The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) and the Colombian Government reached a historic agreement on Wednesday regarding political participation, effectively paving the way for FARC’s evolution into a legitimate political party.

After a year of negotiations fraught with disagreements and mutual lambasting, the government and FARC released a joint statement this morning marking the end of their discussions on political involvement.   Their agreement, which covers opposition parties, political pluralism, and citizen participation, represents a major step towards a peace agreement and an end to a nearly fifty-year-old conflict.

“To achieve a solid peace, it’s necessary to amplify, deepen, modernize, and strengthen our democracy,” said Humberto de la Calle, the Colombian government’s chief negotiator.  “ to make it stronger, more participative, pluralistic, and transparent.”

Among other issues, this agreement outlines the rights of opposition parties, in particular the opposition party FARC plans to create after a peace agreement is signed.  Both sides agreed to institutional changes that will promote political pluralism as well as a series of special conditions designed to foster the development of new political parties.

FARC and the Colombian government also outlined a plan to guarantee transparent elections, particularly in those areas where political development has been stunted by accusations of fraud.

In what represents a major win for FARC, the Colombian government approved an increase in the number of representatives elected by communities that have suffered disproportionately during the conflict or that have traditionally been abandoned by the national government.  Citizens from several regions of the country will temporarily be allowed to fill more seats in the House of Representatives, a measure that aims to increase national unity.

Given the massacre of the Unión Patriótica, a leftist political party that split off from FARC in the 1980s, and a history of political violence in Colombia, part of the agreement reached today centered on security measures designed to protect political parties.

Recognizing that lasting peace requires a culture of tolerance and reconciliation, FARC and the Colombian government also agreed to establish Consejos para la Reconciliación y la Convivencia (Councils for Reconciliation and Coexistence) to aid the government in the execution of these agreements.

Although his statements today were decidedly optimistic, de la Calle was careful to clarify that these changes will only take effect if a peace agreement can be reached that includes FARC’s disarmament, demobilization, and reincorporation into civilian life.  He promised to release a more detailed report on political participation, co-authored by FARC, later this week.

The next cycle of discussions, on illegal drugs, will begin on November 18th. In the meantime, Colombia can enjoy a glimmer of hope in what has so far been a long and difficult year of negotiations.