Peace still common goal following historic vote in Colombia

Although voters in Colombia narrowly rejected the ratification of a historic peace treaty in a recent plebiscite, all parties seem to agree on the fact that they do not want to return to armed conflict and negotiations need to continue, Toronto immigration lawyer Andrew Carvajal recently told attendees at an expert panel hosted by the Canadian Colombian Professional Association (CCPA).

On Oct. 2, Colombia held a historic vote to decide whether to accept the bilateral and definitive ceasefire agreed upon by the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). The agreement sought to end a half-century of war with this guerrilla organization. However, voters rejected the peace treaty by a slim margin.

Shortly after the results were released, Carvajal, president of the CCPA and a partner with Desloges Law Group, chaired a panel discussion in Toronto to discuss the impact of the vote on the future of Colombia, featuring distinguished experts including Colombian Ambassador to Canada Nicolas Lloreda Ricaurte, former Attorney General of Colombia Alfonso Valdivieso Sarmiento, vice-president and head of international economics at Scotiabank Pablo F.G. Bréard, as well as Luis Van Isschot and Donald Kingsbury of the University of Toronto.

As Carvajal told attendees, the United Nations Secretary-General and 13 heads of state attended the signing of the treaty, which ended a war that has lasted 52 years and took more than 220,000 lives — 80 per cent were civilians.

“The peace process is said to be built on transitional justice and the recognition of victims’ need for truth and reparative acts by those who harmed them. Experts on conflict resolution consider that this is one of the most progressive peace deals ever crafted,” he said.

As Carvajal explained, in early October: "The ratification of this treaty was put to a national vote, where — and pay close attention to this number — 50.2 per cent rejected the treaty while 49.8 per cent were in favour."

But as Scotiabank’s Bréard noted, the “not” vote was more important than the “no” vote in this case, with close to 63 per cent of eligible voters absent from the polling stations.

Bréard told attendees that he expects Colombian markets to survive this vote, and for Colombia — in part due to the peace process — to continue to be an attractive market for foreign investment.

Ambassador Lloreda Ricaurte explained that abstention rates were as high as 80 per cent at consulates abroad. Although the treaty was defeated, he noted that the government is moving on in trying to get the peace agreement renegotiated, while listening to the opposition.

Contrary to what was advocated by some proponents of the “no” side, the ambassador told attendees that the treaty did involve a robust, victim-centred justice process.

As Van Isschot told those at the event, people living in rural areas in closer proximity to the conflict who live the war every day voted predominantly in favour of the treaty, while those in cities or more geographically distant from the conflict voted against it.

After reflecting on the outcome of the vote, Carvajal said he feels confident that the country will "get there."

“There have been many bumps along the way, but all parties at least agree on the ceasefire and that we need to negotiate a peace treaty,” he said.

“Given the outcome of the vote, I think that we all agree that what we need the most right now is a unified country to try and bring an end to this conflict. I think, but especially, I hope, that it won't take too long,” added Carvajal.

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