Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has said that his government will sign a final peace deal with the country's biggest rebel group within a month.
"I think that by July 20 we will able to close negotiations in Havana," Santos said, referring to the peace talks currently taking place in Cuba with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. "After that, the country will enter into a new era."
The peace talks began in late 2012 but have accelerated in the last year to produce several partial accords on issues such as land reform, illicit drug production, and justice for the many victims of the 50-year-conflict. Last November they even produced a prediction from both Santos and rebel leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, known as 'Timochenko,' that the final ceasefire would be signed on March 23.
The latest July deadline looks more realistic, but putting an end to the hemisphere's longest running war will also require approval by the electorate in a referendum in which victory is far from guaranteed.
A Gallup poll published last May concluded that nearly 66 percent of Colombians do not support the peace negotiations, and the country's right-wing opposition is loudly calling for people to vote against the deal, which they claim will let the left-wing rebels escape punishment for war crimes.
The most prominent figure of the anti-peace movement, former hardline president Álvaro Uribe, railed against his successor's latest announcement that peace is imminent.
Uribe singled out Santos' prediction that tax hikes will be inevitable if peace is not consolidated because, he said, "War is more expensive than peace.
"It's an act of intimidation," Uribe told reporters on Monday.
Santos has previously warned that a peace deal is the only way of stopping the FARC from leaving its rural bastions and launching a phase of urban warfare. "If the plebiscite is not approved we will return to war, not to a negotiations table," he said during a meeting of the World Economic Forum last week.
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