Peace deal defeat leaves supporters in limbo
A stunning referendum defeat for a peace deal with leftist rebels leaves Colombians with no Plan B to save an accord that sought to bring an end to a half century of hostilities.
Instead of winning by an almost two-to-one margin on Sunday as pre-election polls had predicted, those favouring the accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia lost by a razor-thin margin, 49.8 per cent to 50.2 per cent for those against the deal.
Both President Juan Manuel Santos and leaders of the FARC, after four years of gruelling negotiations, vowed to push ahead, giving no hint that they want to resume a war that has already killed 220,000 people and displaced eight million.
"I won't give up. I'll continue search for peace until the last moment of my mandate," Santos said in a televised address appealing for calm.
But it's not clear how the already unpopular Santos can save the deal after the stunning political defeat. He has ordered his negotiators to return to Cuba on Monday to confer with FARC's top leaders, who watched the results with disbelief after ordering drinks and cigars at Club Havana, once Cuba's most exclusive beach club.
"The FARC deeply regret that the destructive power of those who sow hatred and revenge have influenced the Colombian people's opinion," the FARC's top commander, a guerrilla known as Timochenko, told reporters.
The loss for the government was even more shocking considering the huge support for the accord among foreign leaders, who have heralded it as a model for a world beset by political violence and terrorism. Many heads of state as well as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry were present when Santos and Timochenko signed the deal less than a week ago in an elaborate, emotional ceremony.
With the outlook uncertain, all eyes are on Santos' former boss and chief rival: Alvaro Uribe, the powerful former president who led the grass-roots campaign against the accord. With none of the government's huge PR machine, an angry Uribe gave voice to millions of Colombians, many of them victims of the FARC like him, who bristled at provisions in the 297-page accord sparing rebels jail time if they confessed their crimes and instead reserved them 10 seats in Congress.
Across town, hundreds of supporters of the peace deal who had gathered in a hotel ballroom for what they expected would be a victory party with Santos wept in despair.
The FARC's 7,000 guerrilla fighters are unlikely to return to the battlefield anytime soon. For now, a ceasefire remains in place.
"In the end, hate towards the FARC won out over hope for the future," said Jason Marczack, an expert on Latin America at the Washington-based Atlantic Council.