BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombian voters have rejected a peace deal with FARC rebels, a surprise outcome that risks prolonging a 52-year-old armed conflict, and in doing so tossed the peace process into chaos.

By a razor margin of 50.25 to 49.75 percent, voters rejected the peace deal, a Brexit-style backlash that few were expecting.

After nearly six years of negotiations, many handshakes and ceremonial signatures, Colombia’s half-century war is not over. Not even close.

Surveys had predicted an easy win for the “yes” vote by a margin of 2 to 1. Instead the result delivers a crushing blow to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who since 2011 has pursued the peace deal. He took an extraordinary risk by insisting that the accord – the product of tedious, grinding negotiations with the FARC – would only be valid if Colombian voters gave their blessing.

They didn’t, and that failure has left Santos politically crippled. The president’s supporters began insisting that FARC leaders and government negotiators re-open the accord, but Santos had repeatedly warned Colombians that no such thing would be possible.

Sunday’s vote was also an extraordinary rejection of the guerrilla commanders of the FARC, who in recent months have tried to engineer a makeover of the rebels’ public image in preparation for an eventual return to politics. The outcome reveals the depths of Colombian public animosity toward the rebels, accumulated by decades of kidnappings, bombing and land seizures in the name of Marxist-Leninist revolution.


Sunday’s vote, for many Colombians, was about far more than a cease-fire with FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Many saw the country’s political and judicial integrity at stake, and the peace accord as a dubious giveaway to the rebels.

“I want peace, but not if it means kneeling down to the guerrillas,” said Bogota resident Piedad Ramos, 60. “Santos has divided and deceived the country.”

Gina Narvaez, 34, voted no because she wants the two sides to “take another look at some of the points of the accord.”

Her brother and her uncle were kidnapped by the FARC in the Huila department in the 1990s. They were freed only after a costly ransom payment.

“They need to change to accord so that there’s some kind of punishment for those who committed these crimes,” she said.

Voter turnout was lower than 40 percent, and heavy rains along Colombia’s Caribbean coast, one of the strongholds of president Santos, may have sapped support for the accord.

No one knows what will happen now with the nearly 5,800 fighters FARC fighters who were preparing to move into U.N.-monitored camps to begin laying down their weapons and start a transition to civilian life. They will presumably remain in their jungle hideouts, and a bilateral cease-fire between the rebels and the government is also now potentially in doubt.

By insisting on a deal that would allow them to avoid prison time in exchange for providing full and honest testimony to their war crimes, FARC’s leaders gambled that such an arrangement would be acceptable to Colombian voters. They were wrong.

The accord is not a surrender for the FARC, and includes other concessions to the rebels, including the guarantee of at least 10 seats in Colombia’s congress through 2026.

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