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When Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s president, pledged to donate his $1m Nobel Peace Prize money to victims of war, he went north to the community of Bojayá to deliver his message. “I want to dedicate this prize to you because you personify all victims,” he said.
The donation offered some comfort days after Colombians narrowly voted to reject a peace deal with Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebels to end 52 years of war. “We are hurt by the result and worried because armed groups remain here,” said Leyner Palacios, who lost dozens of friends and family members during the war. She participated in the peace talks held in Cuba over the past four years.
Official figures suggest that almost 8m of Colombia’s 47m people suffered during the drug-fuelled conflict, with Bojayá the site of one of the most horrendous massacres. In 2002 at least 79 civilians, among them 48 children, were killed when a Farc cylinder bomb exploded in a church full of civilians.
It is little surprise then that as in many other war-ravaged parts of Colombia, the municipality’s 10,000 people voted almost unanimously in favour of the agreementforged by Mr Santos’s government with the Farc. Now, they feel that the 6.4m people who voted against it, led by Álvaro Uribe, the divisive former president, have turned their backs on them.
Yorleny Mena, who lost her mother and two brothers in the 2002 massacre, fears what may happen if the peace deal fails. “I felt rage when I heard the result. We were hopeful, we all want peace here because we know what suffering is,” she says.
Amid fears of violence resuming, outrage about the rejection intensified after Juan Carlos Vélez, Mr Uribe’s campaign manager, admitted to misleading voters. Colombia’s chief prosecutor has said he would investigate Mr Vélez for electoral fraud.
The prospect of peace hinges on whether the Farc will accept tougher conditions and Mr Uribe will soften his hardline stance. He wants to fix a “weak accord”, ensuring that rebel commanders serve prison time, while military men responsible for human rights abuses face a different legal framework.
“Let’s build from what’s already been built,” Andrés Pastrana, former conservative president, told the Financial Times. His party helped sway 2.5m voters against the deal on October 2. “We need to analyse what we agree from this accord. Let’s see what’s recoverable, what can be corrected, and what are the red lines we cannot cross.”
Analysts at the Eurasia Group risk consultancy believe that “concessions will eventually come from both sides, but it seems unlikely that distant positions will be reconciled in just a few weeks. Furthermore, while it is in the interest of Santos and the Farc to reach an agreement as soon as possible, this is not necessarily the case for Uribe.”
During the weekend, amid street rallies in the capital Bogotá and popular calls for the agreement to be implemented, Mr Uribe asked for “urgency and patience”.
Yet along the Atrato river — which connects Quibdó, the regional capital, with Bojayá, and locals say once carried the corpses of war casualties — boat passengers voice their indignation. “Voting against the accord was absurd. The Nobel for Santos was a sound message from the international community. Uribe has no moral authority. He has 300 armed guards protecting him but we are the one who will have our families killed if the Farc decide to go to war again, not him,” one said.
In the old town of Bellavista, the site of the school massacre, bullet holes pierce the blackboards in the abandoned building. Twice in the past year, Farc leaders have come here to ask for forgiveness.
Máxima Asprilla, a survivor of the massacre, learnt to sing her pain away. She was part of a group of women invited to perform at the signing of the peace accord in late September before thousands of guests, including departing Ban-Ki moon, UN secretary-general, and John Kerry, US secretary of state.
“We did our part … we accepted the Farc’s plea for forgiveness, which was very hard to do; we voted yes to the peace accord. But the people who have nothing to lose aside from some of their privileges won the plebiscite — it is just unfair,” she said.
She recalls a failed attempt at peace in the city of Tlaxcala, Mexico, in 1992. Then, a guerrilla negotiator waved at his government counterpart with a grim salute: “We’ll see each other again after 10,000 deaths.” Almost 25 years later and Ms Asprilla fears the worst. “We are at the frontline, we could die if war returns. Uribe, Pastrana and their followers turned their backs on us, so any killings will be on their shoulders.”