October 3, 2016 at 12:43 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Colombians reject peace deal between government, FARC

Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia, gay news, Washington Blade

Colombian voters on Oct. 2, 2016, narrowly rejected a peace agreement between Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos‘ government and the FARC. (Photo by Antonio Cruz of Abr; courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Colombians on Sunday narrowly rejected a peace deal that seeks to end Latin America’s longest-running war.

Voters rejected the agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia by a 50.2-49.7 percent margin.

The referendum took place six days after President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC Commander Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño signed the historic agreement during a ceremony in the city of Cartagena that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attended.

More than 200,000 people have died in the conflict that began in 1962.

Representatives of Colombia Diversa and Caribe Afirmativo — two LGBT advocacy groups — took part in the peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC that began in Havana in 2012.

Santos, who has sought an end to the decades-long conflict since his 2010 election, said in a televised address that he accepts the referendum results. Media reports indicate his government’s negotiators will travel to Havana on Monday to meet with FARC leaders who were there awaiting the results.

“I will continue seeking peace until the last minute of my mandate,” said Santos. “This is the path towards leaving a better country to our children.”

Former President Álvaro Uribe and others sharply criticized the deal because it would allow FARC members who admit their crimes during the conflict to not serve any prison time.

“We want to contribute to a great national pact,” said Uribe in a statement on the referendum results. “It is fundamental to us that risks to our values — freedom, institutional justice, pluralism, confidence in private enterprise accompanied with universal and quality education as the base of social policy — are not made in the name of peace.”

State Department spokesperson John Kirby said in a statement the U.S. continues to support the peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC.

“Colombia can count on the continued support of the United States as it continues to seek democratic peace and prosperity for all Colombians,” said Kirby. “We support President Santos’ proposal for unity of effort in support of a broad dialogue as the next step towards achieving a just and lasting peace.”

LGBT groups participated in peace talks

The peace deal that was formalized in August in Havana specifically acknowledges the conflict’s LGBT victims. It notes the “fundamental rights” of LGBT Colombians and other vulnerable groups and calls for the creation of a “democratic culture and participation” in the country.

Colombia Diversa, Caribe Afirmativo and more than 100 LGBT advocacy groups launched a campaign that urged Colombians to vote for the peace deal.

“The peace agreement will allow for the construction of a more inclusive Colombia,” wrote Caribe Afirmativo Director Wilson Castañeda last week in an op-ed for the Washington Blade.

Castañeda described the referendum results to the Blade as a “very painful historical moment.”

“We are very surprised,” he said from the city of Barranquilla.

Laura Weinstein, a transgender rights advocate in the Colombian capital of Bogotá, expressed a similar sentiment.

“People are very sad,” she told the Blade on Sunday.

Hunter T. Carter of the New York City Bar Association, who lives part-time in Medellín with his Colombian husband, described the referendum results as “awkward.”

Religious and conservative groups reportedly pressured Santos’ government to abandon efforts to extend adoption rights to gays and lesbians in exchange for their support of the deal.

Castañeda told the Blade that Uribe and Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez, who has challenged efforts to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the country, urged Colombians to oppose the peace agreement because it “put the stability of the family at risk.” Carter noted on his twitter page that Uribe and Ordóñez “decried” the 140 LGBT-specific references in the deal.

“We reiterate our respect for liberty, the privacy of every citizen and reiterate the need to stimulate family values without putting them at risk,” said Uribe in his statement on the referendum results.

A State Department official told the Blade on Monday said the U.S. “strongly support Colombia’s efforts to reach a just and lasting peace.”

“We welcome Colombia’s efforts to involve traditionally marginalized communities in the peace process,” added the official.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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