Latin American Policy Series (1): Colombia’s Peace Process

Based on the initiative from various students and academics at the Willy Brandt School, the Bulletin will be featuring a Latin American Policy series. These articles will analyze the pressing situations in specific regions, highlight the successful policies enacted and provide policy recommendations for other similarly affected regions and countries. The first article in this series is written by Laura Barrios, she provides her analysis on the recent peace agreement negotiations in Colombia.

October 2, 2016 will forever remain in the history of Colombia. After four years of intense negotiations with ups and downs, on September 26th, in Cartagena, the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed the final agreement on the termination of the Colombian conflict. The last step was asking the citizens to express their approval or rejection of this deal through a Referendum. The people had two possibilities: YES (agree) or NO (disagree). The NO won with 50,21% and the YES had 49,78% of the votes[1].

I have to confess, in the very first moment I was really disappointed. I did not understand how people could close the window of opportunity to ending an internal conflict, which has lasted more than 50 years and has caused more than 220.000 deaths and approximately six million of internally displaced persons[2]. To my surprise, just 37% of the people suitable for voting participated in this referendum, so only 18.2% of the people decided the future of Colombia[3]. This rate of abstention showed, independently of the results, how weak our democracy is. It is unthinkable to build a country where more than 60% of its people don’t take part in the most important decisions.

My opinion changed with the passing of days. People in Colombia were not aware about what they have voted for, the ‘yes’ campaign was too weak and the social movements that supported it did not demonstrate until the opposition had won. Moreover, after the Referendum, the chief of the campaign against the peace deal affirmed that the objective was to convince people through disinformation. Hence, Colombians did not want war. There were not only people who were uninformed, but also there were many reasonable and supported requests from different groups that needed to be included in the negotiation. The more inclusive, the more sustainable and successful the transition to democracy will be.

This perspective was also that of the president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, his negotiation team, and the leaders of the FARC. Thus, they remained committed to ending the war through a renegotiation of the peace deal that included the demands of the different groups that voted ‘no’. After six weeks, they signed a new agreement[4] which address many of these concerns: the connection between drug trafficking and war crimes, gender ideology, decreased funding for this group political participation, responsibility of high-ranking military, among others.

One of the main modifications of the agreement was its endorsement through other means, which were not necessary limited to a second Referendum. There was the possibility of approving it in the Congress or in local spaces of discussion called ‘Cabildos Abiertos’. The government chose to pass the peace deal through the Congress. I believe it was a proper decision, even if it is less legitimate, due to the fact that the risk of going back to the war was latent, as two FARC members were killed the days before and the possibility of returning to a hostile state was increasing. Moreover, there is unfortunately a huge polarization in the country and a new Referendum might divide the people even more, causing devastating effects for peace. In the end, on November 30th, the Congress approved this revised peace accord without the presence of the opposition party and the most notable voice against the peace process, Centro Democrático, led by the former president of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe[5].

Even though the renegotiation process was quite short, I recognized the efforts made at the negotiation table to take into account the majority of the ‘no’ voters’ concerns. I also believe that the attitude of the Centro Democrático party is undermining our way to achieve peace and reconciliation. Uribe was invited by Santos to take part in this renegotiation process, yet he and his followers declined the proposal[6], showing that they do not have substantial reasons to oppose this peace deal but political ones instead, looking ahead to the 2018 presidential election.

Nevertheless, the whole process has been a huge achievement for Colombia. The isolated aspect of an agreement between the government, who has been traditionally with a right political spectrum, and the FARC, a left wing rebel group, was an important step to show that disagreements in a society can be resolved through peaceful means instead of violence. Thus, achieving this new peace accord provides living proof that even the largest conflict in the region can be settled.

The goal of achieving actual peace is still far away. There is much to be done in order to have a consolidated democracy. However, I strongly believe in what Willy Brandt, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Chancellor of Germany, once said: “Peace is not everything but without peace everything is nothing”. I recognize that we have more problems than the conflict itself, but this is a great, new start to having a peaceful, stable and free Colombia. We have never reached as much as today, and we cannot go back. We are all going to build a better future and nothing can take this deep desire away from my heart.

Disclaimer: The views represented in this opinion piece do not necessarily represent those of the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy.

Read more on the Colombian Peace process in an interview with Willy Brandt School Junior Professor Solveig Richter (October 24, 2016).


[1] National Civil Registry, 2016.

[2] GMH. BASTA YA! Colombia: Memories of War and Dignity, Bogotá, CNMH, 2016.

[3] National Civil Registry, 2016.

[4] “Colombia’s President Santos signs new peace agreement with FARC”. Deutsche Welle. October 25, 2016

[5] Casey, Nicholas. “Colombia’s Congress Approves Peace Accord With FARC”. New York Times. November 30, 2016.

[6] “Uribe no irá a cita con Santos este jueves en Palacio”. El Tiempo. October 27, 2016.

Follow Laura Camila Barrios Sabogal:

Laura Camila Barrios Sabogal is a Colombian first-year masters student at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy specialising in International Conflict management . Her research interests focus on gender, post-conflict and human rights. During her Bachelor in Government and International Relations at the Externado University of Colombia, she worked as a junior consultant in a joint project between the University and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). She also interned at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.