Washington, D.C.—Today, during a three-panel conference hosted by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), experts from Colombia discuss the country’s ongoing effort to end 50 years of conflict and the role that the United States can play. WOLA experts agree that the United States could play a constructive role, particularly in the implementation of an eventual accord. Experts also emphasize the need to shift U.S. assistance away from military and police forces and toward priorities that support peace accord commitments.
“The U.S. government helped pay for the war, now it should help pay for the peace,” said Adam Isacson, Senior Associate for Regional Security at WOLA. According to data compiled by WOLA, the U.S. spends over $400 million each year in assistance to Colombia, two thirds of which goes to the military and the police. “Funding the military is not how you support a post-conflict society. What you want to do is help reintegrate ex-combatants, provide for millions of victims, and assist Colombia’s ambitious plans to make its countryside a more just place,” said Isacson.
As the peace process continues, the role of the United States—which so far has been one of support from the sidelines—is likely to become ever more important. During the debate, panelists emphasize three additional ways in which the U.S. could play a productive role in the peace talks.
· Drug policy:This is the topic that most closely overlaps with—and potentially conflicts with—U.S. interests. The most likely scenario for friction with the United States, or at least within the U.S. bureaucracy, is the future of the U.S.-backed aerial crop-eradication program. “Aerial herbicide fumigation is ineffective and expensive. The U.S. should be flexible on this issue if the talks’ outcome demands it,” said Gimena Sánchez, WOLA Senior Associate for Colombia.
· Transitional justice:The negotiators have yet to discuss how to bring human rights violators to justice in a way that respects the dignity of victims without discouraging guerrilla leaders from disarming. The United States cannot decide this, but can help Colombians work toward a solution.
· Implementation of peace:The likelihood of a peace agreement in Colombia is increasing, and the U.S. government, and other donors, must begin preparing now to support a possible post-conflict phase. For Washington, this will mean shifting aid away from military and police programs and toward sectors that support peace, including rural development, demobilization and reintegration, and judicial reforms. “United States economic aid—specifically USAID’s Afro-Colombian and indigenous programs in Cartagena, Bogota, Barranquilla, and Cali—has helped reverse decades of marginalization in these communities through initiatives such as job training, education, and support for civil society. But much more needs to be done,” added Marino Cordoba, President of the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES).
If the government of Colombia and the FARC can reach an agreement in Havana to end the war, the United States should be prepared to assist a post-conflict Colombia.“Of all armed conflicts worldwide that kill over 1,000 people per year, Colombia’s is the longest by far. If peace talks are successful, the right support from the United States would go a long way toward securing a lasting peace,” said Isacson.