Colombia Inks Historical Peace Deal

November 24
5:29 AM 2016

The government of Colombia and its leftist rebels plan to sign a revised peace deal Thursday to replace the one voters narrowly rejected last month.

Negotiators for Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, crafted more than 50 changes to satisfy the opponents, led by former president Alvaro Uribe.

The main complaint was the original plan did not include sufficient punishment for FARC fighters. The five-decade battle has left more than 220,000 Colombians dead, forced 360,000 to flee the country and displaced 6.7 million Colombians from their homes.

Out of nearly 13 million votes cast in the referendum in October, the no vote prevailed by a mere 54,000 ballots.

Santos' surprising and embarrassing defeat at the polls forced the FARC to make more concessions. The changes require the FARC to be more open about its illicit activities such as drug trafficking and kidnappings for ransom to support its resistance. The new deal exposes more rebels to criminal prosecution.

Thursday's signing in the capital of Bogota will be far different than September's grandiose ceremony held in Cartegena before a wave of foreign dignitaries that included Secretary of State John Kerry, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and Cuban President Raúl Castro, who hosted most of the talks in Havana.

The first deal garnered Santos a Nobel Peace Prize for ending the longest-running armed conflict in the Western Hemisphere. Santos said the impact of the revised plan will be the same.

One big change this time is voters won't be asked to ratify the deal, only congress must approve it. Santos insisted on a public vote the first time, saying Colombians needed to decide.

Uribe and other critics said they want another referendum, given the historic nature of the accord. Santos and the FARC leaders said they've already consulted with the opposition, made many of the requested changes and are confident that elected legislators can seal the deal.

Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said that strategy makes sense since congress can speak for the Colombian people. She said there's another reason to move quickly: Organizing another referendum would take months, and that delay could jeopardize the truce.

The objections of Uribe and other opponents will loom as congress debates the deal. Opponents wanted to give FARC representatives fewer seats in the 268-member congress than the 10 promised under the original deal, but the number was not changed. Opponents weren't satisfied with the vague penalties FARC members will face.

As a result, the revised peace deal may do little to change the sharp divisions over the accord that will play out in the coming years, Arnson said.

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