OPINION

Colombian consul in NY: Peace agreement not perfect, but the best deal possible

"Today begins the end of suffering, pain and tragedy of war.” This is how President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos began the speech he delivered on the night of August 24, 2016 on national TV, announcing the world the success of the peace negotiations with the rebel group FARC, the oldest active guerrilla in the world. 

After more than 50 years of violence that has left more than seven million victims – a figure that horrifies – Colombians have, for the first time, a real chance to finally live in peace. The last six presidents of Colombia tried it before, without success, but prepared the ground for it. The winning formula was achieved by President Santos and his negotiating team, with great patience, sacrifice, tenacity and a large dose of humility.

I feel privileged to be able to live to tell what has been the most important moment for my country after our independence. I would like my grandchildren to know that thanks to the efforts and sacrifice of thousands, they were born in a more fair and prosperous country, in a country in peace.

- Maria Isabel Nieto, Consul in NY

What has been achieved is not a perfect agreement, but "it's the best deal possible" as chief negotiator of the government said. It could not be otherwise. 

Those who wanted to see the subversive behind bars, humiliated and defeated, must understand that this is not a process of surrender, but a process of negotiation. A revolutionary movement that sought to seize power by force of arms should be given guarantees to participate in the democratic life of the country and have support for their reintegration into society. 

The critics should understand that among the combatants of the FARC are thousands of young people who as children were taken by force from their homes into the jungle, changing their toys for weapons. Others saw in the guerrillas a form of survival in the absence of opportunities. The vast majority are farmers who also deserve a better future.

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I am a firsthand witness, since I worked alongside with President Santos in recent years, of the commitment by which this government assumed the process, which is unparalleled in the world. 

The victims, those seven million Colombians who were kidnapped, disappeared, displaced from their land, sexually abused, extorted and whose relatives were killed, were from the first day the center of the process. 

Reparation for the victims began long before the peace agreement was signed, and several months ago, the guerrillas started collaborating with the authorities in identifying mass graves, where abductees and combatants were, in many opportunities, found together; also, they have been working together in the map of places where land mines are buried to prevent further deaths and mutilations. It has been a process that allowed the negotiations in Havana to go on without declaring a cease-fire, nor a centimeter of territory ceded. An inclusive process, with open arms to all sectors without exception and where minorities were considered for the claim and the respect of their human rights.

Today, Colombia is a country that has overcome, with huge effort, the painful reference to drug trafficking and violence with whom the world has relates us for decades. Today, Colombia is a country with a strong democratic tradition, impeccable handling of its economy, significant foreign investment, employment opportunities, wonderful tourist development and many champions who have given us moments of glory in sports, music and arts. The Narcos have been replaced by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Shakira, James Rodriguez, Fernando Botero, Juanes and Carlos Vives, among many others.

We are facing a unique and unrepeatable historical moment. This morning, Monday August 29th, 2016, by order of the President, a definitive cease-fire was declared; the days of armed confrontation among Colombians are over; not a single bullet will be fired as part of this conflict. The whole world will witness today the rebirth of a country full of hope in a better future.  

Personally, I have experienced firsthand, like most of my compatriots, the rigors and horrors of war. I feel privileged to be able to live to tell what has been the most important moment for my country after our independence. I would like my grandchildren to know that thanks to the efforts and sacrifice of thousands, they were born in a more fair and prosperous country, in a country in peace. 

On Oct. 2nd, all Colombians, including those living abroad, will have the opportunity to vote on a plebiscite to approve or disapprove the peace agreement signed in Havana. We cannot turn our back to our moment in history. As John F. Kennedy once said: "We have come too far, we have sacrificed too much to disdain the future now."

Maria Isabel Nieto, Consul General of Colombia in New York.

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