Peace in Colombia; let justice now follow

Miami Herald Editorial Board

While political upheaval continues to roil neighboring Venezuela, Colombia appears to be turning a new page by embracing a historic moment for the region.

The oldest guerrilla group in Latin America, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), said goodbye Tuesday, the result of a long peace process negotiated in Havana between the Colombian government and the guerrilla leadership.

President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño — alias Timochenko — initially signed the unprecedented peace agreement on Sept. 26 in the city of Cartagena de Indias.

At that time, Santos said he preferred “an imperfect agreement that saves lives to a perfect war that continues to sow death and pain in our country and in our families.”

That wasn’t an exaggeration. The Colombian conflict left about 260,000 dead, 45,000 missing, and 6.9 million people left displaced in its wake.

This 50-year war was unsustainable, its painful costs to the nation and its people could not continue to escalate. That is why both sides did well in putting an end to a war that is undoubtedly leaving deep tears in the nation’s fabric.

Santos and the insurgent leaders participated in a ceremony in which United Nations observers sealed the last containers stuffed with guns collected at FARC camps in recent weeks.

U.N. officials said the FARC had surrendered all its weapons — except those needed to maintain security in their camps until August. According to figures released, 7,132 rifles were collected.

“We did not fail Colombia: today we dropping our arms,” said Timochenko.

But not all Colombians are taking the guerrillas at their word. There are skeptics. Former president and now Senator Álvaro Uribe and other opponents of the peace agreement doubt that the FARC has surrendered all its weapons.

They have also expressed fears that the horrible crimes that the guerrillas committed will remain unpunished.

One of the touchy topics in the negotiations was the bringing to justice to those accused of serious crimes — on both sides of the conflict. But now that peace has been reached, that promise must be fulfilled. Other torn countries have been through this process, painful but necessary for the millions upon millions of wounded people to truly put the war to rest.

Last October, in a referendum, Colombians rejected the peace agreement 50.2 percent to and 49.8 — extremely close.

The government and the guerrillas had to renegotiate, incorporating demands from the opposition. The Colombian Congress endorsed the new pact on Nov. 30, forgoing a second referendum.

The war is over, and the FARC becomes a new political party. Questions arise, such as what political line it will take and what its influence will be in Congress.

The staunchest opponents say that Colombia could roll to a left-wing, Hugo Chávez-style regime under the influence of the FARC, now in the national parliament. But that is unlikely.

What has to be applauded is persuading such a powerful insurgent group to put down its arms and become a political entity, incorporated into civilian life.

The peace agreement is not perfect, but as Ingrid Betancourt, a former FARC hostage, said, “It’s the end of a nightmare.”