Five days after his landmark peace treaty with the Colombian guerilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC, was rejected by popular vote, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize.
On October 2, Colombians voted against a peace treaty that would have ended the 50-year civil war between the Colombian government and the Marxist rebel group. Since the war began in 1964, 250,000 Colombians have been killed and thousands have been displaced in the conflict.
Santos and FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez signed the deal after almost four years of negotiations, only to have the deal rejected by Colombian voters a week later by a margin of 50.2 to 49.8 percent. According to the BBC, that’s a difference of less than 63,000 votes out of 13 million.
Despite his failure to pass the peace referendum, Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize five days later. The Nobel Prize committee awarded the prestigious honor to Santos because he is the first Colombian president to engage in peace talks with FARC.
“The award should also be seen as a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace, and to all the parties who have contributed to the peace process,” said the committee in a statement.
The conflict between FARC and the Colombian government has now been downgraded to a ceasefire. The conflict is the only ongoing armed conflict in the Americas. According to U.N. estimates, approximately 30 percent of FARC’s forces are minors, many of whom have been forced to fight against their will. FARC has financed its military activities through high profile kidnappings and drug trafficking.
In 2008, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez recognized FARC as a proper army and argued that if Colombia did the same, the group would be obliged to abide by the Geneva Convention. Though many Colombians opposed giving FARC any recognition, Santos recognized the civil war as an official “armed conflict” in 2011. Within a year, FARC vowed to stop the kidnappings and released the last of their military and police prisoners, although the group is still suspected of keeping hundreds of civilians imprisoned. Since 2012, FARC has lost much of its military power but has still managed to carry out isolated attacks on Colombian police and military bases.
Just a week after the referendum failed, traces of support for the treaty were still evident in Cartagena, one of the largest cities in Colombia. Car bumpers and shop windows were plastered with giant stickers declaring “Yo voto sí a la paz” (“I vote yes for peace”). Some stickers had been vandalized so that “sí” was obscured by a scrawled “no.”
For many Colombians, especially for the civilians who experienced death and destruction at the hands of FARC, the proposed peace deal would have been too lenient towards the guerilla group. Under the treaty, FARC rebels would have to abandon their posts and turn in their weapons to U.N. workers. The group would transition into a political party with 10 seats in Colombia’s 268-member Congress, and about 7,500 rebels would reenter civilian life.