A group of Colombian rebels scanning the sky for government aircraft in May.
Colombia’s government and the largest rebel group in the country have reached a deal to end more than 50 years of conflict, the two sides announced Wednesday, paving the way for an end to the longest-running war in the Americas.
For four years, the Colombian government and the rebels have been locked in negotiations. Time and again, they have emerged from the negotiating table to assure a weary public that another impasse had been eliminated, another hurdle cleared.
This time, the two sides declared that a final deal had been clinched.
“Today begins the end of the suffering, the pain and the tragedy of war,” President Juan Manuel Santos said in a nationally televised address after the agreement was announced. “Let’s open the door together to a new stage in our history.”
The agreement, reached in Havana where the talks took place, effectively signifies the end of the last major guerrilla struggle in Latin America.
It outlines a timetable in which the rebels, known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, will abandon their arms. It also sets out a pathway in which former fighters will enter civilian life again — and in some cases, run for office.
But to most Colombians, the deal is simply a promise that the war, which has lasted 52 years, claimed some 220,000 lives and displaced more than five million people, is at last coming to an end.
Peace in Colombia now looks more likely than ever, but a big hurdle still needs to be cleared before the deal is ratified. Mr. Santos, who has staked his legacy on a deal, must now sell it to his people, who will be asked to vote in an up-or-down referendum.
Rallying against that approval is Mr. Santos’s predecessor, former President Álvaro Uribe, whose term ended in 2010 with the FARC diminished.
Mr. Uribe is widely credited with the military gains that forced the rebels to the negotiating table. But he is now leading a growing campaign against the deal, saying it amounts to an unjust amnesty for the rebels.
“They will spend zero days in prison, they will be awarded with political representation,” Paloma Valencia, a senator in Mr. Uribe’s party, said of the rebels. “This deal breaks the rule of law.”
Still, others hailed the deal as a major step for a country of 50 million people whose growing economy has long been hampered by the simple fact that the state does not control all of its territory.
“It’s an enormous opportunity for the country to create a democratic state, which will allow us to live in peace,” said Maria Emma Wills, a political analyst at the National Center for Historical Memory, a government research group.
She warned, “The deal has strong political opposition, and the next job is going to be public advocacy for it.”
Members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in May.