August 24 2016
The final text of a peace agreement will now be put to a popular vote.
Ivan Marquez and Humberto de la Calle shake hands while Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez looks on, after signing a final peace deal in Havana, Cuba | Photo: Reuters
The final text of a peace agreement will now be put to a popular vote.
In a landmark moment in Colombia’s history, the peace delegations of the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the country’s left-wing FARC rebels gathered Wednesday evening to announce the end of negotiations and the imminent signing of a final peace accord in Havana, Cuba, after nearly four years of negotiations between the two sides of the conflict.
Cuban President Raul Castro oversees the handshake between Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (L) and FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez (R), Sept 2015. Photo Archive
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The opportunity of a new path
The two sides of the negotiating table have spent the last several days reviewing the final text, which will be put to a popular vote before it can be put into effect.
“The war is over,” said government’s representative Humberto de la Calle. However, “We should not just celebrate the silence of the guns, but the opportunity of a new path.”
“I am certain now that this is the best agreement possible,” he continued. “But the Colombians will judge. We have to wait with humility for the opinion of the citizenry.”
A new chapter, the battle of ideas
The FARC’s representative Ivan Marquez said the final deal marks a new chapter in Colombia’s history. “Now can start the battle of ideas,” he said. “The peace deal is a point of departure, not of closure, toward the social transformations demanded by the masses.”
Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos had the last word, saying from the Colombian capital: “Today ends the pain, suffering, this great national hope has become reality.”
The head of state insisted that the text of the final agreement was “definitive,” and could not be modified.
We don’t want one more victim in Colombia
“From the beginning, one principle ruled the negotiations: nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Today, at last we can say that everything has been agreed,” he added.
“We don’t want one more victim in Colombia,” added from Havana Dag Nylander, a peace guarantor from Norway, which along with Cuba has been helping moving the peace process along. “A new chapter of Colombia’s history is opened,” he said, with the final deal allowing for “more social inclusion, especially of those who have been excluded and historically more affected by the conflict.”
The historic deal will mark the end of 52 years of armed internal conflictbetween government forces and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, founded in 1964 on Marxist demands for agrarian reform and rights for rural communities. The conflict is the longest-running civil war in Latin America.
Peace, a right of Colombian citizens
Peace, Cuban peace guarantor Rodolfo Benitez noted, is guaranteed as a right of Colombian citizens in their nation’s constitution, something that has eluded the South American nation for the last five decades.
“The sum of the partial agreements reached so far are contributing to compliance with the rights and duties guaranteed by the Constitution,” said Benitez, including the fundamental rights of campesinos, Afro-Colombians and Indigenous communities. The final deal, he continued, “means to address the root causes of the conflict: land, property, (and) exclusion of campesinos, affecting especially women and children.”
Serious agrarian reform
The final agreement revealed Wednesday calls for serious agrarian reform to address inequality in the FARC’s poor, rural strongholds. It also calls to allow new political forces to address the issues that initially led the FARC to take up arms, and guarantees the safety of those who elect to drop those arms to participate in politics.
The agreement also calls to protect human rights activists and labor organizers who have been targeted by right-wing paramilitaries; promoting alternatives to illicit drug production; providing reparations for victims of violence on all sides; and creating a commission, including representatives from the government and the FARC, to monitor the implementation alongside the United Nations.
Four years of negotiations in Havana
The announcement will bring an end of nearly four years of negotiations in Havana, launched in 2012. FARC leaders will now take the agreement back to their camps to share their information with their ranks, which is highly-anticipated to be the last such FARC conference with armed rebels before the group transitions into a non-military political movement in accordance with the peace agreement.
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Negotiators have already reached and announced landmark partial agreements related to five central matters: political participation, end of the conflict, transitional justice, agrarian reform, and crop substitution for illicit coca crops. The announcement of a bilateral cease-fire deal in June was widely celebrated as signaling the end of the war.
The vote on the final peace agreement is expected to take place on Oct.2 and is aimed at giving democratic legitimacy to the peace agreement. Electoral authorities will determine whether public funds will finance the campaigns in favor and against the peace deal.
To pass, the majority of 4.5 million Colombian voters, a 13 percent participation threshold, need to vote “Yes” in the plebiscite. In the unlikely event that the deal is voted down, it would not mean that aspects of the peace agreement would be renegotiated, but it could frustrate the implementation of the deal. The government’s chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, said recently that it would bea “huge mistake” to try to reopen negotiations with the FARC and that Colombian society would have little to gain from such a move.
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Far-right former president opposes peace
Santos and the FARC evidently support a “Yes” vote in the plebiscite. Far-right former president and current Senator Alvaro Uribe, whose presidency saw record level of human rights violations and people fleeing the country as refugees, has been pushing for a “No” vote. According to a recent Gallup poll, of the half of the population that had made up their mind on how they will vote, 67.5 percent are expected to vote in favor of ratifying the final peace deal, while 32.5 percent would vote against it.
Meanwhile, Colombia’s Radio Caracol reported that most issues have been resolved. “Both parts agreed to design a new proposal for a more sensible reinsertion for the FARC fighters, while the government committed to present an amnesty bill,” the outlet reported.
The FARC argues that the end of the war is the beginning of peace and a process of reconciliation to unite “two Colombias,” one of which represents the marginalized groups that have suffered most under the armed conflict.
Colombia’s over five-decade civil war has killed over 220,000 victims and uprooted some 6.3 million people, making it home to the second largest population of internally displaced peoples in the world after Syria.