October 10, 2016
Manuel loses at ballot box but still wins the Nobel Prize
It took years for Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and his negotiators to put together a cease-fire agreement with his country’s most violent and persistent militant rebel groups. But they did it. Then, when it looked like Colombia may have peace for the first time in most folks’ recent memories, the people voted to reject the peace accord.
The harsh and unexpected result sent the country’s politics into a tailspin. How would either side react to this news? After all, the civil war has been raging pretty much nonstop since the 1960s. An entire generation of Colombians has lived to their golden years without ever knowing a country at peace.
Perhaps as a rebuke and perhaps as a tip of the hat to Santos, the Nobel Peace Prize committee issued the award to the frustrated president last week. Praise for Santos came thick and fast out of Norway, where the committee offered congratulatory condolences for Santos for his resolve in coming so close to ending the war.
In his acceptance speech, Santos dedicated the award to his fellow Colombians, noting in particular all the people who have been victims of the consistent, bloody conflict. As reported by the Associated Press, Santos said he would not stop working hard to win: “I invite everyone to bring together our strength, our minds, and our hearts in this great national endeavor so that we can win the most important prize of all: peace in Colombia…”
Now, though, any decision is both a political and a public relations move. How will either the Colombian government or FARC, the most prevalent rebel group, react to having their peace accord rejected by the public. Officials in each group are stunned, trying to figure out what to do next. Meanwhile, hardliners on both sides are calling for an immediate reactivation of hostilities while many millions of Colombians who never thought this could be possible wish they had their votes back.
This is a mess of epic proportions, and it will take some serious political and PR savvy for Santos to keep the peace while finding another way to bring closure to the conflict.