Ambassador: Colombia strong enough to sustain peace

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Colombia’s democracy has remained strong in the aftermath of Colombian voters’ narrow rejection of a peace accord between the government and largest rebel group, the country’s ambassador to the United States said.

“Very few [countries] can handle such a political debate with the intensity and commitment from all sides,” Ambassador Juan Carlos Pinzón said. “It’s important to see the strength of Colombian institutions.”

On Monday at the American Enterprise Institute, a public policy think tank, Pinzón emphasized that history was made when the first peace agreement between the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia was signed in late September.

Now, he said, Santos’s main objective is maintain the cease-fire and to make room for further political discussion in every sector that opposes the peace proposal. Peace in Colombia needs to be sustainable, Pinzón added, and sustainability means social inclusion.

“Things are not solved by one single will or desire,” Pinzón said. “Almost any Colombians these days are given a view, given an opinion.”

Colombia’s 52-year-old civil war began when the rebels, an armed wing of the Communist Party, banded together to fight against staggering levels of inequality in the country. Over time, around 220,000 people were killed and more than 5 million were displaced.

On Oct. 2, about 50.2 percent of Colombian voters unexpectedly rejected the peace deal, signed just days earlier, because they believed the terms were too lenient on the rebels.

The deal would have let the rebels rejoin as citizens of the country and offered them legislative seats as well as nontraditional punishment sentences.

Five days later, on Oct. 7, Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the war. Pinzón tweeted the same day that the prize was “a testament to the strong international support for Colombia as we work to consolidate peace.”

The Colombian government and the FARC—as the rebels were known—have agreed not to resume fighting. Last Thursday, Santos extended the cease-fire to Dec. 31 as he looks for a way to balance the voters’ demands for stricter terms with the FARC’s request for the government to honor the original agreement.

Colombia can only continue to strive for lasting peace with the right support from the international community, Pinzón said.

“The best contribution that someone can do, especially here from Washington, is allow the discussion to move on, is allow the discussion to produce a result rather than putting more personal opinions onto such a delicate set of issues,” Pinzón said.

The U.N.’s presence in the country during times of turmoil helped keep government institutions afloat without interfering with the political debate, he said. Pinzón said U.S. support has also been instrumental in building peace and prosperity.

Roger Noriega, the coordinator of AEI’s program on Latin America and the moderator of the discussion, said if Colombia is able to end the five-decades-old armed uprising, the country “will prove a lot” about its strength.

“Colombia remains a very key partner for us and it’s important to make it more stable, more prosperous, more unified and more democratic,” Noriega said.

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