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Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end Latin America’s longest-running armed conflict, an honor that came just five days after voters dealt him a stunning blow by rejecting a peace deal with leftist rebels.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised Santos for his “resolute” attempts to stop a civil war that has killed more than 200,000 Colombians and displaced millions since the 1960s. But in a departure from its tradition of honoring both sides of a peace process, the five-member committee conspicuously left out Santos’ counterpart, rebel leader Rodrigo Londono, from the honor.
Santos, 65, dedicated the prize to his fellow Colombians, especially victims of the bloody conflict, and said it redoubles his commitment to ending hostilities, something he said he would work toward for the rest of his life.
“I invite everyone to bring together our strength, our minds and our hearts in this great national endeavor so that we can win the most important prize of all: peace in Colombia,” Santos said alongside his wife in his first public appearance since winning the Nobel.
Santos and Londono — leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, better known by its Spanish acronym FARC — signed a peace deal earlier this fall to end the conflict after more than four years of negotiations in Cuba.
But voters rejected the deal by the narrowest of margins — less than half a percentage point — over concerns that the rebels, who are widely loathed by Colombians for committing scores of atrocities, were getting a sweetheart deal.
Under the accord, rebels who turn over their weapons and confess their crimes would be spared jail, and the group would be reserved seats in congress to help smooth its transition to a political movement.
“The referendum was not a vote for or against peace,” the Nobel committee said, insisting the peace process wasn’t dead. “What the ‘No’ side rejected was not the desire for peace, but a specific peace agreement.”
Santos, the Harvard-educated scion of one of Colombia’s wealthiest families, is an unlikely peacemaker. As defense minister a decade ago, he was responsible for some of the biggest military setbacks for the rebels. Those included a 2008 cross-border raid into Ecuador that took out a top rebel commander and the stealth rescue of three Americans held captive by the rebels for more than five years.
Nobel committee secretary Olav Njoelstad said there was “broad consensus” on picking Santos as this year’s laureate — the first time the peace prize has gone to Latin America since 1992, when Guatemalan indigenous rights activist Rigoberta Menchu won. It is Colombia’s second Nobel honor after beloved novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez won the prize for literature in 1982.