BOGOTÁ — Colombians have now had their say, voting Sunday to reject the peace deal signed between the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), intended to end more than 50 years of fighting in the country.
The No vote triumphed against all odds it seems, against an overwhelming inequality of resources, giant billboards and publicity campaigns, against the opinion and advice of world figures like Pope Francis, and against a state that did not hesitate to put its resources, shamelessly, at the service of the Yes camp.
It won in spite of the insidious blackmail undertaken against district and provincial officials, with their future budgets used as bargaining chips, in spite of the dirty campaign denouncing the No camp as warmongers and in the face of a thousand and one last-minute promises the government made to this or that sector. It won in spite of fear-mongering and suggestions that voting No would mean an end to talks, and implicitly a return to violence, and in spite of all the pain and humiliations Colombians have suffered.
The victory of the No vote is clear evidence that Colombians still have dignity and will not be intimidated.
Regardless of the insults of extremists and dogmatists who refuse to recognize their defeat, we insist as we have always maintained, that the next step is not a resumption of hostilities, an end to the two-way ceasefire or even the president's resignation.
What we who voted No to the deal want is to be listened to properly and be given serious consideration in any continuing peace discussions with the FARC, and an understanding that only a great political pact between institutional forces can make peace talks with the FARC, or possible talks with the ELN (the smaller guerrilla force) or other armed gangs, valid, credible and sustainable.
We want peace just as much as the 49.76% of participating electors who voted Yes do. But we have made, in the face of the aggressive publicity launched against us, certain observations that must be considered to ensure that the peace process is built on stronger ground.
One must say, perhaps to avoid a repeat of this kind of outcome, that before such events concerning issues of crucial importance to society, the major media outlets must avoid all partiality in their reporting, state institutions must resist being cajoled by the government and big pollsters must not cede to government pressures lest they end up with a loss of face after unexpected results like Sunday's. Their predictions were an embarrassment.
Let me insist, there will be no triumphalism on the part of the referendum's winners.
The decent thing to do now is seek new agreements, through third parties if necessary, to put the process back on track. The dogmatic partisans of the Yes vote must reboot, stop fanning the fire of discord and practice their own preachings on reconciliation. They must help forge the great national pact the situation requires, and can start doing so by curbing their abusive language.
I wish to interpret the No vote not as an invitation to return to war, but as a message to all armed gangs in Colombia that there can be no peace agreement if this includes "flexible" deals on impunity — and no deal, for sure, if it goes against the wishes of more than half the country.