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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Guest Opinion: Connections between Brexit, the Colombian peace process and the US presidential election


This year, three important governmental elections have taken place around the world — in Great Britain, Colombia and the United States of America.

There are multiple connections among these events as well as important lessons to be shared and understood from them.

One of the common themes is not only each decision’s transcendental character for the future of the respective countries, but also the role that hate has been playing in the voters’ motivations.

Britain’s citizens had to decide between remaining a part of the European Union (EU) or leaving the EU in order to be able to close its borders and prevent the arrival of immigrants and refugees, and also, apparently, to improve its economic conditions.

Recently, the nation of Colombia had to vote on whether or not to end a 50-plus-year armed conflict by implementing an agreement between the government and the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

FARC is one of the major producers and exporters of illegal drugs such as cocaine in the world — one of the reasons why the U.S. government has, for decades, invested billions of dollars in order to defeat them through a program called Plan Colombia. As a result of the peace agreement, FARC agreed to put down their weapons and give up committing crimes in exchange for reduced punishment and political participation.

The other option for the Colombian people was to vote no and stay at war until one, the agreement could be renegotiated to toughen its terms against FARC, or two, the state could defeat them through armed action (which has not been possible in a half-century of conflict).

Critics of the peace process oppose it because of the abominable crimes committed by FARC that are unforgivable for some, but not necessarily the direct victims, whose own suffering has made them more amenable to a compromise.

Similarly, with election day around the corner, the American people must choose a presidential candidate to lead their country for the next four or possibly eight years.

One candidate, Donald Trump, has proposed public policies based on, among other things, the enforcement of border control, police action against the African American community and the Black Lives Matter movement, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and tax breaks and loopholes for wealthy and big corporations.

In contrast, Hillary Clinton advocates for better relationships between police and communities through education and understanding, government support of universal healthcare for people who cannot afford it and a fair tax policy that does not cater to corporations and the nation’s wealthiest individuals.  

Another commonality between these three elections is the deep divisions they have created in their respective societies, which has caused animosity to rise even among families and friends. The decision was already made in the case of Great Britain, and the results were a polarizing picture: 51.9 percent voted for leaving the EU over the 48.1 percent that voted to remain.

Colombia, which earlier this month made their decision, voted no, by a 50.22 percent margin rejecting the final agreement to end the armed conflict with FARC, over the 49.77 percent that voted in favor of it.  

Unlike Britain and Colombia, the United States has not yet had its election. The polls have predicted a nail-biter.

Despite Clinton taking a bit of a lead in recent weeks, if we look back to the end of July, the gap was less than one point. The margins in the Brexit (as Britain’s exit from the EU was named) vote, the Colombian peace process vote and the U.S. Presidential race are slim. And with the decisions that have been made, and will be made, it could be said that almost half of respective voters feel or will feel that they have not been heard or validated, which presents a potential legitimacy problem that could significantly affect the stability of these nations now as well as in the future.    

In terms of shared experiences and lessons learned, Brexit appears irreversible despite some of its supporters being confident they can renegotiate a deal with the EU that favors Great Britain.

On the contrary, in Colombia, despite the election’s results, there is still an opportunity to renegotiate the agreement already signed and achieve some form of peace. Although the result is uncertain, the truth is that both political forces (no and yes supporters) have attenuated their differences and considered other creative options that include ideas from both sides of the debate.

In the end, if a renegotiation was to be achieved, the peace process would gain more legitimacy from the people. And if there was more consensus among the people, implementation of a final peace plan would be significantly easier.

In the case of the United States, no matter what the results of the election are, the winning candidate should take into account the claims of people who did not support them, precisely as a way to not dig deeply into the feelings of hate that have seemed to run through both candidates’ campaigns.

Still, this would only seem possible if the winner is Hillary Clinton, who is conciliatory and has not resorted to Donald Trump’s xenophobia and hate.

Natalia Arbeláez Jaramillo is a Colombian lawyer and a former technical advisor in the Congress of the Republic of Colombia. She is currently taking an Intensive English Program at UC Davis.  


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