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Colombian Voters Reject Peace Deal; What's Next?


This is a remarkable year for democracy, a year when voters have surprised the world again and again.


It's the year when U.K. voters said they wanted out of the European Union.

INSKEEP: It's the year when the Philippines elected a president who promised mass killings in a drug war and delivered.

MONTAGNE: Then there's the result in Colombia. A narrow majority of voters rejected a peace deal meant to end a 52-year-old civil war.

INSKEEP: Reporter John Otis has been covering this conflict seemingly leftover from another time. He's on the line from the capital, Bogota.

Hi, John.


INSKEEP: What's the war the government's trying to end here?

OTIS: Well, Steve, it's - the war has been going on since the 1960s. And, you know, the FARC guerrillas have been out there, they've been fighting to take over - take power here in Colombia. They haven't been able to do so.

They've had peace negotiations over - several rounds of peace negotiations dating back to the 1980s. And they finally thought they had a peace deal now, but the voters just rejected it.

INSKEEP: OK. So the FARC guerrillas, these are communist guerrillas, right? This is a Cold War kind of conflict?

OTIS: Yeah. I mean, that's the way they started out, Steve. They started out as a Marxist guerilla uprising, fighting for land reform and social justice and those sorts of things.

But then Colombia became a huge producer of cocaine. And the FARC gradually got involved in cocaine trafficking to fund their war.

And because of that, they came to be seen by Colombians as more of a kind of, you know, criminal group, rather than a legitimate rebel force fighting for ideals.

INSKEEP: OK. So the government finally made a peace deal with that guerrilla group, and it was put to the voters. And in a very close vote, Colombia said no. Why'd they say no?

OTIS: Well, mainly because, you know, the FARC is just so unpopular. They've also committed major, major human rights abuses, massacres. They've kidnapped something like 8,000 people over the years. They're involved in drug trafficking.

And so many Colombians are just not ready to forgive and to forget all of these things and to turn the page. And another issue...

INSKEEP: Is that part of the peace deal, is forgiving and forgetting? People would get away with things?

OTIS: Yeah, that's very much part of it. The FARC has pledged to apologize to their victims. There's going to be a special tribunal in which rebels will, you know, will go before judges. And they're supposed to confess to their crimes. So there is going to be a certain amount of truth-telling, truth commissions, national reconciliation, as there has been in El Salvador and South Africa and other places where they've had peace accords.

But again, just some of the details of this accord were very unpopular. People want to see these FARC guerillas in prison stripes behind bars.

INSKEEP: John Otis, does this mean the war goes on?

OTIS: You know, it's not going to mean that Colombia plunges back into war immediately. There's a bilateral ceasefire that's been in place for a couple of months.

And the intensity of the war has really been much lower over the past three or four years. President Santos last night in a speech came out and said we're going to keep the cease fire going. I'm going to listen to you no voters. We're going to kind of go back into this thing and see if we can modify this peace accord.

Also, the FARC guerrillas speaking from Cuba said, you know, they want to keep pursuing peace. Remember, a lot of their leaders are now in their 50s and 60s. They're ready to retire. They're ready to hang up their guns. And so they're saying they want to try to find a way out of this mess.

INSKEEP: Wow. OK. Well, voice of the people.

John Otis reporting from Bogota, Colombia. Thanks very much with this news.

OTIS: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.