MIAMI — Colombians went to the polls Sunday to decide whether to accept a peace deal to end the longest-running armed conflict in the Western Hemisphere.
The accord, the result of four years of negotiations held mostly in Havana, was signed last week by leaders of the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the coastal city of Cartagena. Ever since, Colombians on both sides have lobbied hard, with government and FARC officials campaigning around the country and opponents of the deal pleading with Colombians to hold out for a better deal.
Polling has been scattered in recent months, but the latest polls show that the peace deal will end up being ratified in the national referendum.
If the deal is accepted by Colombians, it would end a 52-year war that has left more than 220,000 dead and displaced 6.7 million. Supporters say the end of that bloody struggle is paramount and all those questioning the deal are nitpicking over details when they should be celebrating.
One of those is Maria de Silva, a Bogota native who drove over three hours to vote at the Colombian consulate in Miami on Sunday. De Silva has every right to reject the deal, since the FARC killed her cousin and threatened her father so much that the family fled to Florida 16 years ago.
After casting her vote to approve the deal on Sunday, de Silva said she could move past those horrible memories as long as her country was at peace.
"The deal is not perfect. It's not what we all want," she said. "But this is better than remaining at war. The way I see it, there's no alternative to that."
Alberto Cordoba says the alternative is clear — a peace deal that doesn't let the FARC guerrillas off the hook. Under the terms of the 297-page peace accord, most FARC rebels will not be required to serve prison time, instead facing probationary sentences that require they work in social programs, such as de-mining the battlefields where the two sides often fought.
Cordoba, whose family fled the violence in their native Cali 16 years ago, listed a series of problems with the accord. He complained that the deal doesn't require that the FARC return the children it recruited over the years, that it provides the rebels with pensions higher than the minimum wage in Colombia and doesn't guarantee that the rebels won't join other rebel groups or narco-trafficking organizations.
"There's not a single positive aspect of this deal," he said Sunday while holding a sign that read "No" outside the Colombian consulate in Coral Gables. "It's not a real peace."
Polls were expected to close at 5 p.m. ET on Sunday.
Follow Alan Gomez on Twitter: @alangomez