Colombia Ratifies Peace Accord, Starts Disarmament Countdownby
Accord with FARC rebels ratified by lower house in 130-0 vote
Rebels to start handing over arms to United Nations in 90 days
Colombia’s congress ratified a revised peace agreement with the country’s largest rebel group, just two months after voters rejected the original accord, starting the countdown to the disarmament of about 7,000 combatants.
The Chamber of Representatives voted 130-0 on Wednesday in favor of the peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a day after the Senate gave its approval. Rebels will start to move toward designated transitional zones in five days, with all weapons to be handed over to United Nations representatives within 150 days.
The disarmament marks the final chapter in an armed struggle that has killed over 200,000 people and displaced millions more over half a century. Critics, including former President Alvaro Uribe, say the agreement remains too lenient on guerrillas and demanded a second referendum. President Juan Manuel Santos welcomed yesterday’s vote, saying it showed the strength of Colombia’s democracy.
“My gratitude to Congress for their historic support of Colombians’ hope for peace,” Santos tweeted after the result.
The opposition Centro Democratico party, which has criticized the terms of the peace deal, abstained from the votes in congress, clearing the way to its approval.
Colombia’s peso strengthened 0.16 percent to 3,068.96 in morning trading, bolstered by the peace accord and a rally in the price of oil, the country’s largest export.
Voters had rejected the original accord in a referendum Oct. 2, sending negotiators back to Havana where they clarified parts of the text, rather than inserting whole-scale changes.
The modified accord makes its explicit that those who confess to serious crimes during Latin America’s longest running insurgency may have their liberty restricted to areas not larger than a hamlet for five to eight years. Still, they won’t face jail and a post-FARC political party will get 10 automatic congressional seats between 2018 and 2026.
“Can congress really approve points that were rejected and which continue to exist in this accord?” Centro Democratico party leader Oscar Ivan Zuluaga said during the Senate debate on Tuesday, referring to the Oct. 2 referendum. “This agreement is going to define the next 100 years. Those of our children and grandchildren. It isn’t just any old matter.”
How successful the former fighters will be in the political arena remains to be seen. Starting out as a rebel uprising that sought better conditions for Colombia’s rural poor, the FARC increasingly funded operations through kidnapping, drug trafficking and the control of illegal gold mines, making them deeply unpopular with many in the Andean nation.