A Racial Analysis of Colombia’s ‘Peace Process’ Plebiscite

Authors: Christopher Courtheyn*, Universidad del Rosario
Topics: Political Geography, Ethnicity and Race, Latin America
Keywords: race, ethnicity, peace, Colombia, Latin America
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Napoleon D2, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In September 2016, the Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) arrived at a peace agreement to end over fifty years of armed confrontation. However, in the subsequent national plebiscite in October 2016, a slim majority rejected the accord. A dramatic shift from pre-election polls predicting a two-to-one victory for the ‘Sí’ vote, the shocking ‘No’ victory can be explained as the result of various factors. These include critiques of the transitional justice program, representative quotas and subsidies for demobilized guerrillas, and the accord’s affirmations of women and LGBTI rights, in addition to the influence of the far-right ‘No’ campaign reiterated by the mass media, favoring military annihilation rather than granting guerrillas concessions in return for laying down arms. However, the racial dynamics of the plebiscite vote have yet to be analyzed. While some analysts pointed to urban-rural divides shaping the vote, this paper argues that a much stronger correlation exists with race and ethnicity. Racialized Indigenous and African descendant populations overwhelmingly voted in favor of the accord, yet ‘paisa’ (the ‘most European’ Colombians) regions’ majority ‘No’ votes proved definitive. While the government and FARC subsequently agreed to a re-negotiated agreement (integrating demands of the ‘No’ movement), such racial divisions will nonetheless shape post-accord implementation and conflict. Through a racial analysis of Colombia’s peace plebiscite, this paper speaks to growing scholarship on the role of race and space in Colombia’s socioeconomic and political war.

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