September 26, 2016 at 8:00 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Colombian government, FARC sign historic peace deal

Columbia, gay news, Washington Blade

A poster in the window of a restaurant in Jackson Heights, N.Y., on Sept. 21, 2016, urges Colombian voters to support the peace agreement between their country’s government and Marxist guerrillas. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Colombian government and a rebel group on Monday formally signed a peace deal that seeks to end Latin America’s longest-running war.

President Juan Manuel Santos and Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño, commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, signed the accord during a ceremony in the Colombian city of Cartagena.

“What we signed today is a declaration from the people that we have had enough of war,” said Santos.

The Associated Press reported U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Cuban President Raúl Castro, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and former Spanish King Juan Carlos are among the 2,500 foreign dignitaries who attended the ceremony. Those in the crowd chanted, “Yes we did” and “No more war” as Londoño and Santos spoke.

More than 200,000 people died in the war that began in 1962.

Members of the FARC, paramilitaries and the Colombian army frequently targeted, displaced or even killed LGBT people during the conflict. Angélica Lozano, who is the first openly LGBT person elected to the Colombian Congress, is a former advisor to Íngrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped by FARC rebels in 2002 during her presidential campaign.

Representatives of Colombia Diversa and Caribe Afirmativo — two Colombian advocacy groups — participated in the peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC that began in Havana in 2012.

The 297-page peace deal the Colombian government and the FARC formalized last month in the Cuban capital specifically acknowledges the war’s LGBT victims. It also notes the “fundamental rights” of LGBT Colombians and other vulnerable groups and calls for their inclusion in the creation of a “democratic culture and participation” in the country.

“The conflict made our quality of life more difficult,” said Caribe Afirmativo Director Wilson Castañeda on Monday during a panel discussion in Cartagena. “We were not considered citizens before the conflict.”

A referendum on the peace deal will take place on Oct. 2. Colombia Diversa, Caribe Afirmativo and more than 100 LGBT advocacy groups have launched a campaign that urges Colombians to vote for it.

“We are very emotional,” Castañeda told the Washington Blade after Santos and Londoño signed the deal. “We are very happy to know that the war has ended and that now the road to equality will be much easier.”

“It is the feeling of knowing that we conquered fear and pain and violence and we are once again moving forward with great hope,” he added.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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