President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize today for his efforts to reach a peace deal with the FARC guerrillas in Colombia, despite the fact that the agreement was rejected by a slim majority of voters last Sunday. The outcome of the plebiscite was definitely a stunner. No one saw it coming, not even the most enthusiastic opponent of the deal. But a closer inspection of the peace negotiations reveals that the writing was on the wall.
The main reason why nobody expected the NO campaign to win was the entirely one-sided coverage of the peace deal by the local media, something that was largely echoed by their international peers. For many years, the most important domestic outlets in Colombia have been under the government’s sway, downplaying the hardline adopted by the FARC during the negotiations and portraying the opponents of the deal as “far-right” or “enemies of peace.” There was little coverage of the real grievances that a significant number of Colombians had with the concessions given to the FARC and the low popularity of President Juan Manuel Santos.
On top of the biased media coverage, the government spent millions of dollars in publicity and in what Colombians commonly call “mermelada” (the outright use of public funds to get votes through pork and political patronage)—a practice that Santos is very fond of. Moreover, the YES campaign had the strong support of international actors, from the Cuban and the U.S. governments to the United Nations. Even Pope Francis promised to visit Colombia if the deal was backed by voters.
Despite all the odds, when faced with the biased question “Do you support the final accord to end the conflict and to construct a stable and lasting peace?” 50.24% of those who went to the polls said NO. Why?