After 52 years of fighting and nearly four years of grinding negotiations, the Colombian Government and the country's Farc rebel group declared today that they had reached an agreement to end the longest-running armed conflict in the Americas.
The two sides made the announcement in Cuba, where negotiations began in 2012 and where Fidel Castro launched a Communist revolution that once inspired guerrilla insurgencies across the hemisphere. Colombia, a nation of 50 million that is one of the closest US allies in Latin America, is the one place where the war has yet to end.
"This is the final chapter of the Cold War in the hemisphere," said Bernard Aronson, the US envoy to the peace talks, in an interview before the announcement.
More than 220,000 Colombians have been killed in fighting over the past half-century, and nearly seven million have been driven from their homes.
Colombian voters must ratify the accord at the ballot box in a vote, likely to take place in October, that is shaping up as a showdown between the country's two most prominent political rivals.But one major obstacle remains for the peace deal to stick.
President Juan Manuel Santos, who has staked his legacy on the peace accord, will be campaigning for Colombians to approve it. His nemesis, former President Álvaro Uribe, is leading the drive to sink the deal. He and other critics say it is too favourable to Farc leaders, whose guerrilla war tactics included kidnapping, drug trafficking and murder.
Polls asking Colombians if they will vote to approve the deal have produced mixed results.
If approved by Colombian voters, the peace deal would become law, and the Farc would begin demobilising its 7000 fighters at designated camps and "protected zones" with monitors from the United Nations. The rebels - formally known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - would have 180 days to fully disarm under the terms of the agreement.
Aronson said he expected the Colombian Government to publish a final text of the treaty within days, setting in motion the plebiscite process. In the next two weeks, Farc commanders are planning to return to their remote camps in the mountains and jungles of Colombia, where they will begin preparing rank-and-file soldiers for disarmament and demobilisation. A formal signing ceremony will probably be held in Colombia in late September or October, ahead of the plebiscite, Aronson said.
The breakthrough follows days of marathon negotiating sessions between the government team and the guerrilla commanders. A final sticking point has been the timing of a blanket amnesty that will be offered to lower-ranking guerrillas who face only charges of "rebellion," in contrast with more senior Farc members accused of committing more serious crimes. Under the terms of the accord, those Farc members will be able to avoid prison if they fully disclose their role in the war and make reparations as part of a truth-and-reconciliation process.
The Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group have announced their agreement on a historic peace deal aimed at ending their half-century-long conflict.
"The Colombian government and the FARC announce that we have reached a final, full and definitive accord... on the end of the conflict and the building of a stable and enduring peace in Colombia," said a joint statement read out in the Cuban capital Havana, where both sides have been engaged in peace talks for almost four years.
The deal still has to be ratified in a plebiscite for it to become official.
Under the deal, the Colombian government is obligated to engage in an aggressive land reform, to overhaul its anti-narcotics policies and to expend that into underdeveloped regions in the country.
In turn, FARC will start to withdraw its troops from their jungle and mountain hideouts and relocate them into UN disarmament camps.
"We have fortunately managed to reach a safe harbor," said FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez, aka Timochenko, before the announcement.
The peace accord was reached following a bilateral ceasefire reached in June.
FARC is the largest rebel group in Colombia and has an estimated 7,000 fighters. It has been at war with the government in Bogota since the guerrilla movement rose to prominence in 1964.
So far, more than 220,000 people have been killed in clashes between the two sides and 6.6 million others have been displaced. Moreover, a further 45,000 people are said to be missing.