BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) – Carlos Ordonez says he has no idea what peace looks like. The 25 year-old’s town has been under constant threat from rebels for as long as he remembers.
But he believes he’s about to find out. On Thursday, Colombia’s largest rebel group signed a cease-fire, demobilization and disarmament deal that will take effect when both sides reach a final accord to end 52 years of fighting.
People in the capital hugged and cried Thursday as Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos shook hands with Rodrigo Londono, commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. In rural areas like Ordonez’s town of Corinto, population 30,000, residents wondered what life might look after a conflict that has left millions displaced and more than 200,000 dead.
“We are children of violence,” said Ordonez. “The FARC barged into my house and shot my mother dead. She was a housewife. We are tired of war.”
Santos has said he thinks the accord could come as early as next month, although negotiators have missed a series of other government-announced deadlines.
Along with a framework for a cease-fire, both sides agreed on a demobilization plan that will see guerrillas concentrate in rural areas under government protection and relinquish weapons to U.N. monitors. Disarmament would be required to be completed within no more than six months of a peace accord’s signing.
The deal does not mean an immediate halt to conflict or the start of rebels surrendering their arms. That will begin only after a final peace deal is formally signed.
And a peace deal won’t make Colombia safer overnight. The proliferation of cocaine remains a powerful magnet for criminal gangs operating in Colombia’s remote valleys and lawless jungles. Meanwhile, the National Liberation Army, a much smaller but more recalcitrant rebel group, hasn’t started peace talks.
But in rural Colombia, people have already been celebrating.
Corinto priest Juan Diego Colorado is praying for a quick conclusion to the negotiations.
“We’re very hopeful that peace will come to this town, which has been so battered by violence,” he said with a trembling voice.
Pope Francis said Friday that he hoped the deal would prevent Colombia from ever returning to a state of war.
After four years of peace talks, attention is shifting now to a referendum that Santos has promised to give Colombians a final say on its acceptance.
The peace deal could face difficulties due to the rebels’ deep unpopularity and the desire for revenge still felt by many Colombians over a conflict that killed so many and displaced millions. Supporters of the peace process also fear that too many voters could simply stay home, threatening to leave the referendum below the participation threshold needed to be valid.
Both Ordonez and his 33-year-old cousin Khadir Jaramillo plan to vote for the peace deal.
Jaramillo was left paralyzed when he was shot by rebels a decade ago. But he is now ready to move on, focused on his small textile business.
“I will never forget, but everyone has the right to forgive. I have forgiven the FARC, despite the fact that they put me in a wheelchair,” he said. “I am looking forwarded to running my business and living in peace.”