Peace, finally? Colombia’s congress approves amended deal with FARC rebels

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos and Marxist FARC rebel leader Rodrigo Londono, known as Timochenko, shake hands after signing a peace accord in Bogota, Colombia November 24, 2016 © Jaime Saldarriaga
The Congress of Colombia has approved the updated peace deal with FARC rebels, outlining a six-month countdown for the insurgents to abandon their weapons and form a political party. The new vote comes after the previous text of the deal was narrowly rejected.

The agreement was approved in the lower house in a 130-0 vote late Wednesday, just one day after it passed the Senate in a 75-0 vote.

READ MORE: Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Colombian President Santos for FARC deal

President Juan Manuel Santos and rebel leader Rodrigo Londono signed the accord last week, after the first deal was rejected in a national referendum. Santos is looking to get the deal implemented as soon as possible, in order to maintain a fragile ceasefire.

Interior Minister Luis Ernesto Gomez praised the deal on Twitter, saying “Peace has arrived!”

However, Colombia's conservative population has expressed anger that Uribe ratified the agreement without holding another referendum, and lawmakers from the Democratic Center party left the floors of both houses of Congress in protest just before the voting began.

Former President Alvaro Uribe, now a senator for the Democratic Center party, has said the government is being too lenient on FARC rebels who have battled the government for 52 years, and that the deal does not serve as a deterrent for other groups involved in crime.

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The new agreement, aimed at ending Latin America's longest-running insurgency, was put together in just over a month, after the original pact – which allowed rebels to hold public office and skip jail – was narrowly defeated in an October 2 referendum.

Although the government claims the new deal includes most of the amendments put forward by those who rejected the original agreement, it still contains the controversial provisions allowing rebels to hold public office and avoid jail time, a topic which has also angered Colombia's conservatives.

FARC began in 1964 as a rebellion fighting rural poverty. It reached prominence in the 1980s and 90s, and was Latin America's largest and best-equipped militant organization at its peak, with an estimated 20,000 fighters. The Marxist group's five-decade battle with the government has claimed more than 220,000 lives and displaced millions.