Juan Manuel Santos is the current president of Colombia, its former minister of defense, and this year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The committee made the decision based on his recent efforts to negotiate peace with the FARC, thus ending the guerrilla conflict that has raged in his country for decades. FARC, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, is the country’s largest rebel faction, originating in the mid-1960s. Forming as a party of armed communists, FARC was mainly composed of farmers and laborers who subscribed to a Marxist-Leninist ideology. At their peak in 2002, the group had an active base of 20,000 fighters. Now, that number is down to an estimated 6,000. FARC targets the country’s security forces, ambushing patrols and attacking assaulting police stations and military posts. It should go without saying that these attacks, along with landmines laid by the faction, have been the cause of countless civilian deaths in Colombia.
The peace deal negotiated over the course of four years between President Santos and FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez was rejected by Colombian voters, 50.2% of whom voted “no.” These opponents were led by none other than Santos’ predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, who has long played the hawk to Santos’ increasingly dovish nature. The deal, in its opponent’s minds, was quite literally letting FARC get away with murder by shortening the sentences its leaders would face and granting amnesty to the majority of its members. This deal, in their minds, did not provide justice to victims of the FARC’s violent actions.
The failure of the peace treaty preceded President Santos’ winning the Nobel Peace Prize, which begs the question: just what does the Peace Prize mean? Is it meant to recognize achievement, or is one of the most prestigious awards in the world often give out as an “A for effort”? I’d argue the latter, and the fact that an award recognizes hopes as much as achievement does not make it any less prestigious.
Some would argue that the peace prize is gradually losing its meaning, others are more inclined to see it as part of the global effort to preserve peace. While I’ll readily defend President Obama’s winning the prize for his anti-nuclear negotiations with Iran, the absence of Mahatma Gandhi’s name from the prize’s winners does seem odd, to say the least. Like any organization, the Nobel committee has a history of corruption and favoritism, but this history has little bearing on more recent events.
Thorbjorn Jagland, the former chairman of the Nobel Committee, has admitted that recently the award has begun to serve the role of “encouragement.” “Our mandate is to reward those who have done the most for peace over the past year,” he elaborated. “But when there is a dearth of actual peace, we have to award those are trying.” And President Manuel Santos is certainly trying. He recently extended the ceasefire between FARC and the Colombian government. FARC has also promised to promote their ideologies through word and peaceful action alone, apologizing for their violent ways. It’s doubtful this peace will continue without an official deal, but President Santos holds out hope for Colombia, saying, “I hear those that said ‘no’ and those that said ‘yes’ and we all want peace…I will not give up, I will continue to fight for peace.” It is this fight that won him the peace prize, not its success or failure.
As the peace prize currently exists, it is sometimes a symbol to live up to and other times a nudge of encouragement to world leaders. Its purpose is to promote peace, not necessarily reward it. As Mahatma Gandhi, five-time nominee but never once the winner of the Peace Prize, would say, “Peace is its own reward.”