Colombia, rebels sign revised peace accord
Deal will be sent to lawmakers without a public vote
BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed a revised peace agreement with the country’s largest rebel movement Thursday, making a second attempt within months to end a half-century of hostilities.
Santos and Rodrigo Londono, leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, signed the 310page accord at Bogota’s historic Colon Theater — nearly two months after the original deal was rejected in a referendum.
After signing with a pen crafted from the shell of an assault rifle bullet, they clasped hands to shouts of “Yes we could!”
Thursday’s hastily organized ceremony was far more modest and somber than the one in September, in the colonial city of Cartagena, where the two men signed an accord in front of an audience of foreign leaders and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, all of whom were dressed in white to symbolize peace.
Santos looked and sounded tired after a two-month political roller coaster that saw him rise from the humiliating defeat to win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
This time the deal will be sent to Congress without a public referendum.
He tried to inject a dose of optimism about the hobbled accord whose outlook for implementation is shrouded in uncertainty.
“In 150 days — only 150 days — all of the FARC’s weapons will be in the hands of the United Nations,” he said during the only part of his speech that drew applause from the audience of a few hundred local politicians and officials.
Londono used his address to call for a transitional government to ensure the accord is effectively implemented, a suggestion denounced by the opposition as a veiled attempt to extend Santos’ tenure past elections in 2018, when he’ll be constitutionally banned from competing.
The rebel leader also congratulated Donald Trump on his victory and called on the presidentelect to continue strong U.S. support for Colombia on its path to peace.
“Our only weapons as Colombians should be our words,” said Londono, better known by his alias Timochenko, in a 15-minute speech. “We are putting a definitive end to war to confront in a civilized manner our contradictions.”
The deal introduces some 50 changes intended to assuage critics led by former President Alvaro Uribe. They range from a prohibition on foreign magistrates judging crimes by the FARC or government to a commitment from the insurgents to forfeit assets, some amassed through drug trafficking, to help compensate victims.
But the FARC wouldn’t go along with the opposition’s strongest demands — jail sentences for rebel leaders who committed atrocities and stricter limits on their future participation in politics.
Members of Uribe’s political party are threatening protests against what they consider a “blow to democracy.”
They also are demanding another referendum. Short- ly after Thursday’s ceremony, Santos delivered the accord to congress, where a solid pro-peace majority is expected to ratify it as early as next week.
“I ask public opinion to reflect on what this means for the future of the country,” Uribe said on the Senate floor Thursday, drawing attention to the fact that FARC leaders will be allowed to fill specially-reserved seats in congress before completing any sentences handed down by special peace tribunals.
The lack of broad support for the accord will make the already-steep challenge of implementing it even tougher.
Colombians loathe the FARC for crimes such as kidnappings and drug trafficking.
Ensuring that the 8,000plus fighters don’t wind up joining criminal gangs rampant throughout the country, or the much-smaller National Liberation Army, will also test the state’s ability to make its presence felt in traditionally neglected rural areas at a time of financial stress triggered by low oil prices.
There’s also a risk that peace could trigger more bloodshed, as it did after a previous peace process with the FARC in the 1980s when thousands of former guerrillas, labor activists and communist militants were gunned down by rightwing militias, sometimes in collaboration with state agents.
There have been 70 murders this year, according to Bogota-based We Are Defenders, more than in all of 2014 and 2015.
Once signed, Santos will introduce the accord to congress, where a solid majority in support of peace is expected to ratify it as early as next week.