How safe is Colombia and why did people vote No to the peace agreement?
First of all, this is a very sensitive topic and I can speak only based on the experiences we have made in this short time and talks we had with locals. Most importantly, this is a very subjective matter.
We understand that some of our friends and family were 'a little' worried- to say the least- when they heard that we are heading towards Colombia. The good news is that we have felt very safe, both in Brazil and in Colombia. Colombia was a whole new level as even some Brazilians are afraid to come and see the country, mainly because of the guerillas and paramilitary and the fight that has been ongoing for 50 years now.
But Colombia is so much more than that and the situation is not the same anymore as it was over 20 years ago when the Medellin cartel was number 1 exporter of cocaine (I think they were trafficking 80% of the cocaine in the world). Colombia was not necessarily famous because of the production as it had some competitors such as Peru and Bolivia, but it was more the logistics and the trafficking as well as the huge network they created which enabled them to be the leading narcotraficantes in the world. From a logistics point of view, this is quite impressive, all in the times where internet did not exist.
From an ethical and moral point of view, I don't even know where to begin to express my feeling towards the cruel and bloody behavior of guerillas, cartels and paramilitaries, but also of the government and the police. For the ones that are not up to date with the Colombian history- which is ridiculously complex anyways- between 2006-2009 the government and police was known for its false positives 'positivos falsos' in Spanish. What happened is that during these years, there was a pressure by the government onto military and police to deliver results with reference to the fight against the guerilla groups and the paramilitaries. Shooting members of these groups brought you either money, or a promotion ,or both, so the police started to have deals with these groups, they were brought the uniform, they shot civilians instead and dressed them up as paramilitaries or guerillas, in order to receive money or a promotion.
It seems like here in Colombia, everybody's hands are covered with blood (looking at institutions and organizations) and everybody loved the self-justice. During the Escobar period, for example, which took place about 15 years prior to that, people were rewarded for shooting the policemen. In Medellin, 85% of the police stations were subject to attacks and bombings, so one can imagine the chaos that was created. At the end of the Escobar period, the head hunt was on the drug lord himself, when a group called the Pepes (Perseguidos por Pablo Escobar or 'People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar') was established by some of his former allies from the Cali Cartel and paramilitary which turned into revelries. The goal of the Pepes was to find and kill him as well as his family and supporters. Apparently they were responsible for over 300 deaths and it is not clear if the US and Colombian government supported them as they had a common goal. Colombian history is a very complex one and depending on whom you ask, they will tell you their version of the story.
So why did people vote No on the peace agreement?
Who votes no for peace?
A few months ago, there was a ceasefire agreement between the biggest guerilla group called FARC and the government, and a few weeks ago there was a referendum in which people could vote in favor or against a peace treaty. As most of you know, the slight majority (it was a very close draw) voted against.
From a European point of view, it is difficult to comprehend, after half a century of turmoil. Why would they vote no? That is also difficult to explain in a short blog entry, but of course there is a reason. First of all, not many people voted, only 40% if I remember it correctly. Some also state that it was expected to have a positive outcome (similar to the Brexit vote in the UK) so maybe some who were in favor didn't vote. People would vote yes, because they wanted peace, no matter what. Because they realize that continue fighting for another 50 years is not an option and because they see no other alternative than giving in. Even if they might not have been happy with all the conditions and articles in the agreement, they would still accept it. I guess one of the main reasons is also that people appreciate the fact that instead of using weapons, FARC decides to use words.
So far so good, so why would people vote no then? Well, there are several reasons for that as well.
For example, this peace referendum that had been created was presented to the public (outside of Colombia, newspapers, etc) before it was finally agreed by the Colombians themselves and they had no say in the conditions.
Also it is claimed that they did not have time to read through it (it was also not an easy read in general with hundreds of pages) prior to the vote.
Secondly, the agreement gives several rights (and seats in the parliament) to the biggest guerilla group called the FARC- so what about all the other groups? Wouldn't they ask to be represented in parliament as well?
Thirdly, why would you want to have people in parliament, who are murderers and narcotraficantes and giving them the possibility to alter the laws to their convenience ( Yes voters state however, that it would have been only a small amount of seats, but still)?
In addition, some people felt that it was more a 'marketing decision' by the president in order to get his Nobel Piece Prize.
As a summary it can be said that there are good points to both sides, in German you would call this most likely the 'Gretchenfrage'. Everybody has their own history and motivation and one has to respect their vote. In our case, neither Johannes nor I would know what to do.
To finish this post with a slightly positive note- People are fed up with the past and you can feel the country changing- Safety in Colombia has really improved which helps to increase tourism. The amount of tourists has risen from 50.000 per year to 2.5 millions nowadays. According to the country’s trade ministry statistics the number of tourists increased by 290% compared to a decade earlier, but this did not make Colombia too touristy, for everybody who is fearing that. It is just safer and there is still enough room for everybody to explore the country without stepping on each others toes 😉
And Colombia's beautiful people, great music, and incredible landscape are totally worth a visit and waiting for you!