Post by: Chief News Editor | Published: September 29, 2016 , 12:02 am | Category: WORLD
MIAMI, U.S.A.-Nearly 1 million Colombians living in the United States may hold the decisive votes Sunday on whether their native country approves a peace deal to end the Western Hemisphere’s longest-running guerrilla war.
Colombia’s national referendum will ratify or reject a peace accord signed Monday by the government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to end a 52-year battle that has left more than 220,000 Colombians dead and displaced 6.7 million.
Polls show alternating leads for the “yes” and “no” campaigns, meaning the votes cast by Colombians in San Francisco, Houston, Miami and other U.S. cities in 20 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., could determine the outcome.
That has led to intense campaigning in Colombian communities throughout the U.S., especially in Florida where about a third of Colombians in the United States live.
“Conversations within families have become difficult. Conversations with friends have become difficult,” Frank Pearl, a Colombian government official who helped negotiate the peace deal, told a Miami crowd at a Colombian fair Saturday.
“It’s during these times that we need to reflect and have these conversations with the people we trust the most.” he said. “Because this peace is not an issue of a government or a politician — this is an issue for us, the people of Colombia.”
Pearl carefully explained the 297-page peace deal, the result of four years of negotiations conducted mostly in Cuba. He outlined the decade-long process of disarming the rebels, reintegrating them into society, compensating the victims of violence and punishing guerrillas who committed serious crimes.
Many in attendance were supportive, hailing the deal as the best chance to save a country ravaged by constant fighting. Maurice Armitage, the mayor of Cali, Colombia, said he understands very well the atrocities committed by the FARC. He estimated that 189,000 people in his city of 2.6 million have been victims of the guerrillas. Armitage himself was twice kidnapped and forced to pay a ransom for his release.
Rather than spend several more decades trying to hunt down the rebels for retribution, he said it’s time for everyone to lay down their arms and get past this bloody chapter in Colombia’s history.
“Colombians are very strange,” he said. “How can it be possible that we have an opportunity to end this conflict, and we’re all asking whether we should?”
Carlos Alberto Acosta has a simple answer: He opposes the deal because he doubts the FARC rebels will ever be made to account for their crimes. He vividly remembers the day in 2010 he was asked to identify the body of his brother-in-law, who had been tied up and shot in the back of the head by the FARC rebels because of his political work.
Acosta, 52, who now lives in West Palm Beach with his family, still has the death threats he received in manila envelopes in 2012 from the FARC rebels who labeled him a military target for letting his brother-in-law’s family move into his house in Medellín. Acosta remembers the phone calls from guerrillas listing all the places he visited that day, the clothes he was wearing, the car he drove.
And he still bears a scar from the beating he took in 2013 that finally prompted him to leave, selling everything he could and fleeing to the U.S., where he’s applying for political asylum.
Colombian officials have promised that the guerrillas will pay for their crimes. If they confess, they will face five to eight years of confinement while working on public service projects. If they refuse to testify, they can face up to 20 years imprisonment.
Acosta and others consider those sentences too light and doubt that even those minimal punishments will be handed down.
“If you see that there’s no justice, no restitution to victims, no real punishment for the guerrillas, how are we going to find peace?” Acosta said. “This is a farce.”
NEWS COLLECTED FROM USA TODAY.