Supporters of Colombia’s peace deal with the nation’s largest guerrilla group officially have a fight on their hands.
Former President Alvaro Uribe on Wednesday announced that his Centro Democrático party will actively campaign to sink the peace pact once it is put up for a national vote.
In a press conference late Wednesday, Uribe said voting “no” in a potential referendum was the only way to guarantee lasting peace in the country.
“The only way we can say ‘yes’ to peace is by saying ‘no’ to the plebiscite,” he told a crowd of cheering supporters.
The government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been in Havana for more than three years trying to hammer out a peace deal in hopes of ending a half-century conflict that has claimed more than 220,000 lives and forced more than 6 million to flee their homes. And hopes are high that a deal could be finalized as soon as this month.
Once it’s signed, the agreement will face an up-or-down national vote for final approval.
Uribe and his supporters believe the peace deal is too lenient — allowing the FARC’s high command to evade jail sentences and participate in politics.
And Uribe said the simple vote disguises the complexities of the document.
“It’s an illegitimate plebiscite that, with one question, keeps citizens from saying they want peace but reject impunity,” he said.
Uribe has suggested that if the current deal can be spiked, then it might be renegotiated with stiffer penalties and more concessions from the guerrillas.
President Juan Manuel Santos has said the peace vote might be the most important one in the history of Colombia. And he’s warned the nation that if it turns its back on the deal, it will only lead to more bloodshed.
Polls show that the majority of Colombians favor peace, but they’re less certain about this particular negotiated deal.
According to a Datexco poll published online Wednesday by El Tiempo newspaper, 27 percent said they would vote “yes” and 36 percent said they would vote “no” in a potential referendum. The survey of 700 people, which has a 3.7 percent margin of error, also found a full 29 percent said they would abstain from voting.
Uribe has been a longtime detractor of the peace deal. And while it has been clear for months that he would oppose the referendum, it was unclear if his party was going to try to sink it through abstention or take the more direct “no” approach.
Uribe’s party admits that voting against a peace deal — any peace deal — is a hard sell. But Uribe has suggested it’s the only way to bring true peace to the country.
“We’re embarking on this campaign of ‘no’ to the plebiscite because with impunity hate will not die,” he said, “rather, it will give birth to more violence.”