Juan Manuel Santos wins Nobel peace prize despite rejection of Farc peace deal

Colombian president awarded honour days after country thrown into turmoil over rejection of peace deal in referendum

The Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, has won the Nobel peace prize for his work on a peace deal that was voted down in a referendum this week.

Santos and the leader of the Farc rebel group, Rodrigo Londoño, known as Timochenko, were both considered leading contenders for the prize after signing the peace deal last month to end 52 years of war.

But their chances seemed to have been dealt a fatal blow by the referendum last Sunday in which a narrow majority of 50.2% to 49.8% – a difference of fewer than 54,000 votes out of almost 13m cast – rejected the plan.

The Norwegian Nobel committee said it hoped the prize would encourage all parties to continue working towards peace.

“There is a real danger that the peace process will come to a halt and that civil war will flare up again. This makes it even more important that the parties, headed by President Santos and Farc guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londoño, continue to respect the ceasefire,” said the committee chairwoman, Kaci Kullmann Five.

“The fact that a majority of the voters said no to the peace accord does not necessarily mean that the peace process is dead. The referendum was not a vote for or against peace.

“What the no side rejected was not the desire for peace, but a specific peace agreement. The committee emphasises the importance of the fact that President Santos is now inviting all parties to participate in a broad-based national dialogue aimed at advancing the peace process.”

Santos said on Friday: “Early this morning my son Martin woke me with the news to tell me about the decision of the Norwegian Committee to grant me the Nobel peace prize.

Juan Manuel Santos speaks to the press with his wife, Maria Clemencia Rodriguez, after winning the Nobel peace prize.
Juan Manuel Santos speaks to the press with his wife, Maria Clemencia Rodriguez, after winning the Nobel peace prize. Photograph: Fernando Vergara/AP

“I am infinitely grateful for this honourable distinction with all my heart. I accept it not on my behalf but on behalf of all Colombians, especially the millions of victims of this conflict which we have suffered for more than 50 years.

“It is for the victims and so that there not be a single new victim, not a single new casualty that we must reconcile and unite to culminate this process and begin to construct a stable and durable peace.”

Less than 38% of the electorate voted on the deal, reached after four years of intense negotiations in Havana between the Santos government and Farc, which first rose up against the Colombian state in 1964.

The president, who was elected in 2010, had staked his political legacy on negotiating an end to the armed rebellion, which has so far cost more than 220,000 lives and displaced more than 6 million people.

Álvaro Uribe, the former president who led the campaign against accepting the peace plan, congratulated his arch-rival on winning the peace prize, but indicated he would insist on changes to the deal.

The award of the prize to Santos comes as a surprise to many Colombians who believed his chances had been scuttled by the rejection of the peace deal. Kristian Herbolzheimer, of peace consultancy Conciliation Resources, said that given the “toxic dynamic” of local politics after the referendum, the prize’s consequences domestically were “unpredictable”.

Demonstrators light candles during a march for the peace in Cali, Colombia.
Demonstrators light candles during a march for the peace in Cali, Colombia. Photograph: Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images

Others were more positive. Carlos Holmes Trujillo of the opposition Democratic Centre party and a member of the committee designated to search for a way out of the crisis told local radio that the prize was “a well deserved recognition by the international community to the efforts he has been making for peace”.

Cesar Rodriguez Garavito, director of Dejusticia, a Colombian thinktank, said the prize could boost efforts to reach a new deal more palatable to the half of Colombian voters who rejected it. “It doesn’t change the results of the plebiscite, but it reminds the parties that what is at stake is the end of the war, not political calculations,” he said. “It’s a recognition of the titanic efforts to reach peace.”

Polls in the run-up to the election had shown the plan had the approval of up to 66% of voters, prompting Santos to say during the campaign that he “did not have a plan B”.

After promising in the wake of the shock result that he would “not give up”, Santos said this week that a ceasefire would end on 31 October, raising the stakes for a peace deal to be salvaged despite the vote.

Londoño said after the vote that peace was “here to stay”, but the Farc interpreted Santos’s ceasefire deadline as an “ultimatum” and ordered its troops, which had been preparing to demobilise, to take up secure positions.

The president met Uribe for the first time in more than five years on Wednesday in a bid to find a way forward to peace.

After more than three hours of talks the two expressed willingness to seek an end to the war, with Uribe – who has long argued that the peace plan gives too many concessions to the rebels – emphasising the need for “adjustments and proposals” to ensure the deal includes all Colombians.

The deal now seems to hang on whether the Farc will accept tougher conditions for demobilisation, perhaps combined with a softening of Uribe’s hard-line demands. The rebel commanders have said they will remain “faithful” to the accord.

In a joint statement from Havana, Farc and government negotiators said on Friday they had agreed on mechanisms to maintain a bilateral ceasefire with verification by United Nations monitors.

They said they would also continue forward with a series of joint measures that had already begun, such as landmine removal, the search for persons who were forcibly disappeared in the conflict, pilot projects to substitute illegal coca crops. The Farc said they would continue to hand over child combatants to the welfare officials.

The two sides recognized the outcome of the plebiscite which rejected the deal they had finalised in August and indicated the negotiating teams were open to studying proposals.

“It is convenient that we continue listening, in a quick and efficient process, to the different sectors of society to understand their concerns”, the negotiators said in a joint statement. “The proposals for changes and clarificacions that result from the process (between the government and No promoters) will be discussed by the government and the Farc to give everyone guarantees.”

The Harvard-educated son of one of Colombia’s wealthiest families, Santos – as defence minister a decade ago – was responsible for some of the Farc rebels’ biggest military setbacks, including a 2008 cross-border raid into Ecuador that took out a top rebel commander.


Sibylla Brodzinsky in Bogotá and Jon Henley

The GuardianTramp

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