News · Politics

Colombians Speak: Does Santos Deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?

“It was if God had decided to put to the test every capacity for surprise and was keeping the inhabitants of Macondo in a permanent alternation between excitement and disappointment, doubt and revelation, to such an extreme that no one knew for certain where the limits of reality lay.” —Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

These words appeared on my phone as I walked down the street in Bogotá, Colombia last Friday afternoon. A Colombian friend sent them to me in the wake of the announcement that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had won the Nobel Peace Prize for “his resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year-long civil war to an end.”

It was a fitting quote to close a week that left even me—an immigrant who has not been personally affected by the war between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC—reeling.

On Sunday, Oct. 2, Colombians went to the polls to vote on a peace agreement that had been signed on Sept. 27 by Santos and Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri—the FARC’s commander in chief, commonly known as Timochenko. The world had already begun celebrating the end of the longest war in the Americas—the signing ceremony had been attended by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and Cuban President Raul Castro. Everyone wore white. It felt like a done deal. Maybe that’s why so few Colombians turned out to vote on the peace agreement—only 37 percent.

Whatever the motivations of those who stayed home, the result was a shock. Colombians voted against the peace agreement 50.21 percent to 49.78 percent. The days that followed were a blur of news releases. The ceasefire would hold; no, it would end on Oct. 31. Colombia’s education minister, manager of the “Yes” campaign, was resigning. The manager of the “No” campaign was reported to have told a local newspaper that he had purposefully steered away from informing people what was actually in the peace agreement in favor of inciting indignation. Every moment seemed to bring a different revelation, a different emotion.

And then, the Nobel Peace Prize was announced.

It was the last twist in a week that put the telenovelas to shame. The reactions of Colombians ran the gamut, but the Bogotanos I spoke to seemed to feel approval that Santos had received the prize, while remaining realistic about the challenges still facing Colombia.

Marcela Toquica, a language instructor in Bogotá who supported the “Yes” campaign, says she’s troubled by Santos’s history. She says she believes he committed massacres in several FARC camps and was involved in the false-positive campaign through which thousands of civilians were killed in order to pad the numbers of reported military successes.

Despite her misgivings about his past, Toquica is glad Santos received the award. “He decided to leave politics behind, lose all his political capital, and risk being considered a traitor to his country. … If I saw Santos today on the street, I would thank him for past and future generations, for giving us the opportunity to imagine a Colombia reconciled with the FARC. … I celebrate his award, and like him, I know that this recognition belongs to the victims.”

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