Leading peace talks with the Colombian government, FARC commander Victoria Sandino shares her story with Al Jazeera.
Bogota, Colombia – On Sunday, the Colombian people voted against a peace deal designed to end a 52-year war with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Voters cast their ballots, answering “Yes” or “No” to the question, “Do you support the accord that puts an end to armed conflict and constructs a stable and durable nation?”
Polls had predicted the peace deal would pass by a large margin, making the 50.2-percent victory by the “No” camp an upset that shocked much of the country.
Emotions ran high in the streets of Bogota, where Colombians gave their reactions to the vote and their thoughts on the future of the country.
| Juan, 22
Juan brought his camera to document what he thought would be a joyous rally celebrating the end of the conflict. Instead he became part of a crowd that grew quiet as the results came through just minutes after the gates to Plaza de Bolivar had been opened.
“I expected a ‘Yes’. For 50 years, ‘No’ has had the power. The results came through so quickly – it seems a little suspicious.
“What’s next? The FARC believe in the ‘Yes’, they gave their weapons away. It’s hard to know what will happen … I just have sad people in my camera.
“It gives me a little hope that some areas where the FARC were strongest voted ‘Yes’. But there’s no collective conscience in Colombia. Most of the people are very individual. We’re split.”
| Lorena Castro, 55
Lorena voted “No”, and was vocal about it. She disagrees with amnesty provisions the FARC would have been given under the deal, but is more adamantly against President Juan Manuel Santos’ government, which she sees as corrupt. She held a sign condemning the deal and arguing with those in support of the accord. Lorena thought she would have to protest throughout the night – she expected the vote to pass.
“I’m absolutely surprised! If ‘Yes’ had won, this scene would have been much different.
“I voted ‘No’ because justice won’t ever be welcome in this very bad country, this unfair country. The government is so corrupt, I could not vote for this deal. There is no justice.”
| Diego, 18
Like many in Plaza de Bolivar, Diego stood silently stunned by the outcome of the referendum. As the sun set, he grabbed a Colombian peace flag and took to the square, yelling and openly weeping, calling for Colombians to find common ground and ultimately, peace. Saddened and outraged, Diego said he thought the “Yes” campaign might fail.
“I’m not surprised. Last night I was at what we called a ‘BBQ Plebiscite’, where my friends got together to discuss the vote.
“I realised that the people voting ‘Yes’ were not very clear, but the people voting ‘No’ were very clear on their arguments. I knew then that it wouldn’t pass.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
| Leonel Moreno, 53
Leonel served for 26 years in the Colombian Air Force, and voted against the deal. He’s happy with the way things turned out.
“People who voted ‘Yes’ think the people who voted ‘No’ are voting for war. I don’t want war! Who wants war? But I don’t want guerrillas going straight from the mountains to the Congress. No. If they want to be in the government, they can enter an election, have the people vote for them and be elected democratically just like everyone else.
“I don’t 100 percent believe the FARC. I don’t really mind if they don’t go to jail for their crimes, but five seats in each house? No. I cannot support that. I cannot hand over Colombia to the FARC on a silver platter.”
| Mario Carvajal, 24
An hour or so after the results came in, a group of protesters came through Plaza de Bolivar dressed in white and carrying white flags. They marched to a road blocked by barricades and guards, and after about 20 minutes they were let through, running with their flags to the house of President Santos. As supporters of the peace deal, they chanted and cheered in support of the president, a main proponent of the peace agreement.
Mario, who worked with the Javerianos por la Paz movement in support of the referendum, stood comforting some of his crying friends as they surrounded the presidential mansion.
“This is a long battle. I’m tired of living under the same circumstances, 52 years of killing each other. The plebiscite is more than being pro-Santos – it’s bigger than any one person. We must work together to get to the peace we so want and desire.
“I believe FARC will continue on a peaceful route. It’s a setback we have to be able to pass. We can’t forget the ultimate goal is peace for the country. If we forget that, we’ll be back where we were.”