Colombia Votes on Deal to Turn FARC Guerrillas Into Legal Party

  • Five-decade conflict is back on if voters reject the agreement
  • Former President Uribe objects to FARC leaders in Congress

Polls have opened in Colombia for a national vote on whether the largest guerrilla army in the Americas should be granted seats in Congress, agricultural reform and reduced sentences for crimes in return for handing in their weapons.

A “yes” vote would give the green light for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, to convert themselves into a legal political party, while a “no” victory would mean a return to a five-decade conflict, according to President Juan Manuel Santos.

During half a century of violence, the guerrillas fought for a Cuban-style revolution, ambushing army patrols, blowing up oil pipelines and charging businesses protection money. Without the guerrillas scaring away investors and without the war soaking up government spending, Colombia’s economy can grow 1 percentage point per year faster, according to the Finance Ministry.

Under the terms of the agreement, which was reached in four years of talks in Cuba, the guerrillas will deploy to special zones where they will hand over their weapons to UN monitors over a period of six months. The deal gives the FARC’s political party, which does not yet have a name, a guaranteed 10 seats in Congress from 2018 to 2026.

Former President Alvaro Uribe and his Democratic Center party campaigned against the deal, arguing that a guerrilla force of a few thousand fighters with almost no popular support is extorting concessions it could never have won at the ballot box.

Recent opinion polls pointed to a victory for the “yes” vote.

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