Latin America & Caribbean

Can Colombia's Nobel Prize save the peace process?

Juan Manuel Santos president of Colombia (L) and Timoleon Jimenez 'Timonchenko' shake hands (R) shake hands during a ceremony to sign a historic ceasefire agreement between Colombian Government and the FARC rebels to end a 50-year conflict on June 23, 2016 in Havana, Cuba Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Santos (left) and Farc leader Timochenko (right) have agreed to end 54 years of armed conflict

Less than a week ago, Colombians voted "no" to an agreement with the guerrilla group the Farc, sparking a political crisis that threatened the peace process.

Now the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to President Juan Manuel Santos for his efforts in the negotiations.

Could that be enough to save the agreement?

Triumph to trials

The peace process with the Farc is on a roller coaster ride.

Mr Santos spent four years in difficult negotiations before signing an agreement in August at a triumphant ceremony in Cartagena. But the public vote rejecting the accord left him with little to show - until he was made a Nobel laureate.

Image copyright AFP

"I receive this award with great humility and as a mandate to continue to work tirelessly for the peace of Colombia," Mr Santos said after the announcement. "For this, I will dedicate all my efforts for the rest of my days."

But beyond the commitment of the president, how can the Nobel Prize unlock a crisis where the government is facing a "no" from its people?

Overall, the award is seen as a boost to the process and a message from the international community to all parties to the conflict.

Changing Havana

"It is the voice of the world supporting our country," said Humberto De la Calle, chief negotiator for the government in Havana, where the deal was struck.

"It is appropriate that we continue listening in a fast and efficient way to different sectors of society to understand their concerns and promptly define a way out."

He said that many of the interpretations of the agreement from the "no" side were wrong.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Thousands of supporters demanded the deal be saved

But, he said, there would be a dialogue between the government and the Farc that could lead to adjustments or clarifications of the deal.

That was seconded by Ivan Marquez, the Farc's chief negotiator.

"We will see how can we attach (new items) to an agreement we have built with great effort and dedication for more than four years," he said.

But he added: "We have already signed something, we will not (the Farc and the government) will not destroy what we have built."

'Yes to peace'

Echoing the position of Mr Marquez was Diana Gomez, a representative for victims of state crimes. At an event for "yes" voters in the presidential palace on Friday, she said that the agreement reached must be respected.

At the end of that event, President Santos said: "Yes to peace, (yes to having the) agreement now".

There is an openness to dialogue with the "no" side, but also pressure to solve the issues as soon as possible, while changing the signed agreement as little as possible.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Juan Manuel Santos (second from left) served as defence minister under President Alvaro Uribe (third from left).

Andrei Gomez Suarez, a professor at Universidad de Los Andes and member of the organisation Rodeemos el Dialogo ("surround ourselves with dialogue"), also thinks the Nobel Prize gives the president the power to persevere.

"Undoubtedly it changes the balance of power for President Santos, and gives him legitimacy," he told the BBC.

No means no

The Centro Democratico political party, led by the former president and current senator Alvaro Uribe, are the main opponents of the deal with the Farc.

They are already holding talks with the government, which will continue next week with proposals for amendments. But the Farc might find it very difficult - if not impossible - to accept some of them.

On hearing the news, Mr Uribe tweeted his congratulations to President Santos, but said he wanted to "change harmful agreements for democracy".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Relations between Mr Santos and Mr Uribe soured when the former started to move away from the policies of the latter

Another major opposition figure, former President Andres Pastrana, tweeted: "I congratulate @JuanManSantos for his Nobel Peace. Another reason to advance national unity agreement."

That national agreement refers to a proposed consensus between the government and the "no" campaign which would be taken to the negotiating table in Havana.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Santos and the Farc leader known as Timochenko shook hands in a historic ceremony in Cartagena in September

Mr Santos is also very unpopular among many in Colombia. The Nobel Peace Prize has not changed their opinions. These were the people that fuelled the "no" victory on Sunday.

Throughout the peace process with the Farc, the international community has given strong support to the negotiations. Among them are Pope Francis, the United States, the European Union, United Nations, and the countries of Latin America.


Juan Manuel Santos

Image copyright EPA
  • Born in Bogota in 10 August 1951 in an influential family
  • Elected Colombian president in 2010 and re-elected in 2014
  • Served as defence minister from 2006 until 2009
  • Married, has two sons and one daughter

Sources: BBC Monitoring, Colombian presidency


And yet, when the time came for a vote, outsiders could not influence the decision.

"What Colombians think has more weight than what the international community says," Centro Democratico Senator Paloma Valencia told the BBC.

"The international community doesn't live here and did not have to suffer what Colombians had to."

But even with a Nobel Peace Prize, the hardcore "no" voters will not change their minds.

It is in the hands of the government to find positions acceptable to both the "no" camp and the Farc, who will have to agree to incorporate those changes into the document signed in Cartagena.

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