HAVANA – The Colombian government’s chief negotiator in peace talks with FARC rebels in the Cuban capital on Thursday urged all of his countrymen to vote in an Oct. 2 referendum on the agreement the two sides finalized this week.
Just 12 hours after the presentation of the historic final accord that brings an end to four years of negotiations, Humberto De la Calle said in a press conference that the challenge for Colombians was to weigh what they do not like about the agreement against “the future expectations for ending a conflict and creating opportunities.”
The chief negotiator said the alternatives were to continue fighting a conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas that dates back to the 1960s, is blamed for more than 200,000 deaths and has internally displaced roughly 7 million people or choose the path of a firm and lasting peace.
De la Calle urged undecided voters to study the agreements and said he would embark on an “educational marathon” to explain the nearly 300 pages of text hammered out over nearly four years of talks.
The six main points of the agreement are land reform, political participation, bilateral cease-fire and abandonment of arms, drugs and drug crop, redress for victims of the decades-old strife and the mechanisms for implementing and verifying the final accord.
“It’s a crucial moment for Colombia,” the government’s chief negotiator said.
He was also categorical about the irreversible nature of the agreement. “I don’t think there’s space to renegotiate, to open discussions. I think that after this experience of four years with the FARC this is the time to decide,” De la Calle said.
Colombia’s high commissioner for peace and a plenipotentiary negotiator in the talks, Sergio Jaramillo, seconded De la Calle’s remarks, urging Colombians to move beyond politics and be aware of the historic moment at hand.
“If this accord becomes reality, we stop the war. Hundreds of soldiers and police, as well as the men and women of the FARC, will no longer die year after year,” he said, adding that implementation of the accord would provide Colombia with a new opportunity and lay the foundation for a “stable and lasting peace.”
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced the peace deal in a televised address Wednesday night, saying it would be put to a vote in a referendum on Oct. 2.
The FARC, meanwhile, said Thursday that in the coming days it would hold a congress in which it expects rank-and-file guerrillas will approve the peace agreement.