Cartagena peace accord signing ceremony

By Emma Newbery September 26, 2016
Cartagena peace accord signing ceremony

Photo: Juan Pablo Bello, SIG

International leaders joined distinguished guests from across the country to witness the formal peace accord signing ceremony in Cartagena.

It was an event that called on the nation to unite behind the peace agreement, to celebrate the achievements of the negotiating teams in Havana and to recognise the possibility for change.

And few of those watching, whether at home or as part of the 2,500 strong crowd gathered at the Cartagena Patio de Banderas conference centre, could fail to be struck by the many carefully orchestrated moments, dripping in symbolism.

Related: Colombia ratifies peace agreement

The one that perhaps most visually encompassed the dramatic change that peace could bring was the addition of a white stripe to the usual tricolours of the Colombian flag waving behind the proceedings, as if peace were running through the country itself.

At the start of the ceremony, President Santos took the hand of a young child and together they unlocked and opened a huge symbolic white double door to the future.

And, while the victims of the conflict did not physically take centre stage, they were at the centre of many of the speeches and no doubt the thoughts of the audience. ‘Las cantadoras de Bojayá’ – a group of singers from a town ripped apart by the violence – used their moving Pacific music to voice to words about non-repetition.

In a poignant moment, there was only the sound of a lone bugle and the rustling of white flags as the audience stood for a minute’s silence to remember those who died in the conflict.

As the two leaders signed the front page of the hefty peace document, five planes swooped overhead leaving trails of yellow, blue, red and white. Many of the audience – including the first lady, María Clemencia Rodríguez de Santos – were moved to tears.

FARC commander ‘Timochenko’ (aka Rodrigo Londoño) made a wide-ranging 30 minute address to the crowds, expressing hope for the future.

Most striking for many was his apology to the victims. He said, “We offer sincere apologies to all the victims and for all the pain that has been caused by the conflict.”

Related: Myths and realities of the peace process

The solemnity of the occasion was momentarily disturbed as the former fighter was visibly unnerved by the sound of Colombian airforce planes flying low above.  But he quickly recovered his composure and joked that the planes had come to greet peace rather than drop bombs.

President Santos, who had earlier given the rebel leader his own white dove pin, spoke of the pain and suffering caused by years of conflict, and of the possibilities that peace could bring.

His speech elicited chants of ‘No more war’ from the assembled crowds as he advocated “an imperfect agreement that saves lives” rather than “a perfect war that continues to bring death and pain to our country.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared, “This is how healing begins.”

Behind the symbolism of the day there were also actions as FARC members began to move to demilitarised zones and the European Union announced it would temporarily remove the FARC from its list of terrorist organisations. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry said that it was something his country would also consider in the future.

Emma Newbery