Sí o No: We Talked to 8 Young Colombians About How They’ll Vote on the Peace Referendum

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On Monday, September 26, Colombia witnessed a monumental moment in its history. In the coastal city of Cartagena, President Juan Manuel Santos and the leader of the FARC guerrilla group Rodrigo Londono signed a peace deal that formally ended the country’s 52-year-old civil war. While the Colombian state and the Marxist guerilla forces have previously attempted to start a peace process, the FARC, which currently claims about 7,000 members, has never come this close to demobilization.

Although a deal has been signed, the peace process is far from over. On October 2, Colombians will vote on whether they approve of the peace deal in a nation-wide plebiscite. While the plebiscite is an important moment for all Colombians, who will finally have their say in the peace process, the plebiscite will be particularly important for Colombian millennials. For them, this peace deal means the end of a war they’ve grown up with, but also a new responsibility they will have to shoulder to fulfill the accords and establish long-lasting peace.

The peace deal attempts to resolve the main grievances of the FARC –  starting with stark inequalities in access to land, utilities, health care, and education in Colombia’s rural areas –  while also providing justice and reparations for victims of the war. Over the course of the 52 year-conflict between guerillas, paramilitaries, and the military, 220,000 Colombians lost their lives— about 80 percent of them civilians. Another 6.9 million were internally displaced. Of the millions of victims, the ones most affected have been campesinos, Afro-Colombians, indigenous Colombians, and women. The peace accords, which consist of 297 pages in total, address six main points: land reform, political participation of the FARC, demobilization and reincorporation of guerillas to civilian life, the illicit drug trade, victims, and verification and implementation mechanisms.

While Colombians agree the war must end, many are still in disagreement on the contents of the peace accords. The issues that have most prominently come under attack from voters against the accords are the political participation of the FARC and transitional justice methods. The peace deal guarantees that guerillas who have not committed war crimes will be exonerated. Those that are guilty and confess their crimes will spend a maximum of eight years under restricted movement, but not in prison. Those that refuse to confess and later are convicted of war crimes will serve up to 20 years in prison.

For the accords to be approved, 4.5 million people – or 13 percent of the eligible 33 million voters – most vote “Yes” in the plebiscite. With the signing of the peace accords Monday, the process of the demobilization has begun, with guerilla units moving toward demilitarized zones to disarm. If Colombians vote yes on the plebiscite, the process will continue. If Colombians vote no on the plebiscite, the process could potentially stop. President Santos said the country could return to its former state of war, although FARC leader Londono has claimed the FARC will continue to respect the ceasefire.

Since the announcement of the finalized peace accords in late August, both sides have started their campaigns to sway voters. To understand how Colombian millennials will be voting and why, I went to the streets of Colombia’s capital city, Bogotá, to talk to supporters of both the “Yes” and “No” campaigns. Here’s what they had to say.

Photos by Christina Noriega for Remezcla.

Lina Bravo Mora, 26 years old, from Bogotá, D.C.

“I’m going to vote yes in the plebiscite because I think it’s a way to open up paths and to support dialogue, support the decision the FARC and the government took to change their usual ways of warfare, and sit down to use words as intermediaries between the two. I support this way of coming together in agreement.

This is the way for us, the new Colombian generation, to use our voice and say we no longer want to continue this history of perpetuating our differences. The plebiscite is a way for us to support the accords, which intend to bring the guerillas back into the political process of the country. And also society. I suppose it’s a way for us, the youth, to differentiate ourselves from the people who came before us, and say we don’t want to live in a culture of violence and intolerance of difference.

Helena Ortiz, 25 years old, from Bogotá, D.C.

“I’m going to vote yes because yes means an opportunity to build ourselves as a country and to view different paths. In this moment, the armed conflict is one way that violence in this country is expressed, but behind the violence are 10,000 structural problems that keep things the way they are. The fact that the armed conflict still exists, makes it so that we can’t see these other violences — the violence of inequality, of gender, everything that comes along with poverty, the issues of land theft that brought on the war — and I think that in the long run [those] are the causes of the war. If right now we fight about whether the war should exist or not, we’ll never be able to see the other violences that we truly need to change.”

Wilmer Alex Vargas Gaspar, 23 years old, from Solano, Caquetá

“At the moment, I’m going to vote no, not because anyone told me to, but because it’s my own decision. I’m going to vote no, because I don’t agree with many things. Simply, the people [guerillas] who are going to be reincorporated into everyday life are going to have a hard time, right? But likewise, we should take into account the victims that arose from the armed conflict in Colombia, because they’ve also been inconvenienced greatly. I’m one of those victims and I’m trying to move ahead. As a displaced victim, it’s hard to move to a big city like Bogotá, without the any support. And that’s something every victim can agree on: why is the government going to help them? They’re going to give them — they’ve agreed to a process with them. But, for example, when I was displaced the government didn’t care, and I can’t help but make that comparison.

