In a landmark moment in Colombia's history, the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the country's left-wing FARC rebels are set to announce a final peace accord Wednesday in Havana, Cuba, after nearly four years of negotiations between the two sides of the conflict, according to sources close to the peace process.
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“A deal is imminent to close the negotiations,” a government official told reporters Tuesday, adding that an announcement would likely take place around 7 p.m. local time in Havana. Earlier on Tuesday, FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez, known as Timochenko, wrote on his Twitter account, "We are at the doors of important announcements that bring us close to the final deal." The Twitter account of the government peace negotiation team shared a photo of FARC and government negotiators, standing interspersed together, with the caption, "The day is approaching."
The two sides of the negotiating table have been in the process of reviewing a draft deal in recent days. The document is set to be made public Wednesday afternoon. The historic deal will mark the end of 52 years of armed internal conflict between government forces and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, founded in 1964 on Marxist demands for agrarian reform and rights for rural communities. The conflict is the longest-running civil war in Latin America.
President Santos is expected to fly to the Cuban capital Wednesday in order to make the formal announcement, as he did in September and June for important landmarks in the peace process, but his attenandance is not confirmed.
The announcement will bring an end of nearly four years of negotiations in Havana, launched in 2012. However, the formal signing of the final agreement is expected to take place in a public event in Colombia on Sept. 23, the details of which are yet to be confirmed, local media reported. FARC leaders will now take the agreement back to their camps to share their information with their ranks, which is highly-anticipated to be the last such FARC conference with armed rebels before the group transitions into a non-military political movement in accordance with the peace agreement.
Final major issues on the agenda that are expected to be made public Wednesday include the specifics of the issue of amnesty — which will not apply to war crimes and crimes against humanity — for demobilized FARC rebels, as well as the question of guaranteeing the FARC's legal participation in the country's politics. Negotiators have already reached and announced landmark partial agreements related to central matters of transitional justice, agrarian reform, and crop substitution for illicit coca crops. The announcement of a bilateral cease-fire deal in June was widely celebrated as signaling the end of the war.
The release of a final deal Wednesday will spur the process of the government organizating a plebescite to ask Colombians if they accept the agreement, the official mechanism to ratify the deal with society. The vote is expected to take place within a few months of finalizing the peace agreement and is aimed at giving democratic legitimacy to the peace agreement.
To pass, the majority of 4.5 million Colombian voters, a 13 percent participation threshold, need to vote “Yes” in the plebiscite. In the unlikely event that the deal is voted down, it would not mean that aspects of the peace agreement would be renegotiated, but it could frustrate the implementation of the deal. The government’s chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, said recently that it would be a “huge mistake” to try to reopen negotiations with the FARC and that Colombian society would have little to gain from such a move.
Santos and the FARC evidently support a "Yes" vote in the plebiscite. Far-right former president and current Senator Alvaro Uribe, whose presidency saw record level of human rights violations and people fleeing the country as refugees, has been pushing for a "No" vote. According to a recent Gallup poll, of the half of the population that had made up their mind on how they will vote, 67.5 percent are expected to vote in favor of ratifying the final peace deal, while 32.5 percent would vote against it.
On Monday, the peace delegations issued a joint statement saying that they had “made progress to reach agreements but a few issues remained pending.” Colombia's El Espectator reported Tuesday the few small outstanding issues flagged by the peace delegation press team will not stand in the way of the immement annoucement and end of the process in Havana expected Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Colombia's Radio Caracol reported that most issues have been resolved. “Both parts agreed to design a new proposal for a more sensible reinsertion for the FARC fighters, while the government committed to present an amnesty bill,” the outlet reported.
The FARC argues that the end of the war is the beginning of peace and a process of reconciliation to unite “two Colombias,” one of which represents the marginalized groups that have suffered most under the armed conflict.
Colombia's over five-decade civil war has killed over 220,000 victims and uprooted some 6.3 million people, making it home to the second largest population of internally displaced peoples in the world after Syria.