Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his efforts to end a five-decades-long civil war that has killed more than 200,000 people in the South American country.
The award came just days after Colombian voters narrowly rejected the peace deal that Santos helped bring about, and Nobel authorities conspicuously left out his counterpart, Rodrigo Londono, the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, from the honor.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee said that voters’ rejection doesn’t mean the peace process is dead.
“The referendum was not a vote for or against peace,” it said. “What the ‘No’ side rejected was not the desire for peace, but a specific peace agreement.”
Santos and Londono, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, signed the peace deal last month, ending a half-century of hostilities, only to see a major setback in the shock vote against the agreement in a referendum six days later.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee said it believes that Santos, “despite the ‘No’ majority vote in the referendum, has brought the bloody conflict significantly closer to a peaceful solution.”
It said the award should also be seen “as a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace, and to all the parties who have contributed to the peaceprocess.”
The agreement was reached during more than five years of at first secret negotiations in Cuba.
Santos, 65, is an unlikely peacemaker. The Harvard-educated scion of one of Colombia’s wealthiest families, as defense minister a decade ago, he was responsible for some of the FARC’s biggest military setbacks. 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.
Under the peace deal he negotiated, rebels who turn over their weapons and confess to war crimes will be spared time in jail. FARC will also get 10 seats in congress through 2026 to smooth their transition into a political movement.
Santos and Londono met only twice during the entire peace process: last year when they put the final touches on the most-controversial section of the accord — the part dealing with how guerrillas would be punished for war crimes — and again last month to sign the accord before an audience of world leaders and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
It was the first time the peace prize went to Latin America since 1992, when the committee awarded Guatemalan human rights activist Rigoberta Menchu.
A record 376 candidates were nominated for this year’s award.
Last year’s peace prize went to Tunisia’s National Dialogue Quartet for its efforts to build a pluralistic democracy.