Colombia

Colombia signs new peace pact with FARC guerrillas

Colombians celebrate the signing of a new peace deal

Hundreds of people gathered in Bogota's central plaza Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016, to celebrate the signing of a new peace deal with the nation's largest guerrilla group.
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Hundreds of people gathered in Bogota's central plaza Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016, to celebrate the signing of a new peace deal with the nation's largest guerrilla group.

For the second time in as many months, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the head of the country’s largest guerrilla group signed off on a peace deal that aims to bring the nation’s half-century conflict to an end.

At an event Thursday, Santos and the commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño, signed the hard-fought pact using a pen made from a bullet casing.

Santos acknowledged that not everyone favored the deal, but he said it offered a path toward ending the long-running conflict that has cost more than 220,000 lives and forced more than six million to flee their homes.

“We all know, deep in our hearts, that the cost of the armed conflict is too high. It’s too painful, as are all wars,” he said, during the event held in the historic Colón Theater in the Andean capital. “Peace will bring back hope, faith in the future and the possibility of having a better life for ourselves and our children.”

Dressed in a dark blue suit, Londoño, a once grizzled guerrilla, sounded like a statesmen. He vowed that his group, which took up arms in 1964, would no longer use violence even as it pursues its political goals.

“For the good of the country,” he said, “the only weapons we Colombians should allow ourselves to use are words.”

He also extended an olive branch to Washington — a longtime FARC foe — and congratulated President-elect Donald Trump on his victory.

“We hope that your administration can play a prominent role in favor of peace in the world and on the continent,” he said.

Scaled-Down

Thursday’s event was far more modest than the glamorous celebration held in Cartagena in September and attended by a dozen world leaders.

At that time, Santos and Londoño signed off on a peace deal that seemed inevitable. The pact was hailed around the world and earned Santos a Nobel Peace Prize, but Colombians weren’t impressed. They shot it down just days later in a tight vote.

This new deal won’t risk the same fate. Instead, it will be ratified by congress, where Santos enjoys a solid majority.

The president said the ratification could take place next week and defended his decision to skip a national vote, saying any more delays might result in additional bloodshed.

In Bogotá’s Plaza Bolivar, a crowd of several hundred watched the televised ceremony as they waved white flags, sang, and chanted “Yes, we could!”

Dressed in white and carrying a peace banner, Nelly Avila, 62, said she saw Thursday’s signature as the beginning of a long process.

“Peace isn’t going to appear magically just because they signed a document, we all have to work at it,” she said. “But this gives me hope and faith that we can all begin a new life.”

Others weren’t so optimistic that things might improve in a country steeped in decades of violence.

“I don’t think anything will change as long as there’s so much poverty and hunger in this country,” said Horacio Martinez, 72. “If the FARC step aside there will be another five or 10 groups that will take their place.”

Round two

After the initial deal was narrowly rejected during the Oct. 2 plebiscite, government negotiators spent 40 days crafting the new accord, holding round-the-clock meetings with their critics and the guerrillas. Despite the effort, the new deal hasn’t appeased opponents, who claim it’s still too lenient on the FARC.

The Centro Democrático party, led by popular former President Alvaro Uribe, is accusing the administration of negotiating in bad faith, and only making superficial changes to the original accord.

Among their complaints is that FARC commanders accused of genocide and other war crimes can avoid jail if they go before a truth commission, provide reparations to their victims and serve five- to eight-year alternative sentences that consist of being confined to areas the size of a hamlet, which can have as many as 1,000 people.

During that time, they can also run for office. In addition, the guerrillas’ new political party will be guaranteed five seats in the House and Senate during the first two electoral cycles beginning in 2018.

Uribe and others say Colombians should get a chance to vote again on this new deal, rather than have it approved by a compliant congress.

“The government preferred to impose [the deal] and divide Colombians rather than create a national accord that would bring us closer together,” the party said in a statement.

Human Rights Watch, a U.S.-based nonprofit that had been critical of the original agreement, said the new iteration is an improvement but still contains vague language.

In particular, allowing FARC commanders to run for office while serving alternative sentences is problematic, said the group’s Americas director, Jose Miguel Vivanco.

“We agree ... that a fundamental aim of the peace process is to allow the FARC to pursue their political objectives within the democratic arena,” he said in a statement. “However, running and holding office while serving a sentence appears to be incompatible with the punishment due for offenses as serious as war crimes or crimes against humanity and could undercut victims’ rights to justice.”

But Vivanco said many of the flaws could be fixed as congress passes dozens of implementing laws to make the peace deal a reality.

Ticking clock

Santos has acknowledged that the deal isn’t perfect, but he said it needed to be implemented quickly to avoid more bloodshed. Over the past few weeks, there has been an up-tick in violence against community leaders who backed the peace deal. And a bilateral ceasefire with the FARC expires Dec. 31.

