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The Misnamed Peace is the Only Path

Original text (Spanish)

From the beginning it was misnamed, because it was never a vote for peace. It was a vote to lead the process towards non-violence, no more extortion or torture or killings. In the end, to end the war is not the same as having peace. But in not having armed groups, whether private or state, does contribute to citizen security and the development of trust, cooperation and participation that builds peace.

In telling Colombians that voting "yes" in the referendum was a vote for peace is something deceiving because it did not take into account the great distrust they have for both their government and the FARC alike. I would have voted "yes" if I could, because I understand that it is a vote in favor of another vision for the country and for victims who are now generations who have grown up with war. Because to vote "yes" means that peace - both individual and collective – is worth more than revenge and hatred.

The victims in the areas most affected by the war such as Chocó, Guajira, Nariño and Cauca chose peace, not because they were threatened or forced to vote in favor of an agreement that would end an armed conflict that has lasted 52 years, but because the war has cost them immeasurably and for them it was more important to rebuild the country and their lives than to keep looking for "justice" under a false definition, and that for them and many others it will never come.

Those who criticized the agreement were backed by a campaign led by ex-president Uribe who posed that to vote in favor of the agreement was a vote in favor of a possible leftist government sometime in the future. First, if someone tries to sell you the idea that to vote against a measure that could end a war is to support the guerrillas, one must always question what are the real motives of such person or people. Second, it is totally false that having a minority party in a largely conservative country and political system will bring radical changes itself.

And finally, and perhaps the most important point, how can they justify a position that does not support expanding civil participation in a democracy where those people will not attack society from the outside with guns and violent methods but they will try to change it from within? If they do not succeed in getting the support of the people with their words and sweat (no weapons), then they lose any power they might have gotten and thus their credibility. Because in a democratic society that seeks to amplify voices and perspectives, one wins or loses with ideas, not with weapons, and that is about which they should have spoken.

Now that the “no” won (I do not say that those who voted "no" won because no one wins with the continuation of the war) by a very narrow margin, the millions who voted for the cessation of the conflict have to convince their compatriots because they must listen more to their voices when they say that their lives are risked and not the lives of those who ran a campaign which promotes fear, revenge and hate. Not everyone lives the war the same, and those most impacted should be heard before any politician.

What has been lost in this debate on the vote is not only that the peace agreement forced the FARC to demobilize, but also that it recognized the abusive and violent role of the Colombian government, including against social and progressive movements in the country that had nothing to do with the conflict.

Many human rights defenders, trade unionists, teachers, lawyers, workers and peasants, students and activists have been attacked, tortured, disappeared and killed by the state for their ideologies and, have been persecuted, above all, for advocating a country where one respects human rights. This has been justified through the decades to repress progressive movements and their leaders and are used to link these defenders with the FARC. Now we should keep our eyes open so that there isn’t a wave of repression directed to those who raise their voices against abuse and oppression.

So how do we close this breach between those who voted “yes” and those who voted “no”? What is clear is that we all want peace. But not all of us agree on what justice means.  The war has claimed many victims, but for those for whom this continues, those who voted for a country where ideas are expressed in the voting booths and without guns, these are the ones to whom we need to listen. These are the ones who show us the path towards a true conciliation, where peace and justice can be built.

Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan is President of the National Lawyers Guild and a MADRE Board Member.