Colombia: The War is Over

City residents don’t want to miss the moment when President Juan Manuel Santos and Timoleón Jiménez, leader of the largest guerilla faction in Colombia, seal the historic Havana Peace Agreements

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The march starts early along 7th Avenue, which runs from the north of the city to the south, turning into a pedestrian walkway in the heart of Bogotá just before it reaches Plaza de Bolívar.

This is not just any morning. The papers hanging in the corner newsstands all have the same front page. El Tiempo reads “Peace” in capital letters, with no photos or anything that could detract attention from the most important event for Colombia in the last 50 years.

On Sunday, September 25, 7th Avenue was a medieval carnival, with street vendors and Michael Jackson and Carlos Vivies impersonators. However, just one day later and it looks like a battlefield. There are slightly more “Sí” (Yes) posters supporting the plebiscite, scheduled for October 2, on the lamp posts and exterior walls of businesses, although flyers for the “No” campaign are also being passed around.

At midday, the yes supporters called on by students, social organizations and a few political parties, arrive. They march down to Plaza de Bolívar to the rhythm of cumbia, dressed in white shirts and holding placards reading “Vote yes, let’s stop this war now.”

In front of Bogota City Hall and across from the Congress building and Palace of Justice, a stage with giant screens linking up to Cartagena was erected.

City residents don’t want to miss the moment when President Juan Manuel Santos and Timoleón Jiménez, leader of the largest guerilla faction in Colombia, seal the historic Havana Peace Agreements.

Hundreds of stories are written in crayon and chalk on the black paving stones of the plaza. Two youths pose next to one of these which reads: “We are the children of war, but will be the parents of peace.”

The music of peace erupts from drums and Brazilian rhythms mixed with cumbia and vallenato. The public starts to dance. And the Yes movement turns into a celebration.

The broadcast begins as the eyes of 13,000 people watch the events unfolding over one thousand kilometers away, on the Caribbean coast. When the special guests are introduced, and the turn of Army General Raúl Castro arrives, the plaza responds with applause.

There is more than one single-star flag waving alongside the white ones of peace and Colombia’s three-color ensign. Gratitude for the role played by Cuba as guarantor nation and the almost fours years which Havana served as host of the talks between the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP), is palpable.

“This is my father’s wish and the desire of a people who have come together right now to witness a dream,” states 31 year old Andrea Medina, her face wet with tears of joy.

Fifty-two year old Nairo Jaime is accompanied by his 10 and 12 year old sons. “The road of war leads to nowhere, reconciliation is better,” states the journalist who covered the Caguán talks under President Andrés Pastrana.

”The country is here for my sons, so that they fulfill their dreams,” he states.

When Santos and Timoleón shake hands following the signing of the agreements, which put an end to half a century of conflict, the plaza erupts. Someone has managed to get past the security checks with fireworks, one of which explodes twice above the public buildings. The frightened pigeons take flight trying to avoid hundreds of white balloons.

Bogotá residents begin to sing “Yes, we did it; yes, we did,” in unison; as if deep down, even in this moment, many are uncertain of what has just happened. “The war is over, sweetheart,” a mother explains to her daughter.

A farewell to arms

A historic day in Cartegena • Signatories thank Cuba for its role as guarantor of peace talks

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CARTAGENA DE INDIAS, Colombia.— “Today the bets are on peace,” many Colombians commented to the Cuban press yesterday, September 26, during a day when emotions ran high in the streets and neighborhoods of this city. The moment is one of the most transcendental our region has experienced in recent years.

Colombia’s embrace of peace was celebrated with a liturgy which began shortly before noon at San Pedro Claver Cathedral located in Cartagena’s central historic district, with Monsignor Jorge Enrique Jiménez Carvajal, archbishop of Cartagena saying, “Welcome to this prayer we are making, trusting in God, for Colombia.”

In attendance was Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, President of Cuba’s Councils of State and Ministers, to accompany and share this moment of love and hope with the Colombian people, along with other heads of state, representatives of international organizations, foreign ministers and guests.

During the hour-long religious ceremony, officiated by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, offered were prayers for Colombia; for harmony among the Colombian people; for the entire homeland – with the desire to unite the country’s different religions in an appeal for reconciliation and unity.

Cardinal Parolin delivered words of support from the Pope, who has closely followed the peace process over the last few years, and prayed for “light for the road ahead and the decisions Colombians must make.”

Likewise, President Juan Manuel Santos asked for God’s wisdom to make Colombia “a single family, in which no one feels excluded.”

And as a sign of peace and reconciliation, all present greeted one another, regardless of creed or nationality, to conclude the moving ceremony.

With the afternoon drawing to a close, the heads of state who came to witness the historic moment made their entrance into the San Francisco Espanade, located in the city’s Convention Center, all led to their seats by children whose future depends on the agreement.

With them was Raúl who occupied a spot among those presiding the ceremony, which marked the beginning of a new stage that will require the support and willpower of all Colombians.

More than 2,500 invitees clapped their hands and waved handkerchiefs; the plaza became all light, not only because of the bright white color that predominated, but from the faces of those present, full of emotion and hope for a future without violence – a longing felt for so many years.

The Final Accord rested on the table, at its side the “balígrafo” with which it would be signed – a pen crafted from bullets, as a symbol of the transition from war to education, to the future.

First, in the name of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP), the agreement was signed by Rodrigo Londoño, alias Timoleón Jiménez or Comandante Timochenko. In the press room, the first “Bravo!” was heard, among the long list of expressions of support heard throughout the day.

President Juan Manuel Santos then signed, and in a simple, meaningful gesture presented Londoño with a pin in the shape of dove which he was wearing on his own shirt, a symbol of the peace they had hoped for, for so long.

A strong handshake sealed the accord, an agreement that had already been written, which will now face the task of giving the country life.

We are convinced that with the unity of all Colombians, this peace will be lasting, said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who reaffirmed his support along the road which lies ahead.

He thanked Cuba and Norway, bulwarks serving as guarantors of the talks, as well as accompanying countries Venezuela and Chile, and concluded saying to Colombians, “Thanks to these accords, you can look to the future with optimism.”

Speaking next was the FARC Commander in Chief, whose first words were dedicated to “the generous and blessed people, who never abandoned their hope of living in peace.”

He emphasized that it was now up to the Colombian people to become the principal guarantors of the agreement, saying that putting an end to the long armed conflict was a debt owed to the children of the country.

Londoño expressed his “gratitude to Cuba, to Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz, and Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, and the Cuban people in general,” as well as Norway and its people.

He made special mention of Hugo Chávez and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, continuator of his work, and likewise thanked Chile for the role that country played.

“In the name of the FARC-EP, I sincerely offer our remorse to the victims of the conflict for all the pain that we may have caused in this war,” the Comandante said, before concluding his remarks.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos began his remarks with words for the conflict’s victims, as well, who he said had been at the center of the peace process. He likewise thanked heads of state who had traveled to the city to join Colombia on this day.

A city, he said, that from now on will be remembered not only for its natural and architectural beauty, but also as “the city where Colombia’s most important agreement was signed, the city of peace”

“I prefer an imperfect agreement that saves lives, rather than a perfect war that would continue to drown our families in pain,” Santos continued, adding,” As of today, there is one less war in the world.”

In the plaza, the people laughed, applauded, cried, embraced, and amidst a marvelous tumult, the afternoon came to a gentle close. The moments lived this September day in Cartegena were no doubt moving, and once an or all, the door to peace have been opened, the guns have been silenced and the war is over.

Photo: Estudio Revolución