Following the October plebiscite, the peace process was in a dangerous limbo, even though a bilateral cease-fire was already underway. Forty hectic days went by, during which the government heard out the leaders of the No faction, which had won by a mere 53,000 votes, equivalent to a 0.43 percentage point. Heading the No backers are two former presidents who tried to make peace with the FARC in the past and failed: Álvaro Uribe and Andrés Pastrana.
The No supporters proposed 410 modifications, many of them poison darts aimed at the heart of the negotiation. For example, expecting the guerrilla movement to accept prison sentences for its members and that its leaders could not run for election would have been unthinkable in any reasonable agreement.
Other proposed modifications sought to stir up demons issuing from an intentional misinterpretation of the agreement. The fact that L.G.B.T. groups proposed gender equality in the original agreement made many churches and religious denominations view it as a threat to the family and Christian values. Likewise, the original agreement sought to grant land ownership to impoverished peasants who had been working the land for a long time. This was only a first step toward a modest agrarian reform, in a country where there has been none. However, landowners were still alarmed and saw the agreement as a threat to their private-property rights.
Before the plebiscite, the government negotiators said they had reached the best agreement possible with the FARC. After being defeated, they found themselves in the unusual position of asking the FARC to accept the opposition’s proposals. The new agreement incorporated 80 percent of these suggestions, including the FARC’s commitment to list all its assets in order to give reparations to the victims of the armed conflict. The new agreement also allows charges to be presented in ordinary courts of justice against former guerrillas involved in human rights crimes and drug trafficking. Still, Mr. Uribe and other critics have rejected it, claiming that it’s not enough and that it condones the atrocities committed by the FARC.
The peace negotiations took place over a period of four years in Havana, with the aim of ending the spiral of political violence in Colombia once and for all. But what had been agreed on also reflected an old, unhealed wound in Colombia: the division between the conservative and liberal elites over issues including the lack of agrarian reform, the shortcomings of Colombian democracy, the unsuccessful war on drugs and rampant impunity for crimes.
In their proposals for the agreement, Mr. Uribe and the other No leaders defended the economic model based on large landowners, even though they know that Colombia’s rural sector is one of the most backward in the world, and inequality is extreme. They criticized all the measures designed to guarantee the FARC political representation, including the creation of a party. They supported the fruitless war on drugs. And lastly, they stubbornly refused to recognize the mechanisms of transnational justice designed to redress human rights abuses in armed conflict, including criminal prosecution, truth commissions and reparation programs. These far right-wing groups seek to maintain a status quo that has made Colombia a fractured country territorially, socially and politically.
Mr. Santos, by contrast, represents the liberal, moderate and modernizing right that has understood that Colombia must overcome political violence in order to develop economically.
Although Mr. Santos’s ambitious reforms have not been endorsed by a clear majority of Colombians and his decision to skip a new plebiscite is unpopular, they are the only way to avoid abandoning a meticulously put-together peace agreement.
The new agreement, devised to ensure a stable and lasting peace, will become law without having broad popular support. It will be attacked from many sides during its implementation. The next stage, starting in March, will be disarmament. If those who repudiate the agreement should win the 2018 elections on a promise to rescind it, Colombia will face the risk of a new cycle of violence.
Since Mr. Santos did not manage to build a basic consensus around peace, he is obliged to fight for it in the 20 months he has left to govern. He must show that peace is a major accomplishment not only for his administration but also for the country. He’s betting that disarming the FARC will be felt as a dramatic improvement in the everyday lives of Colombians, the sort of conclusive evidence that can convince skeptics of the benefits of peace.
What’s more, he must keep up a political dialogue with diverse groups that felt excluded from the peace process, particularly the far right and the local and emergent elites who are weary about a pact with the guerrillas and who have been tolerant of paramilitary violence. Without the acceptance of these groups, peace will always be weak and shaky.
Mr. Uribe has announced that he and his partisans are taking to the streets to seek a new referendum against critical points of the agreement, and that he will seek the presidency in 2018 under the banner of indignation. It’s the same banner that worked successfully in the plebiscite.
Thus, everything indicates that the presidential election of 2018 will operate as a second, definitive referendum on this new agreement. That’s why, in the end, it’s essential for Mr. Santos to form a broad center-left coalition in order to face the adversary. This coalition, unheard-of in Colombia, would bear the great banner of reconciliation. Its victory would depend on the courage and high purpose of its leaders, and on the new agreement’s becoming a tangible reality as soon as possible.
Marta Ruiz is a journalist and editorial adviser to Semana magazine. This essay was translated by Sonia Berah from the Spanish.