More than 10 billion dollars of aid and hundreds of US military professionals were sent under Plan Colombia to modernize and improve its security forces while comprehensively dealing with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army): The infamous pro-agrarian and anti-imperialist guerilla movement made up of a Marxist-Leninist peasant force has been at war with the Colombian government since 1964. The price tag of total American involvement was exceeding 30 billion dollars over the time span of 15 years. While the memorable peace deal of 2016 earned former President Juan Manuel Santos a Nobel Peace Prize, it falters with the current right-leaning government of Colombian President Ivan Duque, leading to massive protests. Colombia faces not only mounting pressure but increased violence and growing concerns of budgetary constraints due to incoming Venezuelan refugees.
Such issues have been politicized, as Ivan Duque and his party, the Democratic Center, held decisive victories in the 2018 Presidential and Parliamentary elections because of their vocal stance against the deal. However, there is still an opportunity for the U.S. and the Colombian public to place pressure to prevent radical changes. While it is too early to project the development of recent events, one thing is certain: the peace deal has been poorly enforced, which will have detrimental implications if action is not taken soon. Due to the unstable nature of the current Colombian Government, the lack of funds appropriated for the peace deal, and other socio-economic factors such as reintegrating rural communities, it is in the best interest of Colombia to seek further cooperation with the U.S. to bring internal peace.
The international community and supporters of the deal are concerned about Ivan Duque, a figure deemed unpopular and unrelatable: He was born in Bogotá to a wealthy political family with a legacy in politics. Duque’s opposers protest against the proposed pension cut, the disastrous police and military raids which cause civilian casualties, Duque’s disregard to marginalized communities, the strict measures taken by the government to silence protesters, and economic growth that has not been equitable. If actions are not taken, many fear that violence will spike and more people will be displaced.
Unfortunately, much focus by the media and the public was placed on the symbolism of the deal at its inception, and the American and Colombian public was not fully aware of the necessary stipulations that needed to be strictly followed. The peace deal aims to reintegrate ex-FARC rebels who register with the Federal Government and follow the terms of laying down their arms. The core of the deal is developing the countryside that has been substituting illicit drug crops with alternative legal crops. Such transition is extensive and requires consistency within the Presidential administration to follow the procedure closely. To make matters worse, Washington has turned a blind eye to the deterioration of the deal. Rather than focusing on the economic reintegration of the agricultural side of the country — that would remove the need to resort to illicit activity — the U.S. has focused more on pressure and high expectations towards Latin American countries like Colombia, without much support. This can be reflected by the imprudent actions of the current U.S. presidential administration.
President Trump sent a special warning to Colombia in September 2017, noting that his administration is witnessing “extraordinary growth of coca cultivation and cocaine production over the past 3 years” in the region. The Trump administration, unfortunately, focuses on potentially using diplomatic and economic pressure, like the withholding of foreign aid funds, to achieve political goals. Instead, it should aim to strengthen Colombia, one of its closest allies in the Western Hemisphere, as Colombia’s stability is crucial in addressing the Venezuelan refugee crisis and reducing the increasing trends of violence in the region. Yet President Trump, back in 2017, threatened to decertify Colombia as a partner in the war on drugs over rising coca cultivation. The U.S. president demanded that Duque reduce cocaine flows or face a $160 million reduction in aid. The administration also demanded the extradition of Senior FARC leaders accused of drug crimes to the United States and Duque’s attacks on the transitional justice tribunal was seen as a violation of the peace terms. The timing of this rebuke was unfortunate, as the United State’s criticism of the peace deal allowed Ivan Duque to gain momentum with his platform and decisively win the 2018 elections.
One positive note, however, was former Vice President Óscar Naranjo revealing that the criticism was unfair and not reflective of the great progress done in Colombia. He pointed towards the 2,621 tons of drugs and 1,020 narcos they have captured as evidence of their effectiveness and commitment to reducing drug flows. Additionally, he cited the 800 narcos they have extradited to the US, as well as the 15,200 goods they have seized with illicit origins. While the comments of the Trump administration were infuriating for the Colombian government, focus must be placed on the deteriorating deal endangering the good work Colombia has already accomplished.
The enduring stability of the Colombian countryside depends on the structure and process of removing illicit drug crops and successfully implementing a substitution plan. Unfortunately, the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies concluded in April 2019 that 30 percent of the stipulations of the accord have not been initiated, and the government has made “minimum” progress on 34 percent of the stipulations. Duque spent much of his first year in office opposing the transitional justice mechanism and has also slashed the budgets for the Truth Commission, a land restitution program, and rural development. Forty percent of families enrolled with the government’s eradication program have not yet received payments and technical assistance. To add insult to injury, Duque has further “buckled down” in light of U.S. pressure by promising to resume controversial aerial spraying of drug crops with hazardous herbicides. Such a dangerous procedure should be changed to the UN-recommended method of crop substitution.
If Colombia cannot maintain stable economic performance and resolve its budgetary constraints, unfortunately, the core part of the peace deal will collapse and socio-economic rifts will persist. Furthermore, the Colombian state has failed to provide for the physical security of many disarmed FARC insurgents – 137 of them have been assassinated since 2016. Killings of human rights activists have spiked in the same period as there are estimates ranging from 289 to 789 murders. In the months leading to local elections in October, the first election where FARC’s party participated in, at least 26 politicians from right-wing and progressive parties have been killed. Suspicious of the government, a handful of senior FARC leaders declared their removal of the peace process in August and vowed to take up arms again. Rodrigo Londoño on the other hand, an ex-FARC commander and current party leader, rejected his former comrades’ call to arms and encouraged ex-FARC members to continue their commitment.
The US, along with the rest of the international community, should continue to strategically pressure Duque to follow the deal. Withholding aid would only exacerbate the fact that there is a $2.3 million deficit present in the transitional justice institutions of the Peace deal. With the defunding of the truth and justice provisions of the deal, Duque is sending a signal for illegal armed groups to continue violence against those who support the deal. The country’s human rights ombudsman declares that at least 460 human rights defenders and social activists have been killed. As long as violence is being carried out with no response from the government, rural citizens, indigenous communities, and Afro-Colombians will feel that they only adequate way to defend themselves is through armed protection. The UN security council has applied pressure since Duque started to sabotage the deal. Rather than criticizing for their current progress, the US should provide additional conditional aid and military support to ensure that killings do not continue on their positive trend.
While there have been some symbolic suggestions such as the bipartisan resolution by the U.S. Senate in April 2019, not much concrete action has taken place. It is obvious that Colombia needs political and financial assistance, as it at a crossroads of facing great pressure or creating a tangible road to peace. Agrarian reform and investment in rural communities could be quite expensive, as they currently account for 85 percent of the total cost of the peace deal. If the U.S. State Department removes FARC from the Foreign Terrorist Organization list, raising funds would be much easier. After all, at least 90 percent of the 13,018 ex-FARC members who have registered with the reintegration process remain committed to peacebuilding, and the EU already removed the FARC from its terrorism sanctions list in 2017.
While past and present U.S. presence has not been looked down upon favorably in Latin America, Colombia and the U.S. delivered great results during Plan Colombia: the last step is further tight cooperation with the peace deal that would relieve the needs of many. The Colombian Government has more to gain by following the peace deal. Now more than ever, the US must provide to the needs of Colombia in implementing a long-term framework for a stable future. With ongoing protests towards an unfavorable government and a crackdown by government forces, one can only hope for Colombian citizens to see their nation free of such a long and devastating conflict.
Photo: Image via Camilo Rueda López (Flickr)