This post is a very much a pure hit for those of you who are history junkies. In honor of the academic spirit, I’ll start with a disguised quiz but I promise to reward you almost instantaneously with a story that has shocked the international community and driven an entire country into absolute social, political, religious and cultural crisis.
Some of you may have heard the concept the “D-Day”. The “D-Day” is in military lingo a day in which an important operation is to begin or a change is to take place.
It originates in World War II and refers exactly to the Battle of Normandy, which resulted in the liberation of Western Europe from the control of Nazi Germany. The invasion of Northern France was one of the largest amphibious military assaults in history and it required extensive planning. The day that this crucial battle began was June 6, 1944. The original “D-Day”.
Although this “D-Day” may trigger little emotional distress to you, the contemporary politically and socially active student, I dare you to bring the word up to any Colombian that crosses your path.
You see, for some of us Colombians, it means a hell lot more than a hell lot more than hell.
Last Sunday, October 2nd, 2016 was our “D-Day”. The day the Colombian society would vote to bring an end to a devastating 52-year long civil war in our country. The so-called Day of Demobilization and Disarmament.
For me and my close community the day started full of illusion and hope and optimism. Change was in the air. At last, our country would know peace and we could begin to repair the damages, to help the victims, to bring justice, and perhaps most importantly for us young people, we could begin to plan ahead. Finally, we were going to be able to dream about growth and progress and about returning to the motherland to build a future close to our families and our friends and our culture.
That is how the day started for me. A few hours later, I found myself sitting on the floor, helplessly crying over the phone with my mother. That D-Day became a Dreadful day. And every day after that Sunday, has been the longest day of my life. That Sunday, the majority of voters in Colombia rejected a peace deal that had been signed on September 26th by the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). That Dreadful Day, 6 years of negotiations in La Havana felt like a waste.
The results of the vote were disheartening. Only 37 percent of the electorate went to the polls and the vote was almost a coin toss. The margin of defeat was depressingly narrow: the NO camp won with 50.2 percent of the vote. The actual difference was about 53,000 votes. That’s like a small neighborhood in my home city of Bogota. The vote was also not geographically representative of the suffering experienced in the rural areas. Most of the NO votes came from the metropolitan cities and urbanized provinces while the YES received overwhelming support from people in the countryside, where war has actually been fought, the drugs have actually been planted, and the people that die in this war everyday have actually been born.
Ponder on that score for a bit, 50.2 to 49.8 percent. We got so close to peace we could taste it. And it was sweet and sour and a bit spicy. It burned a little bit but we wanted it.
October 2, 2016. I didn’t sleep that night. After 52 years, this is the closest oeople in my country had been to bringing an end to this malice that has torn the country. And now, it seemed as if we were never going to have peace. The majority of the Colombian society had just expressed that they didn’t want to forgive.
That the NO won meant a lot of things. First of all, it meant that all the demobilization processes that had already started to take place would be frozen. These include the demobilization of child soldiers, the surrendering of arms, the eradication and substitution of illicit crops, among others.
The rejection of the peace deal also meant that the contract was invalid: that it could not be implemented by law. Finally, it meant that if the government, the FARC, the opposition and the Colombian society decided they wanted to continue their pursuit of peace, they would have to start the negotiation all over. That a new deal would have to be formulated. But given the polarized political spirit in the country, that option seems impossible.
The YES supporters have been restlessly searching the constitution, the laws, and any legal document trying to find whatever loophole that would allow the agreement to remain valid legally. One of their desperate attempts includes asking the Supreme Court to rule constitutional the repetition of the vote due to the weather. You read correctly. Ironically, Hurricane Matthew hit the Colombian Atlantic coast on Sunday and kept many people from voting. The YES camp is truly desperate.
Today, October 7th is the 6th day after the D-Day. The 6th of the longest and most emotionally exhausting days I remember having (at that time, of course, Donald Trump was not yet President of the United States). After the results were revealed, the country fell in a very dangerous legal, political and social limbo. Much like in Brexit, nobody in Colombia, not the people behind the YES nor those behind the NO, had foreseen the outcome. There was no Plan B. The country was very much lost. I was totally disoriented.
The first to pronounce anything were, ironically, the FARC who expressed willingness to continue with the peace process and their desire to abandon the weapons and become a political party. The second day after the D-Day, the coalition of political parties in the opposition expressed a similar desire: they wanted to participate in the formulation of a new deal–with whatever unrealistic conditions they are demanding. On day three, the president, Juan Manuel Santos, announced the legal possibility of ending the bilateral cease of fire as early as October 31st. The head of state announced that at least until October 31, the government will continue to respect and recognize as legal the bilateral cease of fire that is being overlooked and monitored by the UN. On day 4, the president and his nemesis, the former president Alvaro Uribe who led the NO campaign with his hateful rhetoric, met for the first time in 6 years in a very symbolic event. On day 5, the NO camp suffered a terrible political hit as one the supporters revealed the campaign’s strategy to inspire rage and fear in the Colombian society and to manipulate the public’s mind using the social media and distorting the message that the actual peace deal carried. That day, thousands of students took it to the streets in an organized march in support of peace. Almost comically, all the students that didn’t vote on October 2nd, decided to go out for a walk on October 6th. That day, Colombia also beat Paraguay 1-0 in an important soccer match that was defining of whether or not La Selección Colombia would go to the 2018 Mundial in Russia (we are going, by the way).
Every day has been a roller coaster. And it looks like it wont stop. The last few days had been packed internal with political fuzz. Now, the international community is also involved. This morning, I woke up to learn that president Juan Manuel Santos had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.
As with everything else these days, the country is divided on what to make of the news.
In many occasions, the prize has been granted to both parts to a confrontation, for instance in 1994 when Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Perez got the prize for their effort in the development towards fraternity in the Middle East. Even Nelson Mandela shared the Nobel with his counterpart, Frederick de Klerk, in 1993. However, only president Santos received the prize this time.
Some people say it is unfair that only he is receiving the award. Those who oppose his rule even feel offended by the award. I can only speak for myself. I don’t know if the award is fair, but I think it comes in good time.
The Nobel Prize for Peace is traditionally a controversial one without a clear objective. In the past, the international community has used it to recognize honest efforts but also to influence future political outcomes. I think that may be the case now. I don’t know if president Santos deserves the award. Clearly, he has worked hard for peace. In fact, the peace deal has been the defining factor of his entire campaign.
I am very happy that the international community recognizes the honest and genuine effort of the social and political groups involved in this issue. But I am even happier for the fact that the international community is WATCHING us, that they also care for the Colombian people and that their vote is for the Peace camp.
Whatever the reason for the prize may be, in the end it doesn’t really matter to us, Colombian citizens. Ultimately, the prize that we all want and DESERVE is not the Nobel Peace Prize… but the prize of peace.