A Week in Macondo: Where Emotions become relevant for Peace Research [1]

Era como si Dios hubiera resuelto poner a prueba toda capacidad de asombro, y mantuviera a los habitantes de Macondo en un permanente vaivén entre el alborozo y el desencanto, la duda y la revelación, hasta el extremo de que nadie podía saber a ciencia cierta dónde estaban los límites de la realidad.

Gabriel García Márquez

When on October 2nd Colombians were asked to vote for the Peace Agreement established between the government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), the ficticious Macondo once again became the more real reference for Colombia, as shown in the now viral quote from  A Hundred Years of Solitude by Colombian Nobel Price winner Gabriel García Márquez. Only when taking into account the emotions on the sides of all parties involved can we get closer to understanding why a tiny majority of voters pronounced themselves against the agreement.

Shock and Disappointment

Sunday evening, October 2nd, my husband and I sit in front of the computer screen, live-checking the results of the plebiscite. When the first numbers come in, we are relieved: approximately 53% Yes-votes, only the quorum of about 4,5 million has to be reached. Every five to ten minutes now there is new data, and the quorum is soon reached. However, the advantage of Yes-votes becomes smaller and smaller. The urban centers are almost completely done counting. Incredulously we hit the refresh-button, hectically browsing the regions hoping to find a place were there are still many votes to count. When at 1am over 99% of the votes are in, it becomes clear that those who voted at all – a mere 37,4% – decided with a tiny advantage to dismiss the agreement. Silence surrounds the otherwise buzzing family whatsapp chat, and I see many stunned comments from friends of mine on facebook. Nobody really understands what just happened. Why would you revoke a peace agreement?

(Missing) Compassion

Many of my acquaintances and relatives are surely not ardent worshipers of the Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos. Nevertheless, they all agreed in that this vote had nothing to do with voting for or against the current government, but to express general support for the efforts made to reach peace with the FARC. Especially in the urban centers, the conflict has become less and less visible. The more affected regions majorly voted for peace, while the people in the cities were skeptical.

Many have resigned to insecurity, or don’t even know peace, since the conflict goes on for decades. When the media cite 52 years as the duration of conflict, what they mean is the conflict with the FARC, who orginated in 1964. The historical, social, political and economic context that has fueled their existence, however,  is rarely mentioned. The enormous inequality in income distribution, conflicts about landownership, drug trafficking and paramilitarism are as well part of this conflict. They are deeply rooted in Colombian history and often don’t figure prominently in media coverage about the FARC. In the almost 300 pages of the agreement, these aspects are mentioned [2], but many Colombians doubt whether the regulations – especially concerning drug trade and organized crime – can actually be implemented. The rural population’s hopes for peace are counterbalanced by the doubts and fears of a mayority of urban residents.

Jealousy and Fear

For many, especially the maximum sentences for human rights abuses and the right to political participation of the future ex-guerriller@s was a key issue. Also, many opposed  the promised financial support from the state to reintegrate ex-combatants into a civilian life. But the campaign of the No! did also manipulate voters from the less affected cities with purposeful and systematic misinformation. The post-truth election battle was characterized by laments on how the “gender ideology” would destroy the “traditional family structures”, or that the country would sure fall prey to communism should the agreement be ratified by the voters. It simply did not matter that none of these issues were actually part of the agreement. Often, the No! votes were based on a feelingt of greed: “Why should they get this much money from the State when I myself have to struggle to survive?” “Why are they allowed to particpate in congress, when nobody asks me for my opinion?” “Why don’t they have to go to jail, when I am prosecuted for every oh-so-little offence?” And even if these questions are based on a wrong understanding of the issues accorded in the peace treaty, they do offer insights into how people are feeling. And many historical injustices will persiste even under the agreement [3]. Fear, greed, anger and defiance are all expressions of a diffuse feeling of disadvantage, whose relevance for peace research became painfully obvious with the victory of the “No”.

Silent Hope

But a permant cease-fire and the decommissioning of the FARC would be a great advance, especially in those parts of the country where the armed conflict is still a reality. Which is why many people in the cities took to the streets to demonstrate for the agreement after the first shock about the “No” had passed. It was a new feeling of solidarity and joint fighting that found its expression on the streets. In Bogota alone, 40.000 people participated in the third March of Silence, thereby aligning themselves with a tradition of silent protest [4]. When on October 7th, the Nobel committee anounced Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos as the laurate for the Nobel peace prize, euphoria was back. The sign from the international community to not give up now brought back hope and courage to many deceptioned “Yes”-voters. The “back and forth between rejoice and deception, between doubts and revelations” will likely continue a little longer, but the people of Macondo are determined to break down the limits of reality to reach peace.


[1] A German Version of this text was published on Friedensakademie-Blog.

[2] The complete Spanish text can be found here: https://www.mesadeconversaciones.com.co/sites/default/files/24_08_2016acuerdofinalfinalfinal-1472094587.pdf (last accessed: 13.10.2016).

[3] See also the report about voters in Ciudad Bolivar (one of the poorest neighborhoods of Bogota with a high amount of displaced persons, who – in contrast to most other strongly affected regions – majorly voted “No”) from Colombian newspaper El Espectador: http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/paz/un-no-hacerse-escuchar-articulo-659274 (last accessed: 14.10.2016).

[4] The first March of Silence took place on February 07th, 1948, to protest violence against members and supporters of the Liberal Party. The second March was convened on August 25th, 1989 after the Liberal presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán was killed.


One comment

  1. Pingback: Neue Publikation: Eine Woche in Macondo: Wo Emotionen für die Friedensforschung relevant werden – MemoriAL – Red Interdisciplinaria de Estudios sobre Memoria en Latinoamérica

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