It is not clear whether the accolade will hurt or help efforts to end the country’s long guerrilla war
THE Norwegian Nobel Committee has a penchant for awarding premature peace prizes. It gave one to Barack Obama less than a year into his presidency. And now it has bestowed one on Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, just days after Colombian voters rejected in a plebiscite his plan to end the country’s 52-year-long war with the FARC, a hybrid revolutionary army and organised-crime outfit.
The committee’s head, Kaci Kullman Five, acknowledged the “real danger” that the war will resume after voters vetoed the peace accord on October 2nd. She thinks that the prize will make that less likely. “We hope it will encourage all good initiatives and all the parties who could make a difference in this process in Colombia,” she said. Whether it will is the question of the hour in Colombia. The majority against the accord was a narrow one—50.2% to 49.8%—and turnout was low. Both Mr Santos and the FARC promised to continue working towards peace. In accepting the prize, Mr Santos called on Colombians to “unite our efforts, our minds and our hearts so that we all win the most important prize: peace for Colombia.”
In the aftermath of the vote the government and the FARC agreed to a number of steps to keep that hope alive. Mr Santos extended until the end of October a ceasefire that he had declared in August. On October 7th negotiators from both sides, meeting in Havana, asked the UN to continue monitoring the truce. They also said they would continue peace-building measures they had started even before the deal was signed, such as removing landmines, searching for “disappeared” people and undertaking pilot projects to replace illegal coca crops. The FARC said they would continue to hand over child combatants to family-welfare officials.
But hopes for peace now depend as much on domestic politics as on renewed talks between the government and the FARC. Álvaro Uribe, Mr Santos’s predecessor as president and the leader of the “No” campaign, argued that the peace deal had two basic flaws. Under its provisions for “transitional justice”, FARC leaders who confess to war crimes before a special tribunal will be sentenced to up to eight years of “restricted liberty” but will not serve time in jail. That, Mr Uribe argued, is not punishment enough for leaders of a group that has terrorised Colombia for decades. He also objected to reserving ten seats in Colombia’s 268-seat congress for the FARC in the next two elections, a measure intended to ease the group’s transition from armed insurgency to political party. Conceivably, leaders convicted of war crimes could become congressmen.
After the “No” vote, Mr Santos and Mr Uribe, who despise each other, met for the first time in nearly six years and agreed to come up with ideas for modifying the peace agreement that they could propose to the FARC. Mr Santos’s Nobel prize comes just as this vital but fragile relationship is establishing itself.
It may not help. The prickly and ambitious Mr Uribe, who would run again for president if the constitution allowed him to, is unlikely to have been delighted by the accolade bestowed on his political foe. He congratulated Mr Santos via Twitter, but renewed his demand for changing an accord “that is harmful for democracy”.
The prize may not enhance Mr Santos’s prestige among ordinary voters. Less than a third approve of his performance as president. A sluggish economy is one reason. Another is his cosmopolitan outlook and patrician manner; he seems to be more at home among foreign glitterati than among his own countrymen. Campaigners for “No” accused Mr Santos of courting the approval of foreign leaders, who enthusiastically supported the peace deal, at the expense of Colombia’s interests. A gong from Norway will not change their minds.
A more heartening possibility is that it could help the peace process by giving new heart to its advocates, of whom there are many. After the vote, tens of thousands of Colombians marched in cities across the country to support the peace process. Many were remorseful “No” voters. Mr Santos’s Nobel prize vindicates their cause and his. Wreathed in Norway, he must continue to pursue peace at home.