BOGOTA—Colombia made history on Monday by ending one of the world's longest wars.
In front of hundreds of war victims and international guests, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC rebel leader Timochenko signed a peace treaty that ends 52 years of fighting, which killed more than 200,000.
The FARC are the world's oldest guerrilla group. Their decision to lay down their weapons and become a political party marks the end of an era for Latin America, a region where communist insurgent groups blossomed in the '60s and '70s to fight authoritarian regimes.
Most of those guerrilla groups failed to take power, and many faded or transformed into political parties after the end of the cold war.
But the FARC kept fighting in remote areas of Colombia, thanks to their ability to finance themselves through the drug trade, kidnapping and extortion. A huge U.S.-backed military offensive at the turn of the century, known as Plan Colombia, eventually force the group to the negotiating table. And after four years of difficult peace talks, the government and the guerrillas struck a deal aimed at addressing the roots of the conflict and giving the rebels a gateway into politics.
It became official on Monday night. And this is what it looked like:
Using a 50-calibre bullet fashioned into a pen, FARC rebel leader Timochenko and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed the peace treaty
Large screens were placed at public squares in Colombia's main cities so people could watch the historic signing. In Bogota some 10,000 people turned out at Plaza Bolivar.
Hundreds of guerrillas also watched the ceremony in a FARC camp that was built last week to host their last last ever conference as an insurgent group.
At the camp, guerrilla fighters celebrated with relatives who they hadn't seen in years. Some fighters were called up on stage for emotional reunions with their mothers.
Some shed tears as organizers asked for a moment of silence for war victims.
Though most people in Colombia want peace, not everyone was happy with the treaty that was signed. In Cartagena, a group of activists staged a protest against the peace deal, asking people to vote against it in the nationwide plebiscite on Oct. 2.
Opponents of the deal argue that the government gave the FARC too many benefits, including no prison sentences —but alternative penalties— for those who committed war atrocities.
In Bogota, however, war victims celebrated the peace deal.
"For us this is like an explosion of joy," said Isabel Cordoba, an activist who represents Afro Colombian communities who were forced to flee their lands. "Today we can start to recover what we lost."
In Bogota, those who watched the signing of the treaty got treated to a free rock concert.
In a country that has become accustomed to the burdens of war, the arrival of peace felt like a liberating moment.
Many hope it's an opportunity for new generations to grow up in a country where differences can be resolved peacefully.
The first test of peace will come on Oct. 2, when Colombians will vote to approve or reject the peace deal. Both sides are actively campaigning.
The future of the country, and the region, is at stake. Stay tuned.
All photos by Gena Steffens, Lorenzo Gonzalez, Christian Escobar, and Manuel Rueda.
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.