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BIG DEAL

Soccer has always made history in Latin America. So, it would not be too far-fetched to deduce that Columbia’s win against Greece in the World Cup match a day before the country’s presidential elections also had its desired effect. If nothing, it definitely lifted the mood of a country that has been battling a serious dilemma over whether to back a president who has made a peace deal with leftist insurgents his leitmotif or to kill the deal by siding with his opponent. Even if this dilemma was apparent when Columbia went to polls on May 25, by the time of the run-off on June 15, the nation seemed to have made up its mind. Juan Manuel Santos has won with a clear majority of 53 per cent while his rival, Óscar Iván Zuluaga, trailed with a 47 per cent vote share. Mr Santos has interpreted his win as a mandate to go ahead with the peace negotiations which started in 2012 with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC. The terms of the deal have been all too generous for the insurgents, who have been promised that they would not have to serve prison term and could also seek political office. The offer still does not sit well with a considerable section of Columbia’s population, which supports Mr Zuluaga and his mentor and former president, Alvaro Uribe. In their opinion, FARC should first lay down arms and then negotiate their prison term for the atrocities the nation has had to put up with for more than half a century. Mr Santos has his own arguments about how best to deprive insurgent groups the chance of adding to their numbers and increasing their war chest. He has already negotiated successfully with them on the issues of land reform and their withdrawal from drug trafficking and is confident that the outstanding issues — compensation of victims, weapons surrender and ratification of the deal — will also be resolved.

For now, he has the nation’s support, as evident from his victory. The pressure may start building up from next year, when Mr Uribe is expected to enter the senate and the euphoria of an election victory disappears. Even the feel-good associated with a World Cup win, if there is one, may then not be enough to cushion Mr Santos, who has to show that the nation has not lost out to the insurgents.