In Colombia's historic plebiscite Oct. 2, voters narrowly rejected the peace pact with the FARC rebels—a major surprise, as all polls had predicted a landslide victory for the "Yes" option. With 99.08% of the votes counted, the "No" option has received 50.24% of the votes against 49.75% for "Yes." The referendum obtained the necessary votes for it to be valid, despite heavy rainfall across much of the country. The result is a setback for President Juan Manuel Santos, and a victory for ex-president Alvaro Uribe, who led the campaign for a "No" vote. Addressing the nation, President Santos accepted the result but said he would continue working to achieve peace. He stressed that the ceasefire remained in place, and said his negotiators have been ordered to travel to Cuba to consult FARC leaders on the next move. (Colombia Reports, Colombia Reports, BBC News, Oct. 2)
Colombia's long civil war came to an official end Sept. 26 as President Juan Manuel Santos met with FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri AKA "Timochenko" to sign a formal peace pact at Cartagena's convention center. The ceremony, with dignitaries and attendees all clad in white, was witnessed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and 15 Latin American heads of state. A place of honor was held by Cuban President Raúl Castro Ruz, whose country has hosted the peace dialogue with the FARC over the past two years. On Oct. 2, the deal will go before Colombia's voters in a national plebiscite. but Timochenko has publicly stated that even if the accord is not ratified by voters, there will be no return to war. Santos is more equivocal, telling reporters in the prelude to the ceremony: "If 'No' wins, we will return to what we had at the start of this government six years ago. We return to armed conflict. That would be a catastrophe for the country."
An official bilateral ceasefire between the Colombian government and FARC guerillas took effect Aug. 29, five days after a formal peace deal was signed in Havana. But the Organization of American States (OAS) delegation to the peace talks issued a statement protesting that on the very day the ceasefire too force, four indigenous campesinos and three social leaders were killed in Colombia—by presumed paramilitaries. The slaying of three members of the Awá people in Nariño department was reported by the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC). The slaying of the three campesino leaders in Almaguer, Cauca department, was reported by the Committee for the Integration of the Colombian Massif (CIMA). (AFP, ONIC, Aug. 30; Colombia Informa, Aug. 29; El Tiempo, Aug 25)
FARC rebels on Aug. 22 announced formation of a Monitoring and Verification Team to oversee demobilization of their fighters under Colombia's peace process. With an office in Bogotá, it is to be administrated by a tri-partite commission formed by the FARC, the Colombian government and the United Nations. (TeleSur, Aug. 22) But former president Alvaro Uribe, now leader of the right-wing opposition, continues to harshly criticize the peace process. In an Aug. 18 address at Sergio Arboleda University in Bogotá, he noted the chaos in neighboring Venezuela and warned that the FARC would bring "castro-chavismso" to Colombia if allowed to participate in the political process. (PanAm Post, Aug. 23)
A threat to the Colombian peace talks emerged this month, as some FARC units unilaterally attacked government forces and declared their non-compliance with the ceasefire—in repudiation of the guerilla army's high command. On July 8, a unit of the FARC's 55th Front attacked troops of the army' 2nd Mobile Brigade in the vereda (hamlet) of Candilejas, Uribe municipality, Meta department. An uncertain number of casualties on the guerillas' side was reported. The government's chief peace negotiator, Humberto De la Calle, said the attack was "an error on the part of the FARC," and that the guerillas' chief negotiator Iván Márquez had taken responsibility for it. (El Colombiano, July 12; El Tiempo, El Espectador, July 11)
Amid moves toward peace in Colombia, the goad of the war—the country's lucrative cocaine trade—clearly remains robust. In an international operation announced June 30, Colombian police joined with US and Italian authorities to confiscate a whopping 11 tons of cocaine in refrigerated containers ostensibly shipping tropical fruits to Europe. The stuff was mostly seized in Colombia, but was bound for the US and Europe. Of the 33 arrested in the operation, 22 were popped in Colombia and the rest in Italy. (El Tiempo, June 30)
Under the plan now being formalized for demobilization of Colombia's FARC guerillas, special zones are to be established for fighters to "concentrate" and then be integrated into civilian life. There are respectively being called Encampments and Veredal Zones of Transition and Normalization—a reference to veredas, as unincorporated hamlets are known in Colombia. There are to be eight Encampments: at Fonseca, Guajira department; Vigía del Fuerte, Antioquia; Riosucio, Chocó; Tierra Alta, Córdoba; Corinto, Cauca; San Vicente, Caquetá; Losada and Macarena, Meta; and Puerto Colombia, Guainia. There are to be 23 Veredal Zones in 12 departments: Cesar, Norte de Santander, Antioquia, Tolima, Cauca, Nariño, Putumayo, Caquetá, Arauca, Meta, Vichada, and Guaviare. The Defense Ministry says it will guarantee the security of nearby localities. But the plan is still meeting with some opposition from regional leaders. the governor of Tolima, Óscar Barreto Quiroga, states that he will oppose the location of any concentration zones in his department. (Colombiano, Kronista.co, June 25; El Colombiano, El Tiempo, El Tiempo, El Tiempo, El Pais, El Heraldo, June 24)
The Colombian government announced June 22 that it has agreed to a bilateral ceasefire with the FARC guerillas—hailed as an historic step toward a deal to end the long civil war. Negotiators on both sides issued a communique in the Cuban capital, Havana, seat of the peace dialogue that was launched in September 2012. FARC commander Carlos Lozada tweeted: "On Thursday, June 23, we will announce the last day of the war." President Juan Manuel Santos will fly to Havana for the ceremony, which will be overseen by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Cuban President Raúl Castro. Addressing skepticism on the right, Santos asserted that "FARC will turn over the last pistol." But leftist lawmaker Iván Cepeda, who served as a facilitator in the talks with the FARC, hailed the ceasefire agreement as "historic for Colombia." The FARC has for months maintained a unilateral ceasefire, that the government has until now failed to answer. (El Espectador, Al Jazeera, Radio Australia, June 22; El Espectador, CM&, June 21)