On October 7, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Chosen from a record pool of 376 candidates, Santos, 65, was recognized for his efforts to end the civil war that Colombia has been fighting for 52 years. However, the decision was a controversial one.
The ongoing guerrilla war between the Colombian government and the leftist rebel group FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia)–the longest-running war in the Americas–has cost the lives of more than 220,000 Colombians and displaced nearly six million people. For the past four years, representatives from both sides have been working in Havana to negotiate a peace accord. The agreement, announced in August, was voted down last Sunday by a very narrow margin (50.2 percent of voters against).
The outcome of the vote was a huge disappointment to those, including Santos, who believed that the possibility of true peace was finally in sight. However, many Colombian voters felt that the agreement didn’t go far enough toward punishing the rebels for their war crimes. The failed peace accord would have allowed former rebel fighters to eventually re-enter civilian life and even run for political office.
It remains to be seen whether any of President Santos’s efforts toward peace will ultimately be successful. Therefore, it was a surprise to many when President Santos received the award only five days after the Colombian peace accord failed.
A Controversial Choice
Because of the recently failed vote and the uncertainty of the future of their country’s peace process, many Colombians feel that the time is not right for President Santos to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Others question Santos’ history. Born into one of the wealthiest families in Colombia, Santos is a former defense minister who carried out a number of important operations against the rebel forces, including the bombing of a FARC camp in Ecuador. Santos was also responsible for wiping out many FARC commanders. Many also accuse Santos of being too “soft” on the rebels just to get his peace agreement passed. Still others are concerned that recognizing Santos will actually damage the peace process in Colombia, because of the prize committee’s failure to recognize any FARC leaders for their efforts at the same time.
However, the prize committee emphasizes that Santos was instrumental in beginning the peace process, even though the outcome was not what he had hoped for. Furthermore, as president, Snatos will also play a key role in any future peace negotiations that are to come.
The Nobel committee has stressed that the award given to Santos is also meant to honor the Colombian people and their continual struggle for peace. When President Santos accepted his award, he dedicated it to the victims of the civil war. He has urged people to remember that even though one particular agreement failed, it does not mean that the Colombian people have rejected the possibility of peace altogether. The Nobel committee hopes that the award will help encourage and motivate Colombians to continue seeking peace, despite the recently failed referendum vote. Above all, it is hoped that the award will lift the morale of the Colombian people after this most recent setback.
A temporary cease-fire between the Colombian government and FARC rebels will expire on October 31.