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The highest high and the lowest low: Colombian’s NO to the peace agreement or how to deeply hurt hope in 24 hours or less

Catalina Rojas

October 3, 2016

The highest high and the lowest low: Colombian’s NO to the peace agreement or how to deeply hurt hope in 24 hours or less


Exactly a week ago I picked my son early from school to be part of an event celebrating the signature of the end of Colombia’s 54 year old armed conflict: the longest in the Western Hemisphere.Untitled 4

The joy of explaining to my son what this day meant, and watching together the ceremony of the signing, with women singers from a place called Bojayá who once suffered as a massacre site; the public and brave apology of Rodrigo Londoño the insurgent´s leader to all of us Colombians, brought tears to my face. After a couple decades working for peace, I had been given two gifts: to witness peace in my lifetime and to give show my 5 year old how to re-build, how to reconcile and move one after a protracted civil war.

It was September 26, 2016. A day I will always cherish. All we had to do as citizens was to show up the following Sunday October 2nd and answer this: Do you support the Final Accord to Terminate Conflict and Construct and Stable and Durable Peace? Most, if not all polls showed an ample margin with YES as a victor.

When my son asked: Who won this war? I cried and told him that no one. But by voting YES I was personally ensuring that we will start rebuilding a country for everyone, even those that for political, economic or ideological reasons were in disagreement with the agreement.

The accord is a 300 page document, one of the most sophisticated agreements based on the tenacity of an expert negotiator team on the government side, with the company of acclaimed advisors from various conflict and post-conflict sites and a committed insurgency who was recognized for its bravery and dignity over the almost 6 years that cost us to get here.Untitled

But yesterday, and by a mere 60,000 vote difference Colombians answered NO.

To describe in words what the almost 4.5 million Colombians who like me voted yes is almost impossible. I am writing today feeling exactly what I have felt when I lost my dad. I am in fact in mourning, feeling sadness and waves of crying bouts that come and go. Just like when you mourn someone.

The future looks very cloudy but amidst this uncertainty there are a few things clear:

  • Most regions highly affected by the war voted YES to the accord
  • The urban most affluent sectors who generally don’t suffer the consequences of war voted NO
  • Last night our President publicly acknowledged the results and assured us of his commitment to work for peace until his last day in office (18 months from now).
  • The insurgents FARC-EP have expressed their commitment to support a viable peaceful resolution of the conflict.
  • Like in recent national referendums in other latitudes, the victors seem quite surprised of their victory and its clear there is not a clear path of action of what they want. The YES side took 6 years, multiple countries, UN verification and millions in resources to come up with the agreement.
  • Absenteeism (people who didn't vote) was nearly 60%.


As of today, there are more questions, more uncertainty and a sense that Colombia lost a historical opportunity that was so closed I let myself cry of joy and now, heartbroken and exhausted as we are, we must keep on going.

Not even 24 hours after the NO win, the head of Colombia’s negotiator team tendered his resignation; the process of FARC demobilization that was about to start including with UN asisstance is indefinitely on hold; the cease fire is ever so fragile and there is a real possibility that will not last and also the ongoing negotiation with the remaining insurgency ELN is at halt.

What lies ahead. I am sure that amidst the 4.5 million Colombians that voted yes, we have gone though so much already, will wake up every day feeling less shattered and will continue to work to reconcile our deep divisions. The lessons of Colombia’s victims accepting the peace is a beautiful act not only for us Colombians but for humanity.

I have been crying and will continue to do so as I heal, but what lies ahead is another peace agreement. Not necessarily with the biggest and oldest insurgency in the world (FARC): they have expressed tremendous remorse for what they have done and a commitment to shift bullets for words in a political arena. The peace agreement we need to weave is between us civilians, to make sure we include all sectors that felt they were not part of this process; sectors that even threatened to armed if the YES was going to win.  

How to reconcile two deeply divided Colombias? One that is plural and diverse and thrives in our colorful differences, and one that is much more conservative and easily scared by expressions of diversity. I don’t know what is the key to link these two deeply divided national realities but what I do know is my loud NO to a potential return to war.

54 years of rivers of blood, tears and suffering must be enough fuel to propel us to move forward.



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