The end of 2016 and 2017 have seen the adoption of Peace Accords between the Colombian government and the largest rebel group, FARC, and a new round of Peace Talks begun between the government and the smaller rebel group, ELN. At this point, the FARC has demobilized and is moving into designated “camps,” where they will live for an allotted amount of time before being free to relocate. They have been given the right to form a political party and run candidates for public office.
However, other armed groups who were not part of the Peace Accords still roam the countryside and are moving with their weapons into the spaces that the FARC used to control. These are the right-wing successors to the paramilitary groups that were supposedly dismantled ten years ago. Local people they terrorize say these newly named groups contain many of the same individuals who belonged to the former paramilitary groups. They also say that the national security forces do nothing to stop paramilitary violence, even when they are stationed nearby and are asked to do so.
These armed groups have often been deployed to further private interests on valuable land—for example, to violently displace communities of small landholders to provide free land for wealthy individuals or corporations to plant palm oil plantations. By 2017, over 6 million people had been violently displaced from their land in Colombia during the course of the 50+ year war.
Since December of 2016, these reorganized paramilitary groups have gone on a rampage, particularly in areas with African-descended and Indigenous populations, and killed hundreds of people. There is no peace, despite the Peace Accords, in the many areas where these groups are active. Without some commitment on the part of the Colombian government to disarm and dismantle these reorganized paramilitary groups, there will be no peace in Colombia. Nor will there be peace unless those in the paramilitary groups who have committed human rights violations are held to the same standards of justice as members of FARC during the period of transitional justice on the road to peace.
Before he left office, President Obama had promised $450 million to Colombia, much of it to be given to NGOs rather than the government, to support the implementation of the Peace Accords. While CRLN appreciated the diversion of military funds to funds for peace, we thought these funds would be better used if distributed directly to grassroots Colombian groups active in the local places where peace must be realized between former combatants on opposite sides in the war or between combatants from either side and civilian survivors of violence. That may be a moot point, as President Trump and his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, have signaled that the US may withdraw support from Colombia’s peace process entirely. We must advocate for continuing support for the peace process, given its fragility and the challenges it faces.
CRLN will be in DC from April 21-24, visiting Illinois Representatives and Senators. Send your signature to D.C. with CRLN by singing up HERE. Our ask will be for funding to implement the Peace Accords in Colombia and for Colombian officials to dismantle paramilitaries still active in the country.
For further reading, here are some recent articles on Colombia:
Amnesty International report on attacks in NW Colombia: Click here
Telesur article on paramilitary groups moving into territory left behind as FARC demobilizes: Click Here
Washington Office on Latin America on Colombian Congressional efforts to water down Peace Accords: Click Here
NACLA (North American Congress on Latin America) on the importance of continued US-Colombia solidarity: Click Here