BOGOTA—Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos didn't get the peace deal he was hoping for, but he just got the next best thing: a Nobel Peace Prize.
The president was awarded the world's highest peace honor on Friday for his efforts to end his country's 52-year war with communist rebels.
The prize was announced just days after Colombian voters narrowly rejected a peace deal hatched between the Santos' government and the FARC guerillas, in a plebiscite. The unexpected result shocked Colombia and the world.
Despite that setback, the Norwegian Nobel Committee honored Santos for his part in bringing “the bloody conflict significantly closer to a peaceful solution.”
The committee hopes that the peace prize will encourage Santos and victims of the war to continue working on a peaceful solution to a conflict that has already killed 220,000 people.
“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 Nobel committee said. “What the 'No' side rejected was not the desire for peace, but a specific peace agreement."
The award underscores the international community's support for President Santos' peace process, which has been widely applauded by diplomats even though it's been a hard sell at home. The peace process has been an arduous, four-year negotiation that has been backed by the governments of Norway, the United States and Cuba.
“This is a breath of fresh air for the president in moments of crisis,” said Ariel Avila, an expert on Colombia's armed conflict, who spoke this morning on local TV. “It also puts pressure on the opposition” to help put together a new deal.
Since the peace deal was rejected on Sunday, Santos has been holding meetings with the leaders of the “No” campaign in an effort to get both sides to hash out a new accord to present to the guerrillas.
Opposition parties who campaigned against the peace deal said Santos was giving too many concessions to the guerrillas, including lenient sentences for rebel leaders who have committed war crimes, and an immediate pathway into Colombian politics. But supporters of the government have accused the opposition of stonewalling the deal for their own political benefit, namely trying to break up a truth commission that might eventually investigate conservative leaders involvement in war crimes.
Avila said it could take months for the guerrillas, the government and the opposition to reach a new peace deal. In the meantime, the military and the rebels will try and maintain a tenuous ceasefire, while the FARC, which was on the verge of becoming a political party, will now have to find a way to feed its troops without extorting civilians.
Reactions to Santos Peace Prize are mixed. While Santos' allies have widely applauded the announcement, opposition leader Alvaro Uribe's congratulatory note was laced with snark.
“I congratulate President Santos for his Nobel, and I hope it leads to a change in the (peace) accords that are harmful for our democracy,” the conservative opposition leader wrote.
Meanwhile, FARC leader Timochenko appeared to show a hint of jealousy at being left out of the prize.
“The only prize we aspire to is peace with social justice for Colombia, without retaliation and paramilitaries and lies,” the guerrilla leader wrote.
Timochenko later wrote a more standard message to congratulate Santos and the countries that have supported the peace talks.
Santos delivered a national address on TV early this morning where he promised that he will continue to work for peace for the rest of his life. He dedicated the Nobel prize to the victims of Colombia's conflict.
“This prize is for Colombians and for the victims,” Santos said. “We need to reconcile ourselves and unite to finish this process and start building a stable and lasting peace.”
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.