The Colombian government and the leftist FARC rebel group have finally reached a peace deal, the two sides announced on Wednesday, ending four years of negotiations and more than 50 years of conflict.
“We have won the most beautiful of all battles: [the battle]of peace for Colombia,” said Iván Márquez, the FARC’s top negotiator. “The battle with weapons ends and the battle of ideas begins.”
The Colombian government has been engaged in peace talks with the FARC since November of 2012, when the two sides agreed to a fixed agenda for moving through the negotiations. This year has shown marked progress in negotiations. In May, the FARC agreed to release child soldiers from their ranks; the following month, the two sides agreed to a bilateral ceasefire; by July, Colombia’s top court had approved a nationwide referendum for voters to decide whether to accept the peace deal.
Now, the two sides have reached agreement on a comprehensive peace deal, which addresses both the causes and consequences of the conflict, while laying out a timeline for the 7,000-some rebels to lay down their arms and reintegrate with Colombian society.
Colombians gathered in a square in Bogotá on Wednesday to watch the announcement live on a large screen. They burst into cheers, the Guardian reports, as they watched Márquez and Humberto de la Calle, chief government negotiator, sign the deal.
“Today begins the end of the suffering, the pain and the tragedy of war,” Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos said in a nationally televised address after the agreement was announced. “Let’s open the door together to a new stage in our history.”
But although the peace deal is significant, there is still one more barrier to overcome before the deal is ratified. The Colombian people still need to vote on the deal to approve – or not approve – it on October 2, and current polls indicate the referendum could be close.
President Santos has long-supported the peace deal, but his opponent and predecessor, former President Álvaro Uribe, is strongly against it. Uribe is widely credited with leading his government into full-scale warfare with the rebel group, effectively forcing them to enter negotiations. He is now leading a campaign against the deal, which he considers an unjust amnesty for the rebels.
“[The rebels] will spend zero days in prison, they will be awarded with political representation,” said Paloma Valencia, a senator in Mr. Uribe’s party. “This deal breaks the rule of law.”
The idea that the FARC rebels should be held accountable for their actions is shared by many Colombians, who say the accord should be revised to mandate jail time for crimes against humanity and a ban on those convicted of such crimes from holding public office.
Some Colombians also doubt the government’s ability to follow through with its promises to invest in necessary social projects and infrastructure, which are needed to support the peace deal. Moreover, the public is wary of the rebels, many of whom were kidnapped as children and only know of life in the jungle but will now have to adjust to mainstream society.
Colombia’s 52 year-long civil war has led to the deaths of over 220,000 and displaced some 6.3 million people – which, after Syria, makes it home to the second largest population of internally displaced people in the world.