We Cannot Allow Uncertainty To Cloud The Future Of Colombia

People react after learning about the rejection of a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) follow
People react after learning about the rejection of a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) following a plebiscite in Bogota, Colombia, on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016. Colombian voters rejected a peace deal with FARC rebels, apparently saying 'no' to an accord in a shocking upset that risks renewing 52 years of war and is likely to rattle investors across Latin America. Photographer: Nicolo Filippo Rosso/Bloomberg via Getty Images

One week after the historic signing of the peace deal between the Colombian government and FARC in Cartagena de Indias, Colombians voted "no" for peace in a referendum held October 2. The parties participating in the agreement were not prepared for this outcome, which is likely to cause deeper political polarization in the country.

The "no" vote, which former president Álvaro Uribe and the extreme-right campaigned for, will to a great extent shape the politics of the upcoming years, both in terms of the peace agreement and the 2018 presidential campaign.

The results of the referendum this past Sunday have come as a shock to supporters of the agreement -- but they don't have to mean that the government and FARC must back away from the deal.

However, it does weaken the government's position, along with parliamentary support for the deal's passage through Congress. The various pro-peace campaigns have insisted, despite seeing the "no" result, on following the roadmap laid out by the government toward demobilization, as agreed upon with FARC.

One of the principal arguments in this regard is that President Santos was elected with the explicit promise of pursuing peace, with ample popular support, which confers legitimacy on continuing the process. With phrases such as, "peace is an illusion, the Havana papers are deceptive," Uribe tried to undermine the government's authority during the campaign, defending peace in the abstract while questioning the specifics of the agreement that could have guaranteed peace. In fact, it is a telling result that the areas most damaged by the war clearly voted "yes" in the referendum. It is in the rest of the country -- primarily in urban areas, apart from Bogotá -- where the "no" vote was popular, demonstrating a growing polarization in the country.

The peace process with FARC has revealed a historic rupture in the Colombian right, and the referendum has confirmed the difficulty of its reconstruction. This rupture is not only the product of a symbolic or personal distance between the principal leaders -- Santos and Uribe. The gamble to pursue peace or continue the war represents above all a divide among the different interests of the Colombian elite.

Santos's discourse during the peace deal signing at Cartagena was plagued by references to the economic opportunities that would be facilitated by the peace agreement, including the growth of foreign investment and the modernization of the country. This clearly represents the interests of an urban elite seeking transnational capitalization. Meanwhile, Uribe represents a more traditional oligarchy committed to territorial control, which has made the war and impunity its leitmotif.

Despite the split in the Colombian right, it is the dispute between its two principal factions that has marked recent years, to the point that the confrontation of the "extreme center" of Santos with the ultra-right of Uribe has subsumed part of the fragmented Colombian left into its political camp.

  The shocking "no" vote puts the peace process at risk, fragments the population even further, and badly injures the legitimacy of the government at this key moment.

In that sense, the "no" result may inspire actors on the left to regroup around the government, to ensure peace and the agreement's success. Such a reaction would be reminiscent of what happened in the last presidential elections, when people voted for Santos against the threat of Uribism. The fragmented left must recover its political power by mobilizing for peace and working towards the success of the agreement.

An organized and active civil society can guarantee the success of the peace agreement, as well as the reconstruction of the left and the construction of a new Colombia.

In this context, it is unknown what role the demobilization of FARC and its transition to a new political party will play.

Launching public negotiations between the government and the second largest guerrilla group in the country, the ELN, will be a key element in this unfolding process.

Striking an agreement with the ELN is an indispensable condition for ending political violence in the country. Should the political violence continue, it would invalidate the peace agreement signed in Cartagena.

The ongoing confrontations between the armed ELN and the government offer endless justification for maintaining military presence. In addition, this situation affords impunity to the armed forces and state security forces, which have blatantly violated human rights in the country.

In that sense, negotiations between the government and the ELN becomes an indispensable condition for establishing and safeguarding the peace process in Colombia. For this reason, it is fundamental that the international community and Colombian society apply pressure and push for negotiations as soon as possible.

  Besides receiving recognition as agents of peace, victims should be awarded a peace process that guarantees the preservation of memory, truth, justice and reparations.

Moves by the ELN in recent days, such as the unilateral suspension of offensive actions as well as the release of hostages, inspire optimism.

One of the central elements of the peace process is the role of the victims of the conflict. Besides receiving recognition as agents of peace, victims should be awarded a peace process that guarantees the preservation of memory, truth, justice and reparations; all indispensable elements to ensure non-repetition.

Last week, FARC apologized for the massacre of 35 people in Chinita-Antioquia. This is an example that can be followed by the government and state security forces, in cases such as the Palace of Justice siege. Over the next few days, we will meet the victims -- who are reclaiming truth and justice after two decades -- in Bogotá.

Uribism has used the victims as a political weapon in the referendum, by attempting to secure a sort of amnesty for the war criminals. However, this peace agreement proposes a special tribunal with international presence, to judge the crimes committed during more than 50 years of war.

When I participated in the "yes" campaign, which I viewed as a magnificent opportunity to construct a new Colombia, I felt that mistrust is rampant among Colombian society, and that the people do not want to feel isolated from the world throughout this process. At this precarious moment in the peace process, Colombia is in need of international presence and support.

The participation of the international community was very important at the Cartagena de Indias signing, particularly of those Latin American governments. However, if we had to note a symbolic absence at the signing, it would be that of the European Union, which was represented by the special envoy for peace, Eamon Gilmore. Not even Mogherini, the main representative of foreign affairs, was present on this historic day for Latin America.

The EU took too long in backing the peace process in Havana, as only in November of 2015 did it name its special envoy. Now more than ever is the moment to push. European institutions need to take their role in the talks and the dialogue with the ELN more seriously. They must also ensure the proper use of the fiduciary fund of 90 million euros and the distribution of credit at a value of 400 million euros on the part of the European Investment Bank, which could leave Colombian society in debt, creating greater inequalities, just like those denounced by Colombian social organizations.

Moreover, we have to remember that during the Colombian conflict, many transnational businesses with European ties systematically violated human rights. Section 40 of the Integral System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and non-Repetition in the agreement allows the linking of transnational businesses as direct or indirect agents in the armed Colombian conflict. When a business causes harm or threatens human rights, there must be a civil response. That is to say, they must compensate the victims for the harm caused, and if the harm constitutes a crime, they must respond legally. The EU must also make the commitment to be guarantors of the success of these talks insofar as they relate to businesses with European ties, such as ensuring that this situation does not recur, thereby upholding the democratic clauses and human rights considered in the Commercial Agreement between the European Union and Colombia.

In this way, The EU must make it a priority to support the creation of special tribunals for peace spelled out by the agreement, including the commission for truth and non-repetition, a special unit for people who disappeared in the conflict, and a union for the investigation and dismantling of criminal organizations. This is to ensure that the European public funds help to effectively end the impunity of all criminals and back the work of the Joint Commission for the Guarantee of Non-Repetition between civil Colombian society and the Colombian state, which is aimed at dismantling illegally armed groups, purifying the public forces, as well as bringing about the integral reform of the security forces of Colombia.

The shocking "no" vote puts the peace process at risk, fragments the population even further, and badly injures the legitimacy of the government at this key moment.

But we cannot allow for uncertainty to cloud the future of the Colombian state. It is time to mobilize to defend the agreement and guarantee its success, and international support will be needed to accompany peace.

This post first appeared on HuffPost Spain. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.