By Sarah Marsh
Colombia’s government and the country’s leftist FARC rebels signed a historic ceasefire deal on Thursday that brings them tantalizingly close to ending the last major leftist insurgency in Latin America after more than half a century of war.
The accord, capping three years of talks in Havana, paves the way for a final peace deal to end a conflict that was born in the 1960s out of frustration with deep socio-economic inequalities and that outlived other major uprisings in the Americas.
“May this be the last day of the war,” said FARC commander Rodrigo Londono, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, his voice choked with tears.
“We are close to a final peace accord,” he said, after shaking hands with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at the signing ceremony in Havana.
The deal went further than many had hoped, with the FARC committing to putting a final accord to the Colombian people in a plebiscite, a promise made by Colombian President Juan Manual Santos that had been a key sticking point.
Half-way through his second term and staking his legacy on peace, the 64-year-old president has said a deal would add as much as two percentage points annually to economic growth.
Some analysts say security improvements over the last dozen years mean Colombia has already reaped the benefits of the so-called “peace dividend.” Commercial bank Bancolombia said in a report a formal deal would add 0.3 percent growth annually.
The rebels will lay down their arms within 180 days of a final agreement, said Rodolfo Benitez, a Cuban mediator in the talks who presented the agreement in a ceremony also attended by United Nations Secretary General Ban-ki Moon, Cuba’s President Raul Castro and Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro.
Timochenko thanked former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is credited with brokering the talks between the FARC and the Colombian government.
In Colombia, churches rang their bells at noon to mark the start of signing.
“This is a beacon of hope, our children will be able to enjoy what we could not – a childhood of peace and a life in peace,” said housewife Adriana Beltrán, 25.
By Sarah Marsh