For years the process of forging peace accords in Colombia seemed elusive. An armed conflict between government forces, guerrilla & paramilitary groups has long beleaguered the Colombian people. In 50 years of conflict, thousands have been killed, kidnapped and impacted by horrific acts of violence. Many more have been displaced from their homes, creating the largest population of internally displaced people in the world at a staggering 5.5 million people.
But since 2012 there has been some forward progress. The government and the largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), have been in peace negotiations in Havana since September 2012. Now, after more than 22 rounds of peace talks, people are cautiously optimistic about the peace process.
Tentative agreement has been reached on several key points, but challenges continue. Remaining agenda items include the challenging issues of addressing the needs and reparations for victims of the conflict, as well as bringing human rights offenders to justice.
It is important to ensure that other international actors who played a significant role in funding the armed conflict for decades are also engaged in the peace process. The U.S. government has been Colombia’s largest source of foreign assistance over the last 15 years, with 60-70 percent of that aid given to the military and the so-called “war on drugs.”
For years, Mennonite Central Committee has called on the U.S. government to end military aid to Colombia, in line with our beliefs as people of peace and a vision for a future when “they shall beat their swords into plowshares…neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4) We stand with partner organizations and churches in Colombia who want to see an end to the violence in their communities and an end to damaging policies in the “war on drugs” that address only symptoms, not root causes. We support our Colombian brothers and sisters who understand that the absence of conflict will not mean immediate peace, but will require a re-imagining and re-constructing to be able to move forward.
Our government and military empire have long influenced the conflict, and now it is their responsibility to support the entirety of the peace process—not only negotiations and peace accords but supporting processes of truth, justice and victims’ rights to reparations for years to come. A 2013 letter signed by 62 members of Congress began to bring these issues to the forefront of policy towards Colombia.
Peace will not come overnight in Colombia. Just as dawn breaks slowly over the horizon, gradually coloring the sky with imperceptible shifts, so is the process of building peace after long years of conflict. The changes may be slow at first, and special care must be given to each step of the process, building momentum and not diminishing the steps that have come before.
Peace on the Hill is a monthly column in PeaceSigns written by staff of the MCC Washington Office highlighting domestic and international issues and detailing ways the church can be engaged in the work of peace and advocacy to elected leaders.
Charissa Zehr is a Legislative Associate for International Affairs at the MCC U.S. Washington Office.