HAVANA – After 52 years of fighting and nearly four years of fierce negotiations, the Colombian government and the country’s rebel group FARC said on Wednesday they had reached an agreement to end the Americas’ oldest armed conflict.
“The war is over,” said Humberto de la Calle, the government’s main negotiator, after signing the agreement with his guerrilla counterparts.
Both sides made the announcement in Cuba, where negotiations began in 2012 and where Fidel Castro launched a communist revolution that inspired guerrilla insurgencies across the hemisphere. Colombia, a country of 50 million people and among the United States’ closest allies in Latin America, is the only place where the war has yet to end.
“We are done fighting with weapons and now we will fight with ideas,” said FARC chief negotiator IvÃ¡n MÃ¡rquez, a former congressman who took up arms after many other Colombian politicians. of the Left were assassinated by right-wing groups in the 1980s.
In their statements, the two negotiators described the deal as a roadmap for Colombia’s transformation, ending a sordid history of political violence and creating a more democratic society in a country long dominated by a wealthy elite.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos followed the announcement with a nationally televised address, summing up the main points of the deal for a Colombian audience that retains a great deal of skepticism and confusion about the deal. . “Today marks the beginning of the end of the suffering, pain and tragedy of war,” he said.
Although reaction to the deal has been muted in Colombia, images of some Colombians celebrating in the streets have started circulating on social media.
Over 220,000 Colombians have been killed in fighting over the past half century, and nearly 7 million have been driven from their homes. But there remains a major obstacle to the maintenance of the peace agreement.
Colombian voters must ratify the deal in a vote that Santos says will take place on October 2. This plebiscite promises to be a confrontation between Santos and his biggest political rival.
Santos will campaign for approval of the deal. His nemesis, former president Ãlvaro Uribe, is leading the campaign to thwart the deal. He and other critics say he is too sympathetic to the FARC leaders, whose guerrilla warfare tactics have included kidnappings, drug trafficking and murder. Opinion polls have yielded mixed results as to the likelihood that Colombians will approve the peace deal.
An element of the agreement made public for the first time Wednesday and likely to cause controversy governs the return of the FARC to representative politics. The FARC will be assigned a limited number of representatives to Congress as part of their transition to a political party. These representatives will function as spokespersons, without the right to vote, and will be involved exclusively in matters relating to the implementation of the peace agreement, Santos said. Rebel commanders will ultimately be allowed to run for political office as full representatives if they are cleared of war crimes and other criminal charges.
If approved at the ballot box, the peace deal would become law and the FARC would begin to demobilize their 7,000 combatants in designated camps and “protected areas” with United Nations observers. The rebel group – whose full name is Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – would have 180 days to completely disarm under the terms of the agreement.
“This is the last chapter of the cold war in the hemisphere,” said Bernard Aronson, the US envoy to the peace talks, in an interview before the announcement.
Aronson said he expected the Colombian government to release a final treaty text within days. FARC commanders plan to return to their isolated camps in the mountains and jungles of Colombia, where they will hold a FARC “congress” to build support for the deal among grassroots rebels and prepare for disarmament and disarmament. demobilization.
Wednesday’s announcement follows days of marathon negotiations between the government team and guerrilla commanders. A final sticking point was the timing of a general amnesty that will be offered to lower-ranking guerrillas who only face charges of “rebellion”, unlike higher-ranking FARC members accused of committing crimes. more serious crimes.
Under the agreement, the most senior members of the FARC will be able to avoid prison if they fully disclose their role in the war and make reparations as part of a process of truth and reconciliation.
One area of ââconcern for FARC commanders has been the timing of their fighters moving from their mountain redoubts to UN camps. The commanders were reluctant to take this step before the end of the plebiscite, fearing that if this failed, the rebels would be stranded in the camps and partly disarmed, even if the fighting could resume. Neither side said on Wednesday when the guerrillas would begin their demobilization.
Santos did not travel to Havana for Wednesday’s ceremony, which did not take place with the same fanfare as a ceasefire announcement in June in the presence of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki -moon and leaders of several countries.
Santos acknowledged that peace with the FARC would end Colombia’s longest war, but not all of its armed conflicts.
His government has struggled to move talks forward with a smaller guerrilla group known as the National Liberation Army, or ELN, which will seek to increase its estimated strength to 1,500 fighters with disgruntled FARC soldiers who reject a transition to peaceful civilian life.
Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota, Colombia contributed to this report.
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