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Colombia and FARC Sign New Peace Deal, This Time Skipping Voters


President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, left, and Rodrigo Londoño, the top rebel commander, at the signing of a peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in Bogotá on Thursday. Credit Luis Robayo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Colombian government and the country’s main rebel group signed a new peace deal on Thursday, hoping to salvage the accords and skip the ballot box after voters rejected the agreement in a referendum the month before.

If the ceremony had a sense of familiarity, it was because it had all been done before this year. In late September, the rebels — Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC — and the government pledged a new start at a signing ceremony before world leaders in the port town of Cartagena after a half-century of war.

But on Oct. 2, only days after the signing, Colombians took to the polls for a referendum on the peace deal and knocked it down by a slim margin. In another twist, President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize later that week, with the judges urging him to not let the agreement slip out of reach.

Hence, the need for a do-over.

“On signing this agreement, as president of all Colombians, I want to invite all, with an open mind and open heart, to give peace a chance,” Mr. Santos said at the ceremony, held in a theater in Bogotá, the capital.

Rodrigo Londoño, the top commander of the rebels, also spoke at the signing and asked Colombians to forgive the group for crimes during the conflict. He urged the government to enact the peace agreement swiftly.

This time, however, Mr. Santos will not be calling on voters to weigh in.

Instead of facing another referendum, the accords will now head to the country’s Congress, where Mr. Santos’s governing coalition holds a majority, making approval far more likely.

Mr. Santos’s rivals accused him of rushing through the new agreement without letting them revise it.

Álvaro Uribe, the former president who led the campaign against the deal, said the modified accords did not do enough to punish the rebels, particularly for drug trafficking crimes.

“I would say these are serious subjects — why didn’t they want to modify them?” he said this week.


A rally in support of the peace process a few blocks from the theater where a revised peace pact was being signed in Bogotá on Thursday. Credit Ivan Valencia/Associated Press

Since the rebuke by voters, Mr. Santos’s government has shuttled between the conservative political leaders who campaigned against the deal and the Marxist rebels who have spent years negotiating with the government from Havana and were waiting to start new lives as civilians.

The revised agreement, Mr. Santos has argued, addresses both of their concerns.

The new deal sets clearer protections for countryside landowners, as the government establishes a greater presence in rural areas and gives judges more latitude in cases involving rebel drug trafficking, changes that conservatives had pushed for. It also bans the rebels from running in certain newly created congressional districts in postconflict zones.

But the accords stopped short of the demands of some “no” voters, many of whom wanted the government to bar those involved in war crimes from any political participation. And the new deal did not open the door to tough prison sentences for rebels, which the government said would be a nonstarter for the rebels.

Cynthia J. Arnson, who directs the Latin America program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington-based think tank, said the new agreement made significant nods to those who voted against its previous iteration.

Now, she said, the government faces the daunting task of rebuilding postconflict Colombia.

“As difficult and winding as the path has been to the final accord, it’s always the case that implementation of an agreement is 10 times harder than the actual negotiation,” she said of ending the 52-year war that left an estimated 200,000 people dead.

Before the referendum, months of polling had predicted a wide margin of victory for the agreement, creating such a sense of confidence that the government held its first public signing before the vote took place.

But, lulled by the polls, the government failed to drive Colombians to the ballot box, resulting in anemic turnout in places that favored the deal. Mr. Santos had staked his legacy on achieving peace, but his approval ratings were so low at the time that his endorsement may have actually hurt the deal’s chances.

On top of that came Hurricane Matthew, which drenched the northern coastal areas supportive of the deal, leading many to stay home.

But for many other Colombians, the deal failed on substance. The agreement had always been a tug of war between peace and justice, and in the end, the demand for justice won.

Many Colombians were enraged that the government struck a deal in which most rank-and-file FARC fighters would be able to walk free, while those who committed war crimes would face reduced sentences.

The new agreement was announced in Havana this month, with negotiators contending that it addressed a range of topics, including how courts might address drug trafficking offenses, that had troubled voters.

Source: NYT > World

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