When Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the senior negotiators of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) confirmed that the agreed upon deadline of March 23 to sign a final peace accord could not be met, Colombians were hardly surprised.
As four years of ongoing peace negotiations between the state and guerrillas are about to end, there are still parts of the six-point agenda to be discussed and fine print to be ironed out before both parties can put ink to paper.
The consensus from the table in Havana is that an agreement will be reached within the next month. And to set the tone for the beginning of the end to more than 50 years of internal conflict, Santos stated that on March 23 there would be some kind of announcement from Havana, where peace talks have been held since 2012.
So what could both sides be preparing for during a time which marks Holy Week celebrations across Colombia?
Firstly, a key announcement by the government that it will adhere to FARC’s unilateral ceasefire, with a ceasefire of its own. One of the most contentious issues of the process, the ceasefire would send a signal that a definitive deal is close.
And negotiators on both sides asked in January that the United Nations Security Council oversee the process with a mission of unarmed observers during a period of 12 months. The ceasefire would be followed by disarmament of FARC combatants.
Even though the government has scaled back its military operations against FARC, and violence between the two rival factions is at an historic low, the government must formalize the ceasefire as a gesture to Colombians that this peace is here to stay.
Another important aspect of an historic closure to the conflict with FARC is the issue of the 10 concentration zones across the country which will house the first demobilized combatants — some 6,800 according to figures released by the Ministry of Defense.
The 10 concentration zones, from Valle del Cauca to Guajira, Nariño and Antioquia, will each receive a minimum of 1,000 combatants, which falls in line with the official estimates of FARC’s 10,000-12,000 strong guerrilla force.
Despite opposition from the right-wing Centro Democrático Party, the concentration zones were passed in Congress as a reform to the Ley de Orden Público or Law of Public Order.
With the territorial zones awaiting the presidential seal of approval, the last remaining issue with FARC is how to put the final accord to a vote before the Colombian people. President Santos insists on a plebiscite, while FARC are clamouring for a national Constituent Assembly.
The last national Constituent Assembly in Colombia was held in 1991 to draft the most recent version of the national constitution. That assembly included delegates from a new political party formed by the demobilized guerrilla movement, M-19.
This year, March 23 ushers in Easter celebrations across Colombia. News from Havana is unlikely to rouse Colombians out of their pews or beach chairs, but it may signal the final strategy towards ending the longest-running conflict in the Western Hemisphere and one which has claimed the lives of 220,000 compatriots.