Colombia's president wins Nobel Prize despite failed peace deal

President Juan Manuel Santos has spent the last four years on a deal with FARC guerrillas that would bring peace to a country that has experienced civil war for five decades.
October 7, 2016, 12:35pm
Juan Manuel Santos y el líder de las FARC, Rodrigo Londoño "Timochenko" en Cartagena, Colombia, Sept. 26, 2016. (Imagen por John Vizcaino/Reuters)

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was having a hell of a week, and then the Nobel Committee called. In a surprise announcement, Santos has been awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

The embattled president of Colombia may be more surprised than anyone. Still reeling from a shocking referendum result Sunday that left his peace deal with the country's largest rebel group on life support, Santos has had little to celebrate.


In fact, he reportedly was sleeping when the Nobel Committee tried delivering the news, with one journalist tweeting:

Ha! NRK TV has tried to contact — Elise Aasen (@TheEliselise)October 7, 2016

Announcing the result, Nobel Committee chair Kaci Kullmann Five explained that the award was presented as "an acknowledgement of the very hard work and the very important initiative that President Santos has made… and it is a strong encouragement, we hope, for all parties in these negotiating processes to do their utmost to reach a good result acceptable to the people."

President Santos has spent the past four years on a deal with FARC guerrillas that would bring peace to a country gripped by civil war for five decades. The deal was ratified at a ceremony with global leaders in Cartagena, Colombia, in September only to be rejected narrowly by voters in a referendum on Sunday, in part due to a campaign spearheaded by former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Velez.

Over 200,000 people have been killed in the violence, and nearly 7 million have been displaced. The deal was celebrated across the world -- United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon attended the historic signing of the peace agreement and addressed the crowd, saying that the country was "bidding farewell to decades of flames and sending up a bright flare of hope that illuminates the world."

But while his efforts have been lauded internationally, President Santos has not enjoyed huge support in his own country, and his approval ratings have shrunk in recent months.


Previous attempts to broker peace have failed over the years, but the most recent negotiations with FARC leaders in Cuba led to the countrywide referendum on a new deal. Under this agreement, FARC members would have disarmed and become a purely political movement. But critics of the deal, led by ex-president Uribe, worried the accord would allow criminals to enter civil society without due punishment. In the end, and with a 22-year low voter turnout, Colombians voted "no" to the proposed deal, with a narrow majority of 50.2 percent.

Despite this setback, President Santos vowed to continue peace talks in Havana, and negotiators have already returned to Cuba. The Nobel Peace Prize will be seen as a sign of encouragement as the two sides return to the table, but discussions have long been tense, and it's not yet clear that FARC is willing to make further concessions. President Santos will also have to contend with dogged opposition from his foe Uribe. There are signs that the tide may be turning in the president's favor, however, and the Nobel Prize may add to that momentum.

Upon hearing of his win, President Santos said: "I receive this with great emotion, and this is something that will forever be important for my country and for the people who have suffered for this war, especially the victims. I am eternally grateful."

Santos gave an early-morning message from the presidential residence in Bogota in which he said his son had delivered him the historic news.

"This is for the victims, and so that there is not one single more victim, not one single death more," he said."This is to help us reconcile and join together to finish off this process and to start to construct and stable and lasting peace."

Even Uribe tweeted his congratulations, not surprisingly barbed:

"I congratulate President Santos for the Nobel. I hope that this leads to changes to accords that are damaging for democracy."