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Photo: Government and FARC negotiators finalize details of the Peace Accords where the Ethnic Chapter will be included

After four and a half years of preliminary and formal negotiations and 52 years of war, the Colombian state and FARC guerillas have concluded their peace negotiations and finalized the Peace Accords.

This moment is certainly historic and will mark the first experience of official peace ever experienced by many Colombians. And while we celebrate an end to the fighting between the Colombian state and FARC guerrillas, we also know that the months and years to come will be deeply challenging as real peace is hopefully established for the many sides of Colombian society, not just these two sides of the armed conflict.

CRLN first heard about the finality of the Accords on Tuesday, August 23rd, when our partners at Black Communities’ Process (PCN, their acronym in Spanish) alerted us that the agreements would be signed without the inclusion of an ‘Ethnic Chapter’. For years, African descendant and Indigenous communities have been fighting for a place at the negotiating tables and have organized themselves into an Ethnic Commission constituted by the National Afro-Colombian Peace Council (CONPA), the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), and the High Government of Indigenous Authorities.

The Ethnic Commission is crucial to a successful and sustainable peace, because much of the peace process concerns rural land that is ancestral territory to the disproportionately African descendant and Indigenous survivors of displacement and violence.

The Ethnic Commission drafted an in-depth ‘Ethnic Chapter’ for the negotiating parties to include in their final accords that would help guarantee successful implementation of the accords in many rural, Indigenous and African-descendant territories. This Ethnic Chapter represents the concerns of organized communities most affected by the violence of the conflict and will help ensure that this final agreement complies with international and Colombian law and anti-racism agreements.

When the Ethnic Commission called for action on Tuesday morning, CRLN and coalition partners across the country responded with as much pressure as possible on Colombian and U.S. officials to include the Ethnic Chapter in the final accord language. Black and Indigenous leaders flew to Havana late Tuesday night and Wednesday morning to negotiate the final version of the Ethnic Chapter. Late on Wednesday night, August 24th, we heard from Colombian partners that the ethnic chapter was included, albeit reduced from nine pages to four, in the official Colombian Peace Accords.

Due to consistent pressure, solidarity work and on the ground mobilizations by African descendant and Indigenous peoples, the Ethnic Commission has helped shape what peace will look like in their territories for the mostly Black and Indigenous survivors of violence, most of whom are women.

At CRLN, we will continue working in coalition with national and international allies until true peace is achieved in Colombia. We will continue monitoring the situation as the accords move through a plebiscite vote by the Colombian people. We’ll continue following the lead of our partners in Colombia’s Ethnic Commission, who will be monitoring the implementation of the Accords, ensuring that the Colombian state integrate the Ethnic Commission’s recommendations for peace in their communities.

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Honorable Members of the United States Congress, Washington D.C.

Dear Members of Congress:

We, the undersigned, are U.S. and Colombian people of faith, convinced that God calls us to be on the side of the weak, the victims and the poor.  For this reason, as representatives of numerous faith communities and churches, we come to you because we understand that soon you will consider two pieces of legislation that would have a significant impact on Colombia and the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.  We write in the hope that your decisions may build the foundation for dignified life for all and promote the justice and peace that we so desire.

For more than 50 years Colombia has suffered through armed conflict, violence, inequalities and injustices.  The civilian population is most affected by the armed conflict.  More than four million people have been displaced from their lands.  This conflict kills more than 3,000 people annually and tens of thousands of paramilitary and guerrilla victims today call for truth, justice and reparations.  Meanwhile, the United Nations indicates that more than 45 percent of the Colombian population lives in poverty.

We have closely followed the congressional debates regarding human rights in Colombia and the balance between U.S. military and social aid for Colombia.  We applauded Congress’ achievement last year when you cut $142 million in military aid and added $97 million in social aid to the aid package.  We know that this year President George Bush has once again called on Congress to pass an aid package with approximately 75 percent in military aid.  We, who work with the victims of the conflict or accompany them from the United States, hope that congress prioritizes work for peace and socio-economic assistance rather than military aid.

At the same time, we know that Congress may soon consider the ratification of the Free Trade Agreement negotiated between Colombia and the United States.  Being faithful to our principles, we must view any public policy from the point of view of the poor and the victims.

Therefore, in Colombia we must consider how the trade agreement would affect what the United Nations estimates are the close to nine million Colombians living in rural areas – the family farmer, the indigenous and the Afro-Colombians – 80 percent of whom live in poverty, according to USAID.

According to the United Nations, 21 percent of employed Colombians work in Agriculture, the vast majority in rural areas.  Research on the impact of free trade agreements between underdeveloped countries, such as Colombia, and countries with large economies, such as he United States, show that underdeveloped countries lose a significant number of agricultural jobs.  For example, independent studies indicate that in Mexico at least 1.3 million family farmers have been displaced from their agricultural production due to subsidized imports from the United States.

