Pope may have nudged Colombia, FARC toward path for peace

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Story highlights

  • Pope Francis used Sunday Mass in Havana to urge Colombia, FARC to negotiate peace
  • On Wednesday, the two sides announced a commitment to ending the five-decade-old war
  • Dating to the 1960s, the leftist FARC is the longest-running insurgency in Latin America

Havana, Cuba (CNN)Pope Francis' words may have pushed Colombia's President and leaders from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, to negotiate a breakthrough commitment to ending a five-decade-old war.

When the Pope celebrated Mass on Sunday in Revolution Plaza in Havana, he ended by warning that failure was not an option in the peace negotiations.
    "We do not have the right to allow ourselves yet another failure on this path of peace and reconciliation," he said.
    Three days later, the accord was announced in Havana, where the two sides have been trying to work out an agreement for about three years.
    A member of the FARC negotiation team, Iván Márquez, tweeted: "As the Pope says: we have no right to afford another failure in this path of peace and reconciliation. We need a society in peace."
    Analyst Virginia Bouvier of the U.S. Institute of Peace said the Pope's influence probably made a difference.
    "Certainly the Pope's words had a strong impact on the people that were sitting at the table about the cost of not coming to an agreement soon," she said on CNN.
    The Pope also may have helped push other antagonists toward peace. He chided the United States and Cuba for not opening diplomatic relations, a chill that officially ended in August when the U.S. Embassy reopened in Havana.

    Agreeing to seek justice

    The Colombian agreement establishes peace tribunals and a reconciliation commission to provide justice for victims related to the years-long rebellion and to punish those who have perpetrated crimes.
    "We have agreed to create a special jurisdiction for peace that is going to guarantee that the crimes committed during the conflict, especially the most serious ones, will not remain unpunished," President Juan Manuel Santos said.
    "Peace is possible and is closer than ever!" the President tweeted.
    "We will do what is necessary to ensure that the past is never repeated!"
    The leftist group began its war against the Colombian government in the 1960s, making it the longest-running insurgency in Latin America.
    FARC continues to champion leftist causes. But with Colombia being one of the world's top cocaine producers, the rebels have added drug trafficking to their list of atrocities.
    The group is estimated to make $500 million from the illicit trade per year, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. The United States and the European Union consider FARC a terrorist organization.
    The two sides have been engaged in peace talks for about three years, a time marked by both progress and setbacks. FARC, for example, announced a unilateral ceasefire this year, only to call it off in May.
    That was one of many ceasefires that both sides had implemented, then retracted, over the years, signaling the entrenched positions and bitterness on both sides.
    Still, the talks have continued focusing on major points such as land reform, rebels' political participation, the elimination of illegal crops, the rights of victims, the disarming of FARC and how a final agreement would be enforced.
    Santos has said Colombians will have the opportunity to vote in a referendum on any potential deal, a promise he repeated Wednesday.
    Despite the agreement, a smaller armed group remains at war with the government.
    Santos blamed the National Liberation Army, a leftist guerrilla movement known as ELN, for two July explosions in Bogota that injured at least eight people.