BOGOTA/HAVANA, (Reuters) – Colombia’s government and Marxist FARC rebels reached a “fundamental agreement” on the guerrillas’ future in politics, one of the thorniest issues addressed in peace talks in Cuba, according to a joint statement yesterday.
The FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, has been fighting the government in a jungle and urban conflict that has killed more than 200,000 people in the five decades since it began as a peasant movement seeking land reform.
The partial accord may clear the way for FARC to enter Colombian politics, which chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said would provide a “new democratic opening” and cement peace after an end of conflict.
“Never again politics and weapons together,” he said.
Like other Latin American guerrilla groups, the FARC aspires to become a political party if a peace deal is signed.
“We are completely satisfied with what we have agreed on the point of political participation,” FARC leader Ivan Marquez told Reuters. “We are doing well. In no other peace process have we advanced as much as we have here in Havana. We have taken an important step in the right direction to end the conflict and to achieve a real democracy in Colombia.”
President Juan Manuel Santos, criticized heavily by the opposition for negotiating with the rebels, has been eager to show progress after a year of talks that had until now yielded only incomplete agreement on the first of a five-point agenda.
“These are real, positive advances toward a final agreement … through which we will break once and for all the link between politics and weapons,” he said in a televised address.
“Today I am much more convinced that peace is possible,” Santos said.
He dismissed the idea of a pause in peace talks before congressional and presidential elections next year, insisting they instead “accelerate” after making new progress.
Yesterday’s development will likely lift Santos’ popularity and provide momentum should he decide by the Nov. 25 deadline to seek a second presidential term in elections next May. Many believe a second term hinges on progress in the peace talks.
The center-right Santos has seen his approval ratings slump in the last few months, partly due to the perception that he has offered too many concessions to the rebels in return for little.
Partial accord has been reached on land reform from an agenda that also includes reparation to the FARC’s victims, tackling Colombia’s drug trade, and an end to fighting.
Santos said yesterday’s agreement foresaw extra transitional political representation in Congress for areas that have suffered the most violence and a special security regime for the exercise of political power, without saying what that entailed.