Gorbachev-like figure bringing his 7,000 combatants in from the cold.

“This is a peace negotiation, in which there are two parts, not just one,” said one commentator.

“If the referendum had passed, both sides may have won it. Let’s hope the prize helps us in achieving peace.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016