Will the Nobel Prize benefit or harm Colombia’s peace efforts

The illusion of peace was followed by a failed peace agreement and, finally, a Nobel prize. The last two weeks in Colombia have seen feelings ranging from disappointment to rage and hope, but now joy?

Semana has dubbed this week a heart attack. It is worth noting, however, that the week also included a football win at the last minute over Paraguay during World Cup qualifying.

On September 26, after four years of negotiations, a historic peace agreement between the government of Juan Manuel Santos (JMS) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia(FARC) was finally signed in Cartagena with pomp and ceremony. The agreement was then rejected by a razor-thin margin in a referendum one week later.

The shocking win of the No camp by 60,374 (50.23%) votes disappointed not only the majority of Colombians , but also the international community.

Colombia was enveloped in a cloud of uncertainty. Colombians were quickly overcome by gloom and murky feelings. Social media became a battlefield. No-voters say that some drastic changes are needed to make the agreements acceptable. Yes-voters posted on Facebook that No-voters’ blood would be on their hands if one more Colombian died in the civil conflict. Hashtags were used: #AcuerdosYa #SiPorLaPaz #PazALaCalle.

After what locals call el guayabo electoral (election hangover) wore away, the division and disappointment gradually transformed into something akin of hope as students in Bogota and Cali organised marches for Peace – one of the largest spontaneous public demonstrations ever held in Colombia.

It was reminiscent of the Orange Revolution or the Arab Spring. Yes and No voters came together to send a clear message to the national leaders. A new agreement had to be signed, and representatives from the two sides must work together to determine how to achieve it.

In this atmosphere of anticipation, division, insecurity and hope, Colombians heard the news that their president had been invited to join the exclusive group of Nobel Peace Prize winners.

Does it really matter?

Colombians in Bogota rallying for peace after the rejected peace agreement, just days prior to Santos winning the Nobel Peace Prize. John Vizcaino/Reuters

Untangling peace

The same questions still plague Colombia. No Plan B was in place for the rejection of the agreement. Will the guerrillas return to war? Can any part of the agreement be renegotiated? Who will decide what points are up for discussion? How long before another agreement is reached? The ceasefire will it last?

Now, Colombia has its own Nobel Peace Prize winner. The peace process is still alive. The Nobel Prize could be used as a motivational tool to help move these processes along and push the participants.

This will not happen by itself; both sides will need to show real leadership. The text of this agreement remains the basis for new negotiations. But the key is to engage leaders from the No campaign to decide together on key points to be discussed with FARC.

The government will then need to sit down again with the FARC and evaluate whether it is possible to rethink specific clauses. The process is difficult. The points that were agreed on September 26 are the results of years of negotiation and shifting positions, as well as the cession of territory. At this point, it is hard to imagine any significant concessions.

The Nobel Committee’s hope that Colombian actors would be willing to give more during the next round will hopefully lead to a more peaceful and consensual settlement. Will the FARC accept harsher sanctions as was the rallying cry for the No camp?

No more myths

The opposition has inflated the resistance throughout the peace process by perpetuating and creating myths that exploited a number of fears. These fears may not be true, but they still influenced many voters.

The No camp also said that by signing the agreement, Colombians were submitting to something called “em>castrochavismo/em>” which would unavoidably transform the country into the next Venezuela. The No camp said that Colombians would be forced to submit to ” Castrochavismo“, which will unavoidably turn the country into Venezuela.

These myths are still prevalent today and feed into the backlash against recent social advancements around homosexual marriage, transgender and women’s equality. For any political effort to be successful, it must focus on dispelling these myths.

The peace agreement does not ultimately come down to liberal versus conservative values. It is about replacing war by democratic process and about the politics for peace.

Leadership not vanity

Despite the resistance of some sectors, it seems that the award is widely accepted across the nation. The award reinforces the spirit of hope and unity that Colombians are trying to create in recent days.

The Nobel Prize creates an atmosphere that is more conducive to the next steps needed to repair what the plebiscite messed up, and maintains momentum in the peace process.

To move Colombia forward, it will require a selfless leader, who is not influenced by political ambitions, ego or vanity, but only has an original and honest concern for Colombia. It is harder than it seems. Some Colombians suspected Santos was really pursuing the Nobel during this peace process. You might then ask cynically: what is still at stake now that Santos has won the Nobel?

The majority of people are not interested in his motivation. They care more about finding a solution to this mess and lifting the uncertainty that was created by the victory of the No vote. The president must seize this opportunity.

The Colombians will be happy to receive their second Nobel Prize if it creates conditions for progress. Divided, they will be led down a tortuous path of rough negotiations with little hope of success if the moment is missed.

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