FARC rebels relax in a camp in the southern jungles of Putumayo. Colombia, August 16, 2016. (Fernando Vergara/ Associated Press)

FARC rebels relax in a camp in the southern jungles of Putumayo. Colombia, August 16, 2016. (Fernando Vergara/ Associated Press)

After 52 years of armed conflict, the Colombian government and FARC rebels announced a final agreement aimed at ending one of the world’s longest-lasting insurgencies. In talks that began in Havana in 2012, the two sides have reached understandings on peacebuilding measures that include transitional justice, accounting for the “disappeared,” and a plan for demobilization of the rebels’ estimated 7,000 fighters. The historic agreement opens the way for peace after an internal conflict that, in a nation of 50 million, has left 220,000 dead, 7.65 million recorded victims, and more than 6 million people displaced from their homes.

The accord marks the beginning of the end of the FARC as an armed group and of Colombia’s internal armed conflict. This is a tremendous achievement by not only the two negotiating teams and the international community that supported the talks, but also by Colombian civil society, which for decades pressed for a political solution.

President Juan Manuel Santos has sent the accord to Congress with a request to hold a plebiscite on October 2 to obtain the required public endorsement. The international community has largely embraced the agreements as striking a reasonable balance for all sides and addressing: root causes of the conflict; victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, and non-repetition of the violence; and the government’s obligation to investigate, prosecute, and punish violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

The national vote looks like it will be close, however. While Colombians overwhelmingly support peace, polls show deep polarization over the terms of the accords. Most controversial are parts of the special justice system to be used in the transition to peace. Part of the problem is that Santos, who has staked his presidency on ending the war, is unpopular at home, primarily as a result of his handling of the economy. He also faces powerful opponents to the deal in former President Alvaro Uribe, who calls it an agreement with terrorism, and Comptroller General Alejandro Ordóñez, who has challenged the agreement’s legality. It will be unfortunate if the plebiscite becomes a political referendum on Santos rather than a vote to move out of the shadows of war. Read more