“We’ve lost lives and there are many more in danger,” Santos said in the days before the signature. “We couldn’t forgive ourselves if we didn’t act promptly and firmly to correct this situation.”

Santos is also facing another deadline. On Dec. 10, he’s traveling to Oslo to receive his Nobel Peace Prize. During that European trip, he’s also expected to meet with Pope Francis, who has said he would come to Colombia as long as a deal was in place.

Despite Thursday’s more muted event, the deal itself is ambitious: The 310-page accord will turn the hemisphere’s oldest and bloodiest guerrilla army into one more political party.

The deal has chapters on rural and agricultural reform, allowing the guerrillas to participate in politics, and lays out guidelines for the FARC to help end drug trafficking and make reparations to their victims.

Five days after the agreement is ratified in congress, the FARC’s estimated 7,000 fighters are expected to begin making their way to 27 concentration zones. There, they will begin handing over their weapons to a U.N. verification force and receive training. Six months later, the one-time guerrillas will emerge from the camps as the nation’s newest civilians.

“What has Colombia achieved with this agreement?” Santos asked Thursday. “We have put an end to armed conflict with the FARC and laid the foundation to build a stable and durable peace. We have stopped the bloodletting and stopped creating more victims.”

PEACE FOR COLOMBIA’S FARC?

▪  May 27, 1964: The FARC is “born” after Colombian forces, with U.S. backing, attack the independent “Republic of Marquetalia” where Manuel Marulanda and his guerrilla band are ensconced.

▪  1966: Marulanda’s groups adopts the name of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

▪  1982: Having gained ground in rural areas, the FARC become more aggressive, engaging troops closer to cities and populated areas.

▪  1984: The FARC and the Belisario Betancur administration sign a cease-fire. That same year, the FARC launch the Patriotic Union political party, which wins dozens of local council seats and spots in congress and the senate.

▪  1987: UP presidential candidate Jaime Pardo is assassinated — one of more than 1,500 UP officials who would be murdered. The cease-fire ends as both sides accuse each other of acting in bad faith and violating the truce.

▪  1998: The FARC stage large-scale attacks, taking over the towns of Mitú and Miraflores.

▪  1998: The Andrés Pastrana administration clears military out of a 26,000-square-mile area as a precursor to peace talks.

▪  1999: Peace talks in the Caguán demilitarized zone begin.

▪  Feb 20, 2002: Peace talks break down after the FARC hijack a commercial jetliner to kidnap a senator who is aboard. Three days later, they kidnap presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

▪  April 2002: The FARC kidnap a dozen state legislators from Cali; 11 of them are eventually killed.

▪  Feb 3, 2003: U.S. contractors Marc Gonsalvez, Keith Stansell and Thomas Howes are taken hostage after their anti-narcotics plane crashes in FARC territory.

▪  March 1, 2008: The military kills FARC leader Raúl Reyes in a controversial cross-border raid into Ecuador.

▪  March 26, 2008: FARC founder Manuel Marulanda dies of a heart attack at 78.

▪  July 2, 2008: A daring military operation called “Check” frees 15 FARC hostages, including Ingrid Betancourt and the three U.S. contractors.

▪  Sept. 2010: The military kills FARC military strategist “Mono Jojoy.”

▪  Nov. 2011: The military kills FARC Commander Alfonso Cano.

▪  Nov. 2012: The government and the FARC begin peace talks in Havana.

▪  May 27, 2014: The FARC marks its 50-year anniversary.

▪  Dec 20, 2014: The FARC declares a unilateral ceasefire.

▪  March 10, 2105: The government orders a halt to aerial bombardment of the guerrillas.

▪  April 15, 2015: The FARC ambushes a military patrol, killing 10. The president renews bombing.

▪  May 21, 2015: The military kills 26 FARC members in Guapi, Cauca.

▪  May 27, 2015: The FARC ends its unilateral ceasefire.

▪  Dec 20, 2015: The FARC announces new ceasefire; this one sticks.

▪  March 23, 2016: Peace negotiators miss self-imposed deadline to reach agreement.

▪  June 23, 2016: Negotiators in Havana agree to disarmament road map.

▪  July 10, 2016: The FARC and military clash near La Uribe. Both sides blame it on miscommunication.

▪  July 18, 2016: Supreme Court approves a peace referendum to ratify an eventual deal.

▪  Aug 29, 2016: Bilateral ceasefire declared.

▪  Sep 23, 2016: FARC unanimously approve deal at 10th Conference.

▪  Sep 26, 2016: Santos and “Timochenko” sign off on peace accord in Cartagena.

▪  Oct 2, 2016: Colombia narrowly rejects peace deal in national referendum.

▪  Oct 7, 2016: Santos is awarded Nobel Peace Prize.

▪  Nov 12, 2016: Negotiators sign revised peace deal in Havana.

▪  Nov 24, 2016: Santos and “Timochenko” sign a new deal in Bogotá.

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