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    More Signs of Hope Emerge in Colombian Government-FARC Peace Deal

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    The Colombian government and left-wing guerilla group FARC signed a new peace accord in Havana on Saturday after the previous deal was rejected in a national referendum. Speaking to Sputnik, Camilo Gonzalez, president of the Institute for Development & Peace, explained why the prospects for a lasting peace are strong, and what challenges remain.

    On November 12, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Spanish acronym FARC) rebel group signed a new peace deal, thus seeking to salvage an earlier agreement which was rejected in a nation-wide referendum last month. The new deal is the latest iteration of a peace plan initially proposed this summer, when the government and FARC announced a comprehensive peace plan to try and end the decades-long conflict estimated to have killed nearly 220,000 people over a 60 year period.

    Last month, Colombian voters rejected the original agreement, which included provisions on landmine removal, land reform, transitional justice, the end of illegal drug trafficking. Nevertheless, Nobel Peace Prize winner Juan Manuel Santos vowed that he would continue negotiations to reach a lasting peace.

    Speaking to Sputnik Mundo, Camilo Gonzalez, a former senior official in the Colombian government and president of the INDEPAZ Institute, explained that he has high hopes that the new version of the agreement will find the necessary support among the opposition. At the same time, he added, a lasting agreement will require the support of opposition leader and former President Alvaro Uribe. 

    Gonzalez noted that the new agreement touches on a number of important issues, including agriculture, an area long associated with the problem of drug production. "Furthermore, the treaty attempts to broaden democracy, and to offer a number of safeguards for victims [of past actions of FARC and government forces alike] in terms of truth, justice, reparations and non-repetition [of the violence]. The agreement also speaks of the formation of a new political party after FARC is legalized."

    The political economist stressed that the new agreement should find broad support, because an effort has been made to incorporate those forces that rejected the original agreement, reached September 26 and brought down in a referendum October 2. "This gives us more chances for a transition in Colombia," the expert noted.

    Now, the fate of the agreement is in the hands of the opposition. Opposition leader and former President Uribe had demanded that the new agreement not be finalized until the opposition is given a chance to review it.

    "Uribe has asked that the agreement not be made final, because he wants the people who voted 'against' [the first agreement] to take a look at it," Gonzalez noted. "The new agreement includes more than 70% of the points that they demanded, and over 90% of the fundamental points."

    Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos (L) and Colombian First Lady Maria Clemencia de Santos arrives at congress to present the FARC peace accord to the Colombian Congress in Bogota, Colombia, August 25, 2016.
    © REUTERS / John Vizcaino
    Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos (L) and Colombian First Lady Maria Clemencia de Santos arrives at congress to present the FARC peace accord to the Colombian Congress in Bogota, Colombia, August 25, 2016.

    In this situation, the expert suggested that "it would be outrageous [of Uribe] to use the veto, but anything can be expected of him." The former Colombian president has earlier voiced his categorical opposition to FARC remaining a political force. For his part, Gonzalez suggested that "this distorts the meaning of the term 'negotiation'."

    At the same time, he added, there are still details about the new agreement that remain unknown. For example, the peace plan needs to be approved by Congress. There will be a six-month phase-out schedule for the rebels to lay down arms, and during this time, the laws and guarantees to give FARC political legitimacy will need to be ratified.

    "This is the plan, but there are some doubts about whether the Congress will approve the agreement, or whether some demonstration of the people's will be required. For now, two elements are in limbo: the last word given by Uribe and the provision of legal validity to the agreement," Gonzalez concluded.

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    negotiations, FARC referendum, FARC peace agreement, peace agreement, FARC, Jose Manuel Santos, Alvaro Uribe, Colombia
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