Yellow butterflies covered every wall in the office of one of our partner organisations in Colombia.
The first butterfly was cut out and hung on a wall immediately following the signing of the peace agreement between the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on 26 September 2016 in Cartagena on the northern coast of the country.
In their speeches on this momentous occasion, both President Juan Manuel Santos and Timochenco, the commander and Chief of the FARC, referred to the yellow butterflies from celebrated Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ famous novel ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’: Gabriel Garcia Marquez is remembered for his love of yellow butterflies and flowers, which signify that nothing bad will happen.
“The war is over, we are starting to build peace” – Timochenko, Commander and Chief of the FARC
During his speech, Timochenko, stated, “war is over, we are starting to build peace’’ followed by a reference to a character in the novel, Mauricio Babilonia, who is constantly followed by yellow butterflies wherever he goes, as a symbol of infinite love and hope. Ivan Marquez, the FARC’s lead negotiator stated at a national FARC conference, “Tell Mauricio Babilonia he can release the yellow butterflies,” as a direct quote from the novel.
An Unexpected Outcome
These butterflies were a clear example of the hopeful expectancy that surrounded me in Bogota. Everyone was discussing what the peace agreement would mean for the country, especially for the regions most affected by the 52 year long conflict, especially the more rural areas of Colombia.
During the 53 years of internal conflict, hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost. All actors during the conflict have been responsible for major human rights violations; armed actors have also been responsible for a wide range of violations of religious freedom as hundreds of religious leaders have been the victims of targeted assassinations since 2000 and many have received threats, including death threats, by neo-paramilitary groups and guerrillas. Many churches have faced extortion from armed groups or have been forcibly closed.
However, at this point in time, the national plebiscite which was due to be held on 2 October 2016 had not yet taken place and was the final step required to bring the peace agreement into force.
Many Colombians made plans to watch the results with family and friends, in many cases preparing large meals as part of the festivities and celebration. Although the overriding expectation was that Colombians would say ‘YES’ to this agreement, unexpectedly, 50.24% Colombian voters, decided against the agreement, leaving the country in a state of uncertainty. Many areas which have historically been very affected by the conflict, including Chocó and Vaupés, voted for the agreement which had taken over four years to draft.
“Although the overriding expectation was that Colombians would say ‘YES’ to this agreement, unexpectedly, 50.24% Colombian voters, decided against the agreement, leaving the country in a state of uncertainty.”
The Peace Agreement
The agreement was to be a significant step towards peace, justice and reconciliation among communities and across the country. The six key aspects of the peace agreement included integral agrarian reform; wider political participation; a ceasefire by the FARC; a focus on solving the drug problem by transforming affected communities; a system of truth, justice, reconciliation, and no repetition. A dedication to the implementation and verification of the agreement, involving the international community, was also included.
“The agreement was to be a significant step towards peace, justice and reconciliation among communities and across the country.”
Hope against hope
There was a wealth of reasons behind the outcome of the plebiscite vote, underpinned by the complicated political backdrop of the country, distrust, ideological differences and the continued presence of other active armed groups including the ELN and other neo-paramilitary groups.
Regardless of these complexities, in the week following the vote, there was a sense of disappointment and, in some cases, fear about the future. CSW’s partners, who have dedicated 25 years to working towards peace for their country, were faced with uncertainty and frustration at the result.
“CSW’s partners, who have dedicated 25 years to working towards peace for their country, were faced with uncertainty and frustration at the result.”
Nevertheless, I was struck by their composure, tenacity and never-wavering dedication to the peace which they believe Colombia will still experience in the near future. They continued to encourage one another and those around them, which included sending a statement to contacts reiterating their commitment to lasting peace in Colombia.
Their resolve is inspiring – I returned home from Colombia carrying a picture of a small yellow butterfly as a souvenir and with a renewed understanding of the importance of hope; feeling that while there is still a compelling need for a peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC hope can and will enable those working towards peace to never give up.
By CSW’s Latin America Advocacy Officer
Click to read our new post on the peace process in Colombia – ‘The cost of backtracking: delays in Colombia’s peace process risk a return to violence’