After a half-century of combat that spilled blood across this South American nation, Colombians have embarked on a new, but difficult path to settle their political differences with the signing of a historic peace accord between the government and leftist rebels.
The first test after Monday’s signing is a weekend referendum in which voters are being asked to ratify or reject the deal. If it passes, as expected, Colombia will move on to the thornier and still uncertain task of reconciliation.
President Juan Manuel Santos and Rodrigo Londono, top commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, formally signed the agreement before a crowd of 2,500 foreign dignitaries and special guests, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Many in the audience, all dressed in white, had tears in their eyes as Santos removed from his lapel a pin shaped like a white dove that he has been wearing for years and handed it over to his former adversary, who fastened it to his own shirt.
It was one of many symbolic gestures during the 90-minute ceremony overlooking the colonial ramparts of Cartagena that filled Colombians with hope and optimism for the arduous work ahead implementing a 297-page accord that took four grueling years to negotiate.
If the accord is accepted by Colombian voters in Sunday’s referendum, as polls say it will, the FARC’s estimated 7,000 fighters would have to turn over their weapons gradually to a team of United Nations-sponsored observers within six months.