The news on Friday that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end his nation’s – and Latin America’s longest running – civil conflict was met with mixed reactions by Colombians living in the U.S.
Some praised Santos for his peace efforts while others accused him of advocating immunity for guerrilla fighters.
The honor bestowed on Santos came less than a week after Colombians narrowly rejected the historic peace deal that the Colombian leader and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel leader Rodrigo Londoño, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, signed last month after more than four years of negotiations in Cuba.
While the peace deal failed to win the vote of the majority of the Colombian public, supporters of Santos say the Nobel Peace Prize is both well deserved and a sign that the global community is in favor of some form of agreement between the Colombian government and FARC.
“Winning the Nobel Peace Prize is a sign of support from the international community for the work that President Santos has done,” Maria Isabel Nieto, Colombia’s general consul in New York City told Fox News Latino. “Hopefully it will help Colombians who voted against the measure to realize that the negotiations need to continue and change their attitude toward the process.”
The signing of the peace accord by Santos and Londoño was met with praise by many world leaders including Pope Francis, former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry — the latter two attended the signing in Havana.
Of the 50.21 percent of Colombians who voted against the peace deal in Sunday’s referendum, many have expressed anger of the perceived amnesty being granted to FARC guerrillas under the terms agreed upon in Havana.
Under the accord, rebels who lay down their weapons and confess their abuses would have been spared jail time and be allowed to provide reparations to their victims by carrying out development work in areas hard hit by the conflict.
That clause angered some victims and many conservative opponents of Santos, including former President Alvaro Uribe, who said the peace deal puts Colombia on the path to becoming a leftist dictatorship in the mold of Cuba or Venezuela — two countries that along with Norway played a vital role sponsoring the four-year-long talks.
Uribe, whom Santos served under as defense minister, has been one of the most vocal opponents of the peace proposal peace and relations between the two have soured dramatically – and quite publicly – since Santos took office in 2010.
The two, however, did meet earlier this week and announced that they agreed to form a commission that will begin meeting next week to evaluate ways to improve the accord.
The news seemed to do little to quell the anger that many Colombians feel toward the terms of the peace deal as many still feel like the FARC are being left off easy for their role in a conflict that killed more than 200,000 people and internally displaced some 5 million since the conflict began in the 1960s.
And this animosity has spilled over to Santos being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
“It’s pretty farcical in my opinion that they are going to give a peace prize to someone who wants to grant amnesty to terrorists,” Jose Nino, who is of Colombian descent, told FNL. “The Colombian government should instead continue its military campaign against the most dangerous elements of the FARC.”
Both the peace deal and Santos’ Nobel Peace Prize may be controversial both in Colombia and among the Colombian diaspora, but many seem to agree that both have given the country a much-welcome public relations boost around the globe.
“Our country has been stigmatized for so long and these things put us on a different level,” Nieto said. “The Nobel Peace Prize puts Colombia in the headlines for something good and not for something like drug trafficking or the war.”
“Having the word peace next to the word Colombia in a newspaper headline is like a dream come true,” she said.