BOGOTÁ, Colombia – In a historic moment, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that a definitive peace deal will likely be signed between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on July 20 and shortly after, he announced that the Colombian Army would finally join the FARC in their months-long ceasefire.
Speaking earlier this week at an economic forum in the city of Medellín, Santos indicated that an agreement on peace would be coming soon. “I believe that by later next month, we will be able to close the negotiations in Havana and open another era in our nation,” he said.
Indeed, just days later, an official press release outlined that the peace negotiations were coming to an end on July 20, the same day that Colombia celebrates the 206th anniversary of its independence day.
Santos made another similar announcement in late September of 2015 with the FARC’s top leader, Timoleón Jiménez “Timochenko” (whose real name is Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri). The two men announced in Havana that a definitive peace agreement should be signed between the long-warring factions on March 23 of 2016, six months from the date the two men met and came to the agreement in the Cuban capital.
This meant that the two sides had just 180 days to agree upon how the final points of the peace talks (end of the conflict, surrender of weapons and demobilization) would be defined. Bumps in the road, mostly due to wording and the subsequent re-working of texts, presented themselves and the deadline was postponed.
The peace talks in question between the FARC, Latin America’s oldest insurgency group, and the Colombian government, started in October of 2012 initially in Oslo, Norway and then continued in Havana, Cuba with the hopes of ending a conflict that has lasted over half a century.
In reaction to a ultraviolent crackdown on peasant organizations, the FARC militarized in 1964. As the primary guerrilla force, the FARC rebels have been engaged in war with the Colombian government since then, a war that has claimed more than 220,000 lives and displaced nearly seven million more.
So far, an agreement on land reform has been achieved during the peace talks, along with the group’s future political participation and the topic of the illicit drug trade. The last point that was agreed upon, which was transitional justice, carried with it the sub-point of suspect and victim recognition and reparation, the most sensitive subject given that it concerned all those affected by the conflict. As such, it was also the longest point as negotiations about the victims lasted 18 months.
This new announced date is more likely to be confirmed as Santos said in late March that he would avoid presenting any more deadlines due to the extreme “pressure” involved unless it was practically a guarantee.
The missing of the earlier deadline did not jeopardize the process, which continued at a robust rate, but it did fuel the skepticism of those in Colombia who do not support the peace process and never have, especially opposition politicians like Senator Álvaro Uribe.
Uribe, the two-term leader (2002-2010) and Santos’ predecessor, has been the most outspoken opponent of the peace talks. By using baseless evidence, hearsay and his own theories, he has sought to undermine the talks and has continued with the same rhetoric since returning to politics as a Senator with his right-wing Democratic Center party in July of 2014.
Prior to forming the Democratic Center in 2013, Uribe belonged to the Social Party of National Unity (La U), a party founded in 2005 by a group of right-leaning dissidents led by Uribe of the centrist Colombian Liberal Party (to which Santos still belongs). Santos, Uribe’s understudy and Defense Minister, then succeeded Uribe as President but after a clash over ideology, Uribe has repeatedly criticized Santos and formed the said Democratic Center which has become the biggest opposition party in the Senate.
Thus, Uribe, a man with links to illegal right-wing paramilitary groups and sectors of the Armed Forces, and his party wield a great deal of public influence and have made their feelings on the process known, even comparing the Islamic State to the FARC and saying that there is no difference between what the former has done in Paris and Brussels and what the FARC did in Colombia. This is despite the fact that during the ongoing peace talks, the level of violence has fallen to the lowest point ever observed since the beginning of the conflict.
Uribe jumped on the opportunity to urge his followers to use and spread the phrase “Santos amenaza con guerra” (Santos threatens war) after Santos said last week that the government has information that the FARC is “ready to commence an urban guerrilla war if the peace talks fall apart.” Uribe even said that Santos was “hurting the meaning of the word ‘peace'” and acting like the notorious Colombian druglord Pablo Escobar: “If he does not get what he wants, he simply starts threatening like Escobar.”
Regardless of the dissenting opinion of Uribe and his Democratic Center colleagues, polls have shown that although Colombians are skeptical of an eventual peace deal, they have indicated that they will strongly support said deal once it is reached.
In one of the strongest indicators that the process is coming to a successful end, the two negotiating sides also announced yesterday from Havana that they have finally reached an accord in regard to a bilateral ceasefire.
The FARC rebels have adhered to their unilaterally-declared ceasefire since July of 2015 and while the government eventually stopped air raids on rebel camps, they have not agreed to a bilateral ceasefire until now.
“We have reached an agreement on the bilateral and definitive cease of fire and hostilities, the surrender of weapons and the guarantees of security,” read a joint statement from the Cuban capital.
Just minutes later, Santos appeared with Jiménez “Timochenko,” Cuban leader Raúl Castro and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in front of foreign dignitaries, noted guests and media at the negotiating table. The men shook hands and smiled as they both held the textualized ceasefire agreement.
“We have finally arrived at the hour of living without constant war, at the hour of being a nation at peace,” Santos said. “I will defend our negotiation counterparts’ right to express themselves and to continue their fight by democratic and legal means.”
Regional and global governments and organizations sent in their notes of congratulations to Colombia for finally reaching this important phase. The UN, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Organization of American States (OAS) all hailed Colombia’s peace process as “an example for the world.”
The FARC will now begin to concentrate in 23 zones nationwide, zones that will serve as temporary ‘safe’ regions where the rebels can begin their transition to political figures or civilians. They have agreed to hand over their weapons to an international verification committee led by the UN; homemade weapons and explosives will be handed over up to 60 days after the signing of the peace agreement while a 180-day (three-phase) deadline is in place for other weaponry.
If a final agreement is eventually signed as expected, the Colombian public will have to ultimately approve it via public referendum which will likely take place in September. Poll numbers indicate that the public will certainly approve and pave the way for the peace agreement to be signed into law.