Colombia signs new peace accord with FARC

A man wears a satchel that says ‘peace’ in Cartagena, Colombia.
A man wears a satchel that says ‘peace’ in Cartagena, Colombia.

More than a month after Colombian voters rejected a peace deal with the country’s largest guerrilla group, negotiators in Havana late Saturday signed a new deal that President Juan Manuel Santos said addresses critics’ concerns as it aims to end a half-century conflict that cost more than 220,000 lives.

Negotiators with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government said they had made more than 100 changes to the original document. And Santos said the voices of all the critics had been heard and incorporated into a deal that had emerged stronger as a result.

“This accord belongs to everyone because peace belongs to everyone,” he said in an address to the nation.

What remains unclear is how the agreement might be ratified. On Oct. 2, the original deal was narrowly rejected in a plebiscite and Santos has suggested that rather than put this deal up to a vote again, he may have it approved in congress.

The full text of the accord won’t be available until next week, but the government’s chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, said it was “an improvement” and “more solid” than the previous one.

“We are convinced that this accord offers roads to peace that are viable and possible,” he said.

Santos said many of the changes involved tightening up vague language that critics feared might be abused.

For example, under the previous accord guerrillas accused of serious crimes who confessed to a truth commission and provided reparations to their victims would serve five to eight years of “effective restriction of freedom” — a term that was left undefined.

Now the terms and details of their confinement and monitoring are spelled out, Santos said.

Likewise, while the old deal required the FARC to play a role in eradicating the nation’s drug trade, the new agreement will drill down into specific actions it will have to take. And, crucially, it will require the FARC to provide “exhaustive and detailed” reports about its former drug activity, or risk losing benefits, Santos said.

And while the FARC had agreed to provide reparations to its victims, now the group will have to present a full inventory of its assets and goods that can be used in that process.

The FARC’s chief negotiator, Iván Márquez, suggested his organization had made deep sacrifices to keep the deal alive.

He said the guerrilla group had gone “beyond the limits of what’s reasonable or acceptable for a political-military organization that wasn’t defeated by force.” He also reiterated that the FARC had come to Havana, where talks have been held, to “negotiate, not surrender.”

One issue the guerrillas did not bend on is their ability to participate in politics. Under the deal, the FARC will be allowed to run for office and will be guaranteed a minimum of five seats in the house and senate for two political cycles.

“The entire reason for any peace process in the world is for guerrillas to lay down their weapons and participate in politics legally,” Santos said. “And this process with the FARC is no exception.”

It’s unclear if the new deal will appease critics.

Santos said he spent three hours Saturday with the old deal’s chief critic, former President Alvaro Uribe.

After that meeting, Uribe said he asked the president not to consider the new deal final until he and other opponents had a chance to review the document.

In a series of tweets, another influential critic, former presidential candidate Marta Lucía Ramirez, said she also wanted to weigh in on the deal.

“We hope that the improvements that have been made are not presented to the [nation] or the international community as the definitive text,” she wrote on Twitter.

The FARC has been battling the Colombian state for more than half a century, and has been one of the principal players in a broader conflict that has claimed more than 220,000 lives and forced more than six million to flee their homes.

After losing last month’s plebiscite, Santos and his team began marathon negotiations with opponents of the deal, collecting more than 500 proposed changes. Each one was studied by the negotiators in Havana, Santos said.

The new deal caps a volatile few months for the Santos administration.

The FARC and the government agreed to a bilateral ceasefire Aug. 29 as a deal seemed imminent. The following month, on Sept. 26, Santos and FARC Commander Timoleón “Timochenko” Jiménez signed off on the accord at a high profile event in Cartagena attended by dozens of regional leaders.

Then, on Oct. 2, voters defied polls and expectations and rejected the deal. Even so, five days later, Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize.

On Saturday, Santos said the peace deal was a chance for the long-troubled nation to shed its violent past.

“I invite all Colombians … to give peace a chance with this new accord,” he said.