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Colombia Returns To Drawing Board After Peace Deal Failure


We're going to go to Columbia now where people are still getting their heads around last weekend's vote. This was the rejection of a peace deal to end more than 50 years of war with Marxist rebels, the FARC guerrillas. John Otis reports it was a miscalculation by the government, one that could mean a resumption of fighting.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: Until Sunday's vote, Colombians seemed caught up in the euphoria of peace.


OTIS: Before an ecstatic crowd last week, President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londono signed an agreement to stop the war. Until then it seemed like the conflict, which has killed 220,000 people, would never end. Three previous rounds of negotiations with the FARC had failed. So there was talk of making the day of the signing ceremony, September 26, a national holiday. Some experts considered Santos a shoo-in for this year's Nobel Peace Prize.


RINGO STARR: (Singing) Let's all come together on this day of peace.

OTIS: Even former Beatle Ringo Starr weighed in with a song about a peaceful new Colombia. It was all premature. In Sunday's referendum, Colombian voters rejected the deal by a razor-thin margin. Now a shell-shocked government is trying to prevent Colombia from sliding back into war.

ALFONSO CUELLAR: It is incredibly awkward. People do not understand how we could have done this.

OTIS: That Alfonso Cuellar, a columnist for the Bogota news magazine Semana. He says President Santos wrongly believed that the good vibes from the signing of the peace treaty would translate into votes on Sunday.

CUELLAR: Even before the ceremony, he went to the United Nations and handed over the signed peace agreement to the U.N. And he got caught up a little bit by the support in the international community. And in Colombia, he kind of forgot that there are people that - that there are legitimate concerns.

OTIS: Indeed, many Colombians thought the peace agreement was too lenient on the rebels. For example, it would have allowed guerrillas accused of war crimes to avoid prison. Critics are calling on the government to renegotiate, but that could take months or years. It's also unclear how long a bilateral cease-fire can hold.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Spanish).

OTIS: On Wednesday, university students poured into the streets of Bogota. They chanted slogans, urging their political leaders to salvage the peace accord. Margarita Martinez is a Colombian filmmaker.

MARGARITA MARTINEZ: What a weird place we live in. You know, you have a 52-year war. You have had four attempts to end it. And people say, you know what - maybe not.

OTIS: Martinez has spent the past two and a half years shooting a documentary about the peace negotiations which took place in Havana, Cuba. Sunday's vote was supposed to provide the triumphant finale.

OTIS: It was going to be a beautiful ending, and this now is the most uncertain ending that I could have ever imagined.

OTIS: She feels a precious opportunity for peace is slipping away. For NPR News, I'm John Otis in Bogota, Colombia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.