I’m not against peace, first of all. And secondly, peace depends on all of us. If the government can’t be an example of peace, if they can’t the fulfill the very minimum like providing health care, a good education for anyone — well, let’s say, we’ll have peace when education in Colombia is paid for.”

Rubén Darío Estupiñán Riascos, 27 years old, from Bogotá, D.C.

“I’m going to vote yes in the plebiscite because I’ve had to live the war. My mom’s family is from Tumaco, Nariño and it’s an area where there have been a lot of FARC guerillas. I’ve had cousins who were disappeared, lost family members. There have been many victims. I vote yes because I also want a future without war, a better future for my children, the children of my friends. I’m a dance instructor and I want a better future for my students. If the war has cost us so much, then it should cost us more to live without war, to live without conflict, where we can live in a country of peace, where we can go anywhere, where we can be anywhere peacefully without fear of war.

More than anything, I vote yes because of what I’ve had to live through. I live in Ciudad Bolivar, which is one of the most intense areas in Bogotá, so the war has touched us although we live in the capital city. Unintentionally, or perhaps intentionally, the war has reached us. There’s micro-trafficking, there’s exploited children, children who are taken to join the guerillas, and this all happens in the city. That’s why I vote yes.”

Isabella Gaitán Guerrero, 20 years old, from Restrepo, Meta

“I’m voting no to protect our fundamental rights, such as life, freedom of expression, freedom of thought, all of which we have to defend always. That’s why our forefathers fought. I’m voting no because we’re providing the FARC too many guarantees: there will be no jail, they don’t turn in one peso from the profit they made in the drug trade, they’re eligible to run for office. These are all things that should apply to a good citizen, not to someone who has spilled blood for so many years. I’m voting no because they’re not willing to ask for forgiveness for the bombs, antipersonnel mines, the assassinations, the rapes, etc.

I’m the daughter of a soldier. I’m from the generation born to our country’s heroes, who suffered because of the FARC’s crimes. I saw many of my friends lose their fathers, their mothers, their brothers, who unfortunately fell in the hands of terrorists who had no compassion or respect for human life. We’re all victims of the conflict. It’s not only the people in the countryside that were affected by the FARC. A few years ago, a bomb went off in front of my university. In just one normal day of class, I was affected.”

Osneyder Valoy Palacio, 22 years old, from Nuquí, Chocó

“In the plebiscite, I’m going to vote yes to peace because it’s a great opportunity that we, as Colombians, deserve. That is, we’re saying yes to peace because we’re tired of so much violence, so much hate, so much resentment, and saying yes to peace is to forgive. It’s giving Colombia another opportunity to claim peace though a culture of love, convergence, and reconciliation.

I lived in Juradó, Chocó and was displaced by paramilitaries and the FARC. If you come in any way from the countryside, then you know what guns sound like, you know what it’s like to see a loved one killed by a bullet, and yet you have the courage to forgive your aggressors and from there, build. We have to forget resentment and hatred. By saying yes to peace, one feels that there’s tranquility in the countryside, and that peace is contributing to a better living, and that slowly we can build the lands and many other things.”

Tatiana Saavedra Gómez, 23 years old, from Bogotá, D.C.

“I’m going to vote yes because it seems to me to be an an important, symbolic act to affirm our rights as citizens and participants in democracy and in the decisions of this country. I will vote yes because it’s something that gives hope to the people, even us who haven’t been too close to the war. That’s why this word is so important and symbolic. It’s going to change the mentality of many people and that’s where peace starts. It’s a small step, but it means a lot to us as a country, a nation, and to our identity.”

Gustavo Pérez, 25 years old, from Cúcuta

“I’m going to vote yes. Even if the passage of the accords doesn’t mean the beginning of peace, it will be an opportunity, the only one in history, to build peace starting with rural reform, with the rethinking of the drug problem from a different point of view, with the ceasefire between the guerilla and the state. With a simple ceasefire, the state can reach more areas, can bring institutions, roads, health care to various areas of the country that don’t have them right now, partially due to the war. I’m going to vote yes so that they de-mine the countryside, they search for people who were disappeared. I’m going to vote yes not thinking that the peace accords are peace, but that the accords are the first opportunity, a first step to build it.

Many times, as a member of the LGBT community, we say that the war can’t be reduced only to the confrontation between the guerillas and the state, but that the violence and discrimination is also expressed in many populations, one of which is the LGBT population. So the way that I see it is that we, the LGBT community, also bet on the construction of peace starting with inclusion of all the most vulnerable populations and starting with reconciliation and respect for difference.”