Colombia to hold popular vote on FARC peace deal

Colombia to hold popular vote on FARC peace deal

BOGOTA - Reuters
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Jan. 16 opened the door to a popular vote on any peace accord negotiated and signed with FARC militants, but rejected a militant demand to change the Constitution if a deal is clinched.

Talks to bring an end to Latin America’s longest-running insurgency began in Cuba in November, when the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, sat down for the first round of a five-point peace agenda.

Santos urged the FARC on Jan. 16 to keep discussions between negotiators strictly confidential until the accords are reached. “The dialogue has to be serious. It has to be a discreet dialogue,” said Santos. “Only when there are agreements, important advances ... only when those advances exist will we inform the public, the national and international community.”

Ivan Marquez, head of the Marxist FARC negotiating team, has called for a national assembly to change Colombia’s Constitution and ensure any agreements would be set in stone.

The group, which has fought successive governments since 1964 and killed tens of thousands, reiterated their demand on Jan. 15. But Santos rejected the idea.

“It’s very possible that we could find a way to seek popular approval for any accord,” Santos said during an address in the Norte de Santander province. “That’s still to be discussed. But I want it to be very clear that we will not end these agreements with a national assembly.”

Santos has ruled out discussing major changes to Colombia’s economic or political model, saying that if the militants want to modify the system, they should run for election.

Negotiations were formally launched on Oct. 18, but the talks got off to a rocky start after the militants said they wanted to discuss a range of topics not mentioned on the agenda.