Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the leader of the country’s main guerrilla group signed a historic peace accord Monday, in a ceremony meant to promote their agreement to end the country’s 52-year armed conflict.
Held in the colonial city of Cartagena, the event marked the first time that Santos and Rodrigo Londoño, leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, publicly appeared together on Colombian soil.
U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Cuban President Raúl Castro and other heads of state attended the ceremony, all of them dressed in white, as a show of support for the pact.
As a binding document, though, the agreement will matter little unless Colombian voters approve it in a crucial referendum on Sunday.
By scheduling the signing ceremony ahead of the vote, the Santos government and the guerrillas hope to boost public support for their accord and send the message that the pact is irreversible. Both sides say the agreement — the result of four years of painstaking negotiations — is a finished product whose rejection by voters would simply prolong a conflict that has killed 220,000 people over the past half-century.
To chants of “no more war!” from an audience dress in white, symbolizing peace, Santos told Colombians in an emotional speech that their long “horrible night of violence is over,” and that “a new dawn of peace is here.”
In a statement aimed at critics of the deal, Santos said “every pact is imperfect,” but called the accord with FARC “the best deal possible.”
“I would rather have an imperfect agreement that saves lives than a perfect war that continues sowing death,” he said.
He was preceded by FARC leader Londoño, who drew the biggest applause when he apologized on behalf of the guerrillas to “all the victims” of the conflict “for any pain we have caused.” Colombian military jets streaked overhead as he finished his speech, startling him but bringing a smile.