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Colombia and FARC sign a deal to end the Americas’ longest-running civil war | The World Weekly

Colombia’s government has secured a groundbreaking peace deal with leftist Farc rebels – promising to end a war that wracked the country for more than half a century, killing tens of thousands and displacing millions.

The Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, announced on Wednesday that a national plebiscite would take place on 2 October for voters to either accept or reject the accord.

US President Barack Obama spoke with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos via telephone on Wednesday night to congratulate him on finalising the peace agreement. According to a White House spokesman, Mr. Obama “recognised this historic day as a critical juncture in what will be a long process to fully implement a just and lasting peace agreement that can advance security and prosperity for the Colombian people”.

“The war is over,” declared Humberto de la Calle, chief government negotiator, after signing the deal in Havana, where talks have been held since November 2012. “It is the time to give peace a chance.

Iván Márquez, the Farc’s top negotiator, said: “We have won the most beautiful of all battles: [the battle] of peace for Colombia. The battle with weapons ends and the battle of ideas begins.”

With the deal, the Farc – Latin America’s oldest guerrilla group, which took up arms against the state in 1964 under a banner of social justice – renounces its armed struggle and begins its transformation into a legal political party.

“Today marks the beginning of the end of the suffering, the pain and the tragedy of the war,” President Santos said in an address to the nation after the announcement in Havana.

Peace is around the corner after 50 years of war. It is now up to the people to decide if they want another 50 years of war, I hope they can see what this represents for the country. This peace agreement is only a first step in the marathon that Colombian people have ahead of them." - Roberto Miranda, a Colombian man speaking to The World Weekly

Colombians gathered in a central Bogota square to watch the announcement live on a large screen. They burst into cheers as they watched Márquez and De la Calle sign the deal. “This is a historic moment and I wanted to share it with other people,” said Bogota resident Andrés García.

The comprehensive deal addresses both the root causes of the conflict and its most nefarious consequences, while laying out a calendar for the Farc’s estimated 7,000 fighters to lay down their arms and reintegrate with Colombian society.

The Colombian civil war has claimed around 220,000 lives and displaced more than 5 million people.

“It is the best possible accord,” De la Calle said. “We probably all would have wanted something more but the agreement is the best possible deal.”

Now Colombians will have to decide whether to accept or reject the deal in a plebiscite that polls show could be a tight race.

“Everybody wants peace but not everyone is sure that this peace deal is the right peace deal,” said Peter Schechter, of the Latin America Centre at US-based thinktank the Atlantic Council.

Under the agreement, the government commits to development programmes and addressing gross inequalities in the country’s long-neglected rural sector. It also agrees to widen the opportunities of political participation to smaller political movements, including the party that a demobilised Farc may create.

Arguably the most difficult aspect of enacting the peace process has been the question of what becomes of the rebels themselves. For many years, FARC financed its activities by kidnapping and ransoming, which terrorised thousands of Colombians. This agreement calls for those grievances to be forgotten in the name of a peaceful transition, with all but the most heinous crimes likely resolved through reduced sentences (such as community service). Can the deal heal such deep wounds with the stroke of a pen?

The Farc agrees to help dismantle and discourage the business of drug crops and trafficking that helped sustain its war financially for the past three decades.

The deal also includes reparations to victims and sets up a transitional justice system for crimes committed during the conflict. Farc members who committed or ordered atrocities but confess their crimes will avoid serving their sentences in jail, instead performing “community service” projects and acts of reparation.

That point is at the centre of controversy surrounding the accords.

Alvaro Uribe, a former president whose government of 2002-2010 unleashed an all-out war against the Farc, is leading the campaign to reject the accords, claiming the deal reached by negotiators is akin to handing the country over to the rebels.

“It took them four years to give everything to the Farc,” said Ernesto Macias, a senator with Uribe’s Centro Democrático party. “They could have done that in one day.”

They will spend zero days in prison, they will be awarded with political representation. This deal breaks the rule of law.” - Paloma Valencia, a senator in Mr. Uribe’s party

Critics say the accord should be renegotiated to include jail time for crimes against humanity and a ban on those convicted of such crimes from holding public office. Many Colombians are wary of the Farc who have won the hatred of the public through decades of abuses including kidnapping, indiscriminate mortar attacks of villages and towns and the forced displacement of thousands.

Many Colombians also doubt the government’s capacity to make good on promises of investment in social projects and infrastructure needed to support the peace deal.

“There are many people who are sceptical or against the accords because they don’t trust the Farc and they don’t trust the government either, and they have good reasons for it,” says Kristian Herbolzheimer, a conflict resolution expert with Conciliation Resources who has consulted with negotiators in the Colombian peace process.

One well-known sceptic is Sigifredo López, who spent seven years as a Farc hostage in rebel camps after a guerrilla commando kidnapped him and 11 fellow regional legislators in Cali in 2002. In 2007 all his colleagues were killed in a confused incident that the Farc believed was a rescue attempt. López was the only survivor and after his release was falsely charged with having orchestrated the kidnapping. He was subsequently cleared of all charges.

Although he feels that the Colombian government has conceded too much to the Farc, López is convinced that Colombians need to approve the peace deal. “I would like to see them in jail but it is an act of responsibility with future generations to see this deal through,” he said in a recent interview in his offices in downtown Cali.

Herbolzheimer, the mediator, said that if negotiating the deal was hard, implementing it could prove an even harder task. “The main challenge in any peace process is moving from words to action,” he said.

Potential spoilers abound. Colombia’s smaller guerrilla group, the ELN, says it wants to negotiate a peace deal as well but has shown no sign of being serious about it, continuing to kidnap civilians and attack infrastructure. Renegade members of the Farc could find refuge in the ranks of the smaller guerrilla group.

While the deal undoubtedly represents a significant step forward, several questions remain as to Colombia’s long-term future. Key among these is whether the rebels will give up control of Colombia’s lucrative drug trade alongside their weapons. The US State Department calls FARC a terrorist organisation that “controls the majority of cocaine manufacturing and distribution within Colombia, and is responsible for much of the world’s cocaine supply”.

Organised criminal groups born of demobilised rightwing militias also pose a threat to building peace.

But in a world wracked by conflict, Colombia had become a sign of hope, said Herbolzheimer. “It shows that no matter how complex a conflict is, if there is political will there is a political solution.”

Colombians celebrate the peace agreement with FARC.

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