The Colombian government has struck a groundbreaking peace deal with left-wing Farc rebels, promising to end a war that has ravaged the country for more than half a century, killing tens of thousands and displacing millions. of people.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced on Wednesday that a national plebiscite would be held on October 2 for voters to accept or reject the deal.
âThe war is over,â said Humberto de la Calle, the government’s chief negotiator, after the agreement was signed in Havana, where talks have been taking place since November 2012. âIt’s time to give the government a chance. peace.
IvÃ¡n MÃ¡rquez, the main negotiator of the Farc, said: âWe have won the best of all battles: [the battle] peace for Colombia. The battle with arms ends and the battle of ideas begins.
With this agreement, the Farc – the oldest guerrilla group in Latin America, which took up arms against the state in 1964 under the banner of social justice – renounces its armed struggle and begins its transformation into a political party. legal.
“Today marks the beginning of the end of the suffering, pain and tragedy of war,” President Santos said in a speech to the nation after the announcement in Havana.
Colombians gathered in a central Bogota plaza to watch the announcement live on the big screen. They burst into joy when they saw Marquez and De la Calle sign the agreement. “This is a historic moment and I wanted to share it with other people,” said AndrÃ©s GarcÃa, from Bogota.
The comprehensive accord addresses both the root causes of the conflict and its most damaging consequences, while setting a timetable for the 7,000 Farc fighters to lay down their arms and return to Colombian society.
âIt’s the best deal possible,â De la Calle said. “We probably would have all wanted something more, but the deal is the best deal possible.”
Now, Colombians will have to decide whether to accept or reject the deal in a plebiscite that polls say could be a close race.
“Everyone wants peace, but not everyone is sure that this peace deal is the right peace deal,” said Peter Schechter, of the Latin America Center of the American think tank Atlantic Council.
Under the agreement, the government is committed to implementing development programs and tackling glaring inequalities in the country’s long neglected rural sector. It is also committed to expanding opportunities for political participation to smaller political movements, including the party that a demobilized Farc can create.
The Farc are committed to helping dismantle and deter the drug cultivation and trafficking trade that has helped financially support his war over the past three decades.
The agreement also provides for reparations for victims and establishes a transitional justice system for crimes committed during the conflict. Members of the Farc who have committed or ordered atrocities but who confess their crimes will avoid serving their sentence in prison, instead carrying out âcommunity serviceâ projects and acts of reparation.
This point is at the heart of the controversy surrounding the chords.
Alvaro Uribe, a former president whose 2002-2010 government unleashed an all-out war against the FARCs, is leading the campaign to reject the deals, claiming that the deal reached by the negotiators amounts to handing over the country to the rebels.
“It took them four years to give everything to the Farc,” said Ernesto Macias, senator for the Centro DemocrÃ¡tico party in Uribe. “They could have done it in a day.”
Critics say the deal should be renegotiated to include prison terms for crimes against humanity and a ban on those convicted of such crimes from holding public office. Many Colombians are suspicious of the Farc who have won public hatred through decades of abuses, including kidnappings, indiscriminate mortar attacks on villages and towns, and the forced displacement of thousands of people.
Many Colombians also doubt the government’s ability to deliver on its pledges to invest in the social projects and infrastructure needed to support the peace agreement.
“There are a lot of people who are skeptical or against the agreements because they don’t trust the Farc and they don’t trust the government either, and they have good reasons for that”, explains Kristian Herbolzheimer, expert in conflict resolution at Conciliation Resources. who consulted the negotiators of the Colombian peace process.
A well-known skeptic is Sigifredo LÃ³pez, who spent seven years as a Farc hostage in rebel camps after a guerrilla commando kidnapped him and 11 fellow regional lawmakers in Cali in 2002. In 2007, all of his colleagues reported. were killed in a confusing incident that the Farc believed to be a rescue attempt. LÃ³pez was the only survivor and after his release was falsely accused of orchestrating the kidnapping. He was then cleared of all charges.
Although he believes the Colombian government has given in too much to the Farc, LÃ³pez is convinced that the Colombians must approve the peace agreement. “I would love to see them in prison, but it is an act of responsibility to future generations to see this deal come to pass,” he said in a recent interview at his offices in downtown Cali.
Herbolzheimer, the mediator, said that while negotiating the deal was difficult, implementing it could prove to be an even more difficult task. âThe main challenge in any peace process is to turn words into action,â he said.
Potential spoilers abound. Colombia’s smallest guerrilla group, the ELN, said it was keen to negotiate a peace deal as well, but showed no signs of being serious about it, continuing to kidnap civilians and attack infrastructure. . Renegade members of the Farc could find refuge within the ranks of the smaller guerrilla group.
Organized criminal groups born out of demobilized right-wing militias also pose a threat to peacebuilding.
But in a world ravaged by conflict, Colombia has become a sign of hope, Herbolzheimer said. “It shows that, however complex a conflict, if there is political will, there is a political solution.”