Colombia’s political situation is incomprehensibly complex. For decades, many different factions have competed for power, each using varying degrees of violence. These factions have included various different left-wing rebel groups, right-wing paramilitary groups, governmental political parties, the national military, and competing drug cartels.
At different times, and in different locations, these groups have created alliances. Sometimes the paramilitaries align with certain drug cartels. Sometimes they are fighting against certain cartels. Sometimes the left wing groups support the cartels. And sometimes they are fighting against cartels. Sometimes the government supports the paramilitaries.Sometimes the military supports the cartels. And sometimes the government even pardons the rebel groups, and invites them to become part of the political process.
In 1990, the M19 rebel group put down their arms, and became a political party, briefly winning various local elections before disappearing into obscurity.
Corruption within the government and the military have also contributed to the huge death toll. In an incident know as the “False Positive Scandal,” more than 1000 members of the Colombian military were investigated in the deaths of more than 3000 innocent Colombian citizens. According to the investigation, between 2002-2008, impoverished or mentally ill Colombian citizens who were lured to remote locations with promises of work. They were then killed, and reported to be members of left wing rebel groups such as the FARC.
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Hundreds of thousands of Colombians have died in these conflicts. Countless more have been displaced by the violence. An unknown number have lived with mafia-style extortion, in which they were forced to pay tribute to one faction or another in order to protect their families or their businesses.
There are no “good guys” or “bad guys” here. Just a tangled web of special interests, each with a huge body count of innocent human lives. The government. The military. The rebel groups. The paramilitaries. The cartels. They have all been guilty of atrocities.
In 2014, Juan Manuel Santos won the presidency by a narrow margin in a hotly contested race. Traditionally a hawk, credited with coordinating a military raid inside of Ecuadorian territory to assassinate a FARC leader, and also associated with the “False Positive Scandal,” he shocked his nation by negotiating a peace treaty with the FARC, the last remaining armed rebel group.
Similar to the deal struck with the M19 rebels in 1990, the deal with the FARC would provide amnesty to members for past crimes. And allow the group to become part of the political process. To hold seats in the legislature. To shape the future direction of the nation.
On October 2, Colombians citizens were invited to vote yes or no. A yes vote would end the decades of armed conflict. Pre-election polls showed that a yes vote was a certainty.
Of the outcome, President Santos said “there is no Plan B.” The world prepared for the end of the decades-long conflict. In the week before the vote, NPR’s headline read “Colombia Peace Agreement Means Western Hemisphere Has No Wars.” The Guardian’s headline was “Che Guevara era closes as Latin America’s oldest guerrilla army calls it a day.” The New York Times wrote about “Colombia’s Milestone in World Peace.”
But to the shock of Colombians, and the rest of the world, voters cast their ballots for “no” by a very narrow margin.
Please read this article by journalist and activist David Andersson, who puts the surprising vote into a larger context. https://justnomore.com/news/behind-the-no-vote-in-colombia/