Santos Signs Colombia Peace Deal Triggering FARC Disarmament

  • Polls show voters to back deal in Oct. 2 national plebiscite
  • Ceremony on Caribbean coast attended by regional leaders

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos signed a peace accord with Marxist guerrillas Monday, setting in motion the disarmament of the largest irregular army in the Americas and officially ending more than half a century of conflict.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, will hand over their weapons to the United Nations under the deal, in return for seats in Congress, agricultural reform and reduced punishment for crimes. At least five polls published this month show voters will approve the agreement signed Monday by Santos and guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londono in a national plebiscite to be held Oct. 2.

“No more violence, that sowed backwardness, poverty and inequality in our countryside and cities, and which has been a brake on Colombia’s development,” Santos said after signing the accord with the FARC leader in the Caribbean city of Cartagena before 2,500 guests dressed in white including the presidents of Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela and Cuba as well as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. “No more young people sacrificed, no more young people mutilated in an absurd war.”

In five decades of fighting, the FARC weren’t able to capture any major towns and never come close to their goal of seizing power and imposing a Cuban-style socialist model on Colombia. Toward the end of the conflict, the government’s use of smart bombs to target the FARC’s leaders put the rebels on the defensive, but the army was still unable to eradicate the guerrillas, who used Colombia’s dense forests to evade pursuit, and planted land mines to protect their positions.

“The soldiers and police in Colombia are no longer our enemies,” said Londono, who is better known by his alias “Timochenko.” “No one has renounced their ideas, but we’ll fight them in the political arena with respect and tolerance.”

The FARC’s legal political party will be guaranteed five seats in the senate, and five in the house of representatives for a period of eight years. Given the group’s role in a conflict which left hundreds of thousands dead, the new party is unlikely to attract widespread support, Isacson said.

For more on the outlook for Colombia after the peace deal, click here.

“While the FARC weren’t defeated, they reached a stalemate at a time when the Colombian government had the momentum,” said Adam Isacson, Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy at the Washington Office on Latin America. “They ended up with modest reforms, a graceful exit, and at least the hope of practicing politics without fear of being massacred.”

Although the FARC didn’t achieve its goals, it did manage to salvage something from its 52-year struggle with this peace deal, and will now try to garner some support in rural Colombia in its new status as a legal party, said Jorge Restrepo, director of the CERAC research institution that monitors the conflict.

“Their military objective was never reached, and their grandiose plan of seizing power through violent means was defeated, completely,” Restrepo said. “They did manage to get the opportunity of building a political constituency in rural areas.”

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