STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Next, we report on a war that appears to have ended after 52 years. An uprising against Colombia's government started in 1964. Communist guerrillas fought in jungles and attacked cities for generations. More than 220,000 people have been killed. Millions of people have been uprooted from their homes over the years. And then, last week, the Colombian government and Marxist rebels agreed to a ceasefire and a timetable for the guerrillas to disarm. Reporter John Otis has been talking with Colombia's president, the man who launched the peace talks.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
JUAN MANUEL SANTOS: (Speaking Spanish).
JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: In a speech announcing the ceasefire, President Juan Manuel Santos declared this is a historic day for our country. It's a day many Colombians thought would never arrive. At one point, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the guerrilla group known as the FARC, had 17,000 fighters. They carried out massacres and kidnappings. They bombed oil pipelines and smuggled cocaine. So before making peace, Santos, an economist who studied at the University of Kansas and Harvard, had to make war. As defense minister in the late 2000s, he led a U.S.-backed military campaign that cut the number of FARC guerrillas in half.
SANTOS: How many times do you have to go to the funerals and to console widows and the children who lost their parents? And that's one of the things that stimulated me to be very successful in making war and weakening the will of these people to continue fighting.
OTIS: Santos was elected president in 2010. By then, FARC leaders were ready to cut a deal. They were urged on by a close ally - Hugo Chavez, the late leader of Venezuela's socialist revolution.
SANTOS: Chavez was very helpful in that he pushed these people a lot. He said continue this war will take you nowhere.
OTIS: The peace talks began in 2012. The main sticking point concerned FARC commanders accused of war crimes. Following guerrilla conflicts in the 1980s and '90s in El Salvador, Guatemala and elsewhere, rebels received full amnesties. Colombian rebels are to be judged by a special tribunal.
SANTOS: The first time ever that a guerrilla group laid down their arms to submit to a justice system where they're going to be investigated, judged and condemned and sanctioned.
OTIS: But they will face only token punishment, such as social work in the countryside. That outrages many Colombians, like former president Alvaro Uribe, whose father was killed by FARC rebels.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ALVARO URIBE: (Speaking Spanish).
OTIS: Uribe claims that Santos has caved in by allowing rebels accused of rape, detonating car bombs, and recruiting children to escape prison. The ceasefire formally goes into effect once the two sides sign a final peace treaty that Santos expects later this summer. The rebels will then have six months to disarm.
After that, the FARC plans to form a political party. But a similar attempt in the 1980s ended when 3,000 members of a FARC-backed party were gunned down by military-backed death squads. This time, the Santos government has pledged to protect FARC politicians.
SANTOS: It will be important for the democracy and for the process that they are successful in gaining a space in the political arena of the country. And this is what democracy is all about.
OTIS: Stopping Colombia's war could win Santos the Nobel Peace Prize. But partly due to all the concessions he's made to the FARC, the president is not getting much love at home. A recent Gallup Poll puts Santos' job approval rating at just 21 percent. For NPR News, I'm John Otis in Bogota, Colombia.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.