While in Mexico many of these family farmers have attempted to survive by migrating into the United States, in Colombia there would be a risk of increasing the number of internally displaced persons, a population that is already the second largest in the world.  We are deeply concerned that the livelihood of the rural population – individuals who have already suffered greatly from the consequences of the armed conflict – would be further put at risk by this trade agreement.  This population would then face decisions that have historically reproduced violence and poverty in Colombia; migration to urban settings, forced internal displacement, illicit crop production, recruitment by illegal armed groups, among other ill-fated consequences.

We are also concerned that the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement would put Colombians’ food security at risk, as the country would, in large part, be dependent on U.S. imports for basic grains and other key foods for daily consumption.  Furthermore, this trade agreement does not have sufficient protection for workers nor the environment.  Such labor protections are particularly important in Colombia, the country with the highest number of murdered trade unionists.  And without necessary environmental protections in the agreement, we would be jeopardizing Colombia’s environment, considered the second most bio-diverse in the world.

For that reason, we ask you, honorable members of Congress, to take into account the following requests before considering the proposed aid to Colombia or the ratification of the free trade agreement.

  • Further cut U.S. military aid and aerial fumigation, which does not bring us closer to peace in Colombia, while significantly increasing aid for the poor, the displaced, refugees and the victims of the armed conflict.
  • Insist that the State Department strongly enforce the human rights conditions in law, which is especially important as we are seeing a concerning increase in killings of civilians as well as other human rights violations attributed to the Colombian Armed Forces.
  • Do not ratify a U.S. – Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which would increase the already concerning poverty rate among rural Colombians, would put Colombia’s food security at risk and lacks sufficient protections for workers and Colombia’s bio-diverse environment.
Esteemed members of Congress, we ask that you consider our concerns in order to find the authentic paths for justice and peace in Colombia, the United States and the world.

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A fines de 2016 y 2017, se aprobaron los Acuerdos de Paz entre el gobierno colombiano y el grupo rebelde más grande la FARC y una nueva ronda de conversaciones de paz fue iniciada entre el gobierno y el grupo rebelde más pequeño, ELN. En este punto, la FARC se ha desmovilizado y sus miembro se están trasladando a “campamentos” designados, donde vivirán por un tiempo asignado antes de ser libres para trasladarse. Se les ha dado el derecho de formar un partido político y dirigir candidatos para cargos públicos.

Sin embargo, otros grupos armados que no formaron parte de los Acuerdos de Paz todavía recorren el campo y se mueven con sus armas entre los espacios que la FARC controlaba. Estos son los sucesores de los grupos paramilitares de derecha supuestamente desmantelados hace diez años. La gente local, a la cual aterrorizan, dicen que estos nuevos grupos son formados por muchas de las mismas personas que pertenecían a los grupos paramilitares anteriores. También dicen que las fuerzas de seguridad nacionales no hacen nada para detener la violencia paramilitar, incluso cuando están estacionadas cerca y se les pide que lo hagan.

Estos grupos armados a menudo han sido desplegados para promover intereses privados en tierras valiosas -por ejemplo, desplazar violentamente a comunidades de pequeños terratenientes para proporcionar tierras a individuos o corporaciones ricas y que asi planten plantaciones de aceite de palma. En el 2017, ya más de 6 millones de personas han sido desplazadas violentamente de sus tierras en Colombia durante la guerra de más de 50 años.

Desde diciembre de 2016, estos grupos paramilitares reorganizados han comenzado a agitarse, particularmente en zonas con poblaciones indígenas africanas y han matado a cientos de personas. No hay paz, a pesar de los Acuerdos de Paz, en las muchas áreas donde estos grupos están activos. Sin un cierto compromiso por parte del gobierno colombiano de desarmar y desmantelar a estos grupos paramilitares reorganizados, no habrá paz en Colombia. Tampoco habrá paz si los miembros de los grupos paramilitares que han cometido violaciones a los derechos humanos están sujetos a las mismas normas de justicia que los miembros de la FARC durante el período de justicia transicional en el camino hacia la paz.

Antes de que dejara el cargo, el presidente Obama había prometido 450 millones de dólares a Colombia, la mayor parte de la cual se debe dar a las ONGs en lugar del gobierno, para apoyar la implementación de los Acuerdos de Paz. Aunque CRLN apreció el desvío de fondos militares a fondos para la paz, pensamos que estos fondos serían mejor utilizados si se distribuye directamente a los grupos de base colombianos activos en los lugares locales donde acuerdos de paz deben realizarse entre los ex combatientes en lados opuestos de la guerra o entre los combatientes de ambos lados y a civiles sobrevivientes de la violencia. Este puede ser un punto discutible, ya que el Presidente Trump y su Secretario de Estado, Rex Tillerson, han señalado que Estados Unidos puede retirar totalmente el apoyo del proceso de paz de Colombia. Debemos defender el apoyo continuo al proceso de paz, dada su fragilidad y los desafíos que enfrenta.

CRLN va a estar presente en Washington DC del 21 al 24 de abril, visitando la delegación de Illinois en el Congreso. ¡Envíe su firma a Washington DC con CRLN!​ Nuestra demanda sera financiamiento para implementar los Acuerdos de Paz en Colombia y para que funcionarios colombianos desmantelen paramilitares aún activos en el país.

¡Únase a nuestras cartas aqui!

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