Colombia signs historic peace deal with Farc

President Juan Manuel Santos and rebel leader Timochenko sign new accord despite objections that derailed original deal

The Colombian government and leftist Farc rebels have signed a revised peace agreement to end more than 50 years of conflict, despite continued objections by many who rejected the original deal in an October referendum.

“This is the definitive one,” said president Juan Manuel Santos, who was awarded this year’s Nobel peace prize, after signing the deal on Thursday with Farc leader Rodrigo Londoño, known as Timochenko.

Londoño hailed a deal that will enable Colombians “to definitively end the war and confront our differences in a civilised manner”.

The accord will immediately be sent to Congress. It is expected to pass after being debated next week, as the government’s coalition and allied parties hold a majority in the legislature.

The signing ceremony, at Bogotá’s small but lavish Colón theatre, lacked the pomp and much of the optimism of the original signing in the colonial city of Cartagena on 26 September.

‘It’s the start of the construction of peace’: Columbians react to peace treaty – video

Just days later, voters shocked peace deal promoters and detractors alike by rejecting the agreement. Among a host of other objections, critics said it was too soft on guerrilla commanders responsible for war crimes and rewarded them by allowing them to run for public office .

The outcome of the vote sent the peace process into a tailspin and negotiators back to the drawing board. They presented a new agreement on 12 November, with modifications to more than 50 points.

Opponents of the peace deal maintain that the most crucial points are still unresolved, including eligibility for public office of those convicted of war crimes. “The issues that most worried us about the agreement are still there,” said Samuel Hoyos, a representative of the Centro Democrático party of former president Álvaro Uribe, who has led opposition to the peace process from the start.

Uribe said other critics of the peace deal had wanted to see further revisions before it was signed, yet they had been disregarded. But political analyst Alejo Vargas, of the National University, said there was no more room for negotiation and that the critics would never have been satisfied.

“No peace agreement would have been good for them because they are playing politics with it, with a view to the 2018 presidential elections,” he said.

The government and Farc fear delayed implementation of the deal could jeopardise any possibility for peace to take hold.

After the results of the referendum in October, nearly 7,000 Farc fighters who had been ready to begin demobilisation found themselves in legal and operational limbo. A ceasefire that came into effect on 29 September was extended but became more fragile by the day.

Two guerrillas died on 16 November in a clash with government troops – details of which are still unclear – and at least five land rights activists and leaders of leftist social movements were killed over the course of four days last week.

Santos said the attacks on civilians were evidence of the risks of not implementing the peace deal. “Every day that passes there is a risk of new incidents,” the president said. “Lives have been lost and there are many more at risk.”

Once congress approved the new deal, Farc would begin its process of demobilisation, he added. “In 150 days all of the Farc’s weapons will be in the hands of the United Nations,” Santos said. “Farc, as an armed group, will have ceased to exist.”

But after such a bumpy road to peace, some Colombians are receiving the new deal with more resignation than jubilation.

A few blocks away from the theatre where the ceremony was held, only a small crowd of Bogotá residents had gathered to watch the signing on large screens set up on the Plaza de Bolívar.

Alberto Ortega, who is in his 70s and has lived through much of the country’s violence, waved a small white flag. “It’s about time,” he said.


Sibylla Brodzinsky in Bogotá and agencies

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