Colombia’s Congress approved a revised peace accord with the country’s largest rebel group on Wednesday night, a vote that was most likely the final hurdle in ratifying the troubled agreement whose earlier version had been rejected in a referendum this fall.
By pushing the new deal through Congress, the government bypassed voters this time, who had turned down the accord by a narrow margin on Oct. 2.
Both the Senate and House of Representatives, controlled by President Juan Manuel Santos’s governing coalition, voted overwhelmingly for the agreement. But congressional opponents of the deal had walked out of the chamber in protest before the vote took place.
On Twitter, Mr. Santos expressed “gratitude to Congress for approving the new accords.” His chief rival and predecessor, Álvaro Uribe, in an earlier Twitter post, said the congressional action was an attempt to replace a popular mandate.
Mr. Santos’s opponents in the Congress were furious the new accord had been pushed through with what they said was too little time to either comment or review the changes. The president, who has staked his legacy on ending the long conflict with the rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, consulted his opponents shortly after the referendum was defeated, but he has largely kept them in the dark since, they said.
The Congress’s vote brings to a close what had become one of the country’s biggest political dramas in decades.
After years of tense talks in Havana, rebel and government negotiators announced in August they had reached a deal to end a half century of war which left more than 200,000 people dead. The next month, the rebels arrived to the port city of Cartagena, where a celebratory signing was held before world leaders and televised to the nation.
Just one piece remained: A popular vote to approve the accord, which polls had shown would be a shoe-in. Instead, it lost by a narrow margin. Then days later, in another twist, Mr. Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In their announcement of the prize, the Norwegian judges acknowledged the referendum’s defeat but said they hoped that the prize would “give him strength to succeed in this demanding task.”
Though most voters supported peace with the rebels, many, noting the FARC’s long history of kidnappings and killings, felt the deal offered too much leniency, including reduced sentences in exchange for confessions. Yet Mr. Santos also faced a challenge in renegotiating new terms with the rebels, who had been promised new lives as civilians and a clean slate.
Analysts say the new deal took some steps to address some of the objections.
The agreement now offers some clarity over what to expect as rebels accused of various offenses, including war crimes and drug trafficking, go before a special court. That was one of the opposition’s demands, but the new accord still does not allow for prison sentences for those who confessed to war crimes, which the government said would have caused FARC to leave the negotiating table.
The agreement also guarantees former rebels representation in Congress, but it bans them from running in newly created districts in former conflict zones.
Mr. Santos’s office said the president would give a speech on Thursday outlining the next steps to demobilize the FARC now that the agreement had been ratified.
The two sides have said in coming weeks the rebels will leave their camps, relocating to a set number of sites throughout the country. From there, the groups will disarm under the watch of United Nations inspectors and then begin a new life as civilians.