President Juan Manuel Santos on Wednesday confirmed that negotiators in Havana were “putting the final touches” on a peace deal that aims to end the country’s half-century civil conflict, and he said the pact could be announced in coming hours.
“Today, I hope to be able to give you news that is historic and important for the country, and and for all the boys and girls of Colombia,” he told a group of school children.
The announcement comes after people involved in the talks said late Tuesday that negotiations with the country’s largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, had effectively come to an end after almost four years.
Also Tuesday, negotiators in Cuba, where the talks are taking place, tweeted out a group picture late Tuesday with the message: “The day is coming...we’re on the road to peace.”
Even if negotiations are finalized, there are still some major steps ahead. Santos has to present the deal to Congress in order to trigger a referendum, which could be held within the next four months. Polls have produced mixed results on that front, as the deal faces challenges from critics who worry the government gave away too much at the bargaining table.
The guerrillas also have to present the deal to their troops for approval.
Santos has said the signing ceremony will take place in Colombia. It’s likely the U.S. and other dignitaries will be on hand for the event, which could require time to organize.
Even so, an announcement Wednesday would bring an end to a historic negotiation process that started in 2012. The deal will also mark a major turning point for the region, as it ends the hemisphere’s oldest and bloodiest civil conflict, which has claimed more than 220,000 lives and forced more than 6 million people to flee their homes.
“God bless Colombia,” Santos said, as he concluded Wednesday’s event. “God bless peace.”