Understanding Colombia’s Vote Against the Peace Accords and What Lies Ahead: Especially for churches working for peace

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, …”

divided-peace-doveThese opening lines from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, could also apply to a tale of two Colombias. My colleagues, friends and I watched, somewhat in shock, as report after report came in yesterday showing that the No vote had won in Colombia´s plebiscite on the peace accords that just a week earlier had been signed between the Government of Colombia and the FARC guerrilla. Polling in the weeks leading up to the plebiscite indicated that Yes would prevail with around 65% of the vote. In the end, No won by the slimmest of margins; 50.2% No, 49.7% Yes.

Why/How did this happen?

For many reasons. 1. It got real political. For many people the vote came down to President Santos or FARC vs. former President Uribe. If you felt closer to the former camp, you voted Yes, if the latter, No. Frankly put, the plebiscite demonstrated that former President Uribe is still the strongest political figure in Colombia. 2. Distrust/anger towards the FARC. The main concerns of those who voted No were that the accords allowed for no hard jail time for FARC commanders who complied with the transitional justice mechanism; that FARC commanders would be allowed to run for political office and guaranteed a minimum of 10 seats in congress for two terms. 3. The opposition played dirty. Uribe was able to spread the fear that if Yes won, Colombia would be “given over to the FARC”, that “Colombia would become Venezuela or Cuba” and what has to be most concerning for those of us who care about our churches, that the peace accord contained a hidden “gender ideology” that promoted an LGBTI agenda that sought to destroy the family which led to most evangelical churches in Colombia promoting the No vote on moral grounds. In former President Uribe’s speech last night he specifically thanked “moral pastors” for their support for the No vote and for defending the family.

Why was voter turnout so low?

Unfortunately only about 37% of Colombia´s electorate voted in the plebiscite. Even more unfortunately, this was expected and is about normal for any election in Colombia. Voter apathy is a serious challenge to democracies all over the world and is certainly not unique to Colombia. Though to many of us this was a unique and historical vote for Colombia, the politicization of the plebiscite ensured that it was perceived by many as just another vote that wouldn’t change anything or affect them in any meaningful way. Perhaps another key to understanding this is that since the early 2000’s the war has been mostly fought deep in the countryside. Most Colombians (approximately 65%) live in urban areas, relatively untouched by the war.

The Victims Voted Yes

victimas-votaron-siMost of the rural areas of Colombia that have been hardest hit by this war for the past 52 years voted overwhelmingly Yes. One example is the community of Bojayá, perhaps the most symbolic example of innocent civilians killed in the crossfire. 79 civilians were killed inside a church where they took refuge during fighting between the FARC guerrilla and paramilitaries in Bojayá in 2002. Yesterday 96% of Bojayá voted yes, 4% voted no. One magazine headline stated it simply, “The Victims Voted Yes”.

What Now?

The good news is that both the FARC and President Santos have said they are committed to peace and to finding a way forward. They both have declared that the bilateral ceasefire remains intact. The opposition to the accords (led by former president Uribe) has repeatedly said that their No was to aspects of the accords, not to peace generally and not to the accords outright. In other words, the No vote is not a mandate to return to war. Both President Santos and former President Uribe have named three negotiators to sit down and try to work out a political solution to this political impasse. May cool heads prevail and may good solutions be found.

Our partners in Colombia, Justapaz of yo-creo-en-la-pazthe Mennonite Church and the Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombia as well as the Interchurch Dialog for Peace in Colombia (of which they are both a part) are now seeking to “read the signs of the times”, both in terms of how best to keep working for peace on a national stage and how to address what appears to be a moralistic anti-LGBTI stance that trumps peace, compassion, forgiveness and justice for those most affected by this war. This turn of events is deeply disappointing for our partners (and me as well) but their resiliency, their faith and their resolve will undoubtedly rise above that as it has for the past 52 years. We will find a way forward!

Your prayers, your words of solidarity and encouragement are deeply meaningful at this time as we are reminded that our faith is in God and in this stubborn, beloved community we call church.


13 thoughts on “Understanding Colombia’s Vote Against the Peace Accords and What Lies Ahead: Especially for churches working for peace

  1. Hi, Michael. Thanks for sharing. I share your disappointment but also hopefulness that there is still momentum for peace.

    Can you clarify he last part of the blog? Who is promoting a moralistic anti LGBTQ perspective?




    1. Hi Eric. Mostly pastors of pentecostal and neo-pentecostal churches as well as some within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and some pastors from more mainline Protestant churches and councils of churches such as Cedecol, the Evangelical Council of Colombia. To name a few names: “Apostle” Eduardo Cañas of the Iglesia Cristiana Manantial de Vida Eterna and Youtuber/digital pastor Oswaldo Ortiz, and Edgar Castaño, Baptist pastor and President of Cedecol to name a few. Some of the religious leaders are responding to political leaders who promoted this line of thinking such as former congressman Eduardo Arias, former Fiscal General and current Liberal Party congresswoman Vivian Morales (and member of the influential Iglesia Casa Sobre la Roca), and Bogotá councilman Marco Fidel Ramírez. Here’s an article from Semana that talks about this: http://www.semana.com/nacion/articulo/ideologia-de-genero-una-estrategia-para-ganar-adeptos-por-el-no-al-plebiscito/488260


  2. Thanks, Michael, for your helpful words on the disappointing results of Colombia’s plebiscite. The low voter turn-out and yes votes in the rural areas that have suffered most says much. Colombia remains in our hopes and prayers. We appreciate your work. Bill & Sue Warner-Prouty


    1. Bill and Sue! Great to hear from you. Yes, there was a lot to read in the “tea leaves” of this plebiscite… lessons to be learned as we move forward. Thank you for your continued prayers and support!


  3. Gracias por el análisis, compa. Las coyunturas latinoamericanos siguen siendo complejas. Parece que el voto era no más que un hilo (aunque sea un hilo de importancia) en la tela de araña que forma el momento político y social.


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