MIAMI — Colombians on Sunday rejected a peace deal with the country's leftist guerrilla fighters that could have ended the longest-running armed conflict in the Western Hemisphere.
Final results showed 50.2% opposed the accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia while 49.8% favored it, according to government figures.
President Juan Manuel Santos, who initiated the controversial negotiations with the FARC and has staked his presidency on reaching a deal, conceded the defeat during a televised address but said he would press on. He said the ceasefire brokered with the FARC ahead of Sunday's vote would remain in place and he would summon negotiators from both sides to Havana to plot their next steps.
"I won’t give up," he said according to the Associated Press. "I’ll continue (to) search for peace until the last moment of my mandate."
The accord, the result of four years of negotiations held mostly in Havana, was signed last week by leaders of the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the coastal city of Cartagena. The signing ceremony became an international celebration, with world leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, traveling to the city they hoped would become known as the "City of Peace."
That all came crashing down on Sunday as the "no" votes piled up.
The FARC leader who uses the nom de guerre "Timochenko" told reporters in Havana on Sunday night that he also remained committed to reaching a workable deal with the Colombian government. "Peace will triumph," he said in a Tweet.
Despite both men vowing to continue the negotiations, Sunday's vote left people throughout Colombia uncertain about their future.
Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, who has followed the Colombian peace process for decades, said from Bogota on Sunday that people had no idea what would come next. He said there were several options for reviving the peace deal, including both sides returning to the negotiating table or Colombia's Congress stepping in to approve an accord despite Sunday's vote.
But with so much uncertainty, Isacson said Colombia could be facing a chaotic, uncertain future.
"There's a whole checklist of awful things that are about to happen," Isacson said.
Had Colombians accepted the peace deal, it would have ended a 52-year war that has left more than 220,000 dead and displaced 6.7 million. Supporters argued that ending the bloody struggle was paramount and all those questioning the deal were nitpicking over details when they should have been celebrating.
One of those was Maria de Silva, a Bogota native who drove over three hours to vote at the Colombian consulate in Miami on Sunday. De Silva had every right to reject the deal, since the FARC killed her cousin and threatened her father so much that the family fled to Florida 16 years ago.
After casting her vote to approve the deal on Sunday, de Silva said she could move past those horrible memories as long as her country was at peace.
"The deal is not perfect. It's not what we all want," she said. "But this is better than remaining at war. The way I see it, there's no alternative to that."
Alberto Cordoba said the alternative was clear — a peace deal that doesn't let the FARC guerrillas off the hook. Under the terms of the 297-page peace accord, most FARC rebels would not be required to serve prison time, instead facing probationary sentences that require they work in social programs, such as de-mining the battlefields where the two sides often fought.
Cordoba, whose family fled the violence in their native Cali 16 years ago, listed a series of other problems with the deal. He complained that the deal doesn't require that the FARC return the children it recruited over the years, that it provides the rebels with pensions higher than the minimum wage in Colombia and doesn't guarantee that the rebels won't join other rebel groups or narco-trafficking organizations.
"There's not a single positive aspect of this deal," he said Sunday while holding a sign that read "No" outside the Colombian consulate in Coral Gables. "It's not a real peace."