Colombia's proof that democracy doesn't work

It’s a sad country,” says a girl with long copper-colored hair and a dazed look as she puts her phone away while holding back tears. “Sad, indeed,” answers a close-to-elderly man. And around them, in this Colombian plaza, in Medellín, many could say the same. There are moments when citizens come across something that they don’t recognize, and then that something turns out to be their country. That discovery, the horror of that discovery — that’s the feeling so many Colombians had last Sunday night.

The plebiscite on the peace agreement had just concluded; among 13 million voters, No had prevailed by almost 54,000 votes, 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent. Four years of negotiations between the government and the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, were going up in smoke. Bewilderment was taking over.

Seven days earlier, in contrast, everything was rejoicing and pomp, with nearly all the major polls predicting a big victory for the agreement. Someday, someone will speak about it as the greatest historical event that never took place: In Cartagena, peace with a capital P was being celebrated with a wealth of speeches, doves, the presence of kings, bishops, children, presidents. Decked out in white, everyone celebrated the signing of an agreement that will never come to pass.