Santos Victory a Referendum for Colombian Peace

The hope of an end to a 50-year-old conflict that has killed more than 220,000 Colombians and displaced 5 million was a determining factor in the reelection of President Juan Manuel Santos who campaigned to keep the peace talks with the FARC rebels going. But Santos will face a strong opposition in Congress to implement and regulate agreements with the FARC.

Posted on 06/29/14
By Susan Abad | Via Latinamerica Press
Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos. (Photo by GDNet, Creative Commons License)
Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos. (Photo by GDNet, Creative Commons License)

Outside the campaign headquarters of Juan Manuel Santos in Bogotá, Concepción Acero jubilantly celebrated the president’s reelection. For her, his victory with 50.1 percent of the vote during the second round of elections on June 15 means “peace won” and “many young Colombians will no longer die in vain.”


According to political analyst Carolina López, the perception of Acero and just over 7.8 million other Colombians who voted for Santos is because “the president’s decision to make the peace talks the government is holding with the Revolutionary Armed Forced of Colombia (FARC) since November 2012 in Havana, his key campaign point, gave the result.”


The hope of an end to a 50-year-old conflict that has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced 5 million “was such a determining factor that people who oppose the president joined [his] campaign to keep the peace talks with the FARC going,” echoed legislator Óscar Lizcano, a member of the Senate Peace Commission.


In the second round of voting, Santos faced ultra right-wing candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga of the Democratic Center party — the same party of former president and Senator-elect Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010). Zuluaga won the first round on May 25 with 29.2 percent of the vote, pushing Santos into second place with 25.7 percent.
“[Santos] was able to plant the seed in the minds of many Colombians that Zuluaga would throw away any progress and, in line with the position of his mentor former President Alvaro Uribe, the country would go back to war,” López told Latinamerica Press.


Last chance for the FARC
Although Zuluaga changed his position in recent months from a staunch opposition against the peace talks to “negotiate with conditions”, several politicians, like former Bogotá mayor Antanas Mockus, and leaders from the left headed by president of the Alternative Democratic Pole (PDA) party Clara López, admitted their decision to vote for Santos was to prevent Uribe’s ideas from once again coming to fruition, this time through Zuluaga.


In his concession speech, Zuluaga claimed to take into account the views of the more than six million Colombians who voted for his proposed peace model: a negotiated peace. He promised to continue talks, as long as the FARC agreed to a unilateral ceasefire, a cessation to child recruitment, and a minimum sentence of six years in prison for guerrilla leaders accused of serious offenses.


“The president’s announcement [a few days before the elections] that since January, he had been engaged in a rapprochement with the National Liberation Army [ELN] was also key,” López said.


With “peace” written on the palm of his hand, Santos acknowledged in his celebratory speech that the “mandate given today by Colombians was for peace,” but that the message “wasn’t only for the government, but also for the FARC and ELN. This is the end of road, and we have to get there with quickly and decisively.”


“The FARC has to be very cautious with this vote of confidence from Colombians. They can’t, as the Colombian saying goes, poner conejo [defraud] the will of the people,” Senator Lizcano said. “This is the last chance the FARC will get to lay down their arms and reintegrate into society.”


Santos believes an end to the conflict will not only significantly reduce violence and fear in the country, but also lead an improved economy.


“Without the conflict, the gross domestic product growth in 2013 would have been 8.7 percent, not 4.3 percent, and income per capita would be US$16,700 instead of $11,000,” he said.


But to promise is one thing and fulfill the promise is another. Santos should read the election results and consider that he has the backing of 25 percent of Colombians, opposition from another 25 percent, and indifference from the remaining half of the country. For political expert Felipe Botero, of the University of the Andes, “the president has been committed to delivering concrete results in obtaining peace and in a short amount of time.” And it won’t be easy.


Analyst López said Santos “will have a weak administration to take on big challenges. The first of those is the application of post-conflict policies if he is able to succeed in the peace process.”


Congress ruled by the opposition
Santos, who in his last term benefited from a powerful majority in Congress, will this time face a strong opposition in the legislature, which will be in charge of approving and regulating any peace accords.


“Opposition from the Democratic Center is going to be strong. This party has several important members in Congress, including Uribe himself, and it’s going to be difficult to get the countersignature on whatever is agreed to in Havana,” Botero said.


In a press conference with foreign media a day after his win, President Santos rejected the notion that good governance would be at risk in his next term. He told Latinamerica Press he sees “no difficulty in maintaining the majorities in Congress to pass the necessary laws.”


He added that there is a need for a “national accord” that promotes a policy of peace, and called for all parties, social sectors, and politicians — including his staunchest opponents Uribe, Zuluaga and Conservative Party candidate Martha Lucía Ramírez — to join the pursuit of peace.


“After the election results, we turned the page on hate, rancor, revenge, and false accusations,” said Santos, who begins his new four-year term on Aug. 7.


He invited the PDA and the Green Alliance party to join his government; although they supported him in the second round of elections, they have been critical of certain aspects of the FARC talks. Furthermore, as Senator Iván Cepeda told Agencia Andes, “we [the country’s left] told Santos this isn’t a blank check and we aren’t going to back down from being a staunch opponent of his policies, especially in demanding that he fulfill the promise he made to follow through on the peace process with the FARC and ELN.”

Courtesy Latinamerica Press.

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