The pursuit of lasting peace in Colombia

MCC photo/Anna Vogt

The pursuit of lasting peace in Colombia

By Charissa Zehr

At this time last year Colombians were invigorated with hope for a lasting peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). There was palpable optimism about concluding negotiations, and people finally allowed themselves to believe change was on the horizon.

A lot of things have changed in a year. First, there was the signing ceremony fanfare in June. Then the popular referendum on the peace accords was voted down by a narrow margin, revealing polarization across Colombia and leaving much uncertainty about the process. After some adjustments, the Colombian Congress approved the peace accords, but recently the Constitutional Court has put an end to “fast-track” approval of the outstanding legislation. This could slow the advances of policy changes needed for full implementation.

Despite these ups and downs, peace is moving forward in Colombia. The process of building peace from the ground up is not glamorous, nor has it been straightforward. Colombia has a long way to go before reaching a just and lasting peace. Implementation has been slow, and there is still strong political opposition to the peace agreement.

Yet significant progress has been made toward implementation. Almost 7,000 FARC guerrillas have left their enclaves and moved to “transition zones.” The United Nations has received 1,000 weapons from the former combatants and the FARC are expected to turn in the rest of their weapons by the end of June. Additionally, the Colombian Congress approved a law allowing former FARC members to participate in politics. The government has also launched crop substitution programs to approach eradication of coca plants by addressing farmers’ economic incentives.

As the people of Colombia work to implement the accords, the United States still has an important role to play in supporting peace with justice. For many years, the U.S. helped to fuel the conflict through the Plan Colombia aid package. The majority of this assistance went to Colombian security forces for the war on drugs, ultimately escalating the conflict and causing thousands of civilian deaths.

After years of financial support for the Colombian government at war, the U.S. should financially support the implementation of the peace accords. Ask your members of Congress to fully support lasting peace, truth, and justice in Colombia, with development-focused assistance and diplomatic engagement.

A complete peace must address all armed actors who have contributed to the conflict. Encouraging the Colombian government to continue in negotiations with the ELN, the second largest guerrilla group in the country, and to seek a strategy to address paramilitary groups will also be vitally important.

Peace cannot merely be the absence of war, but must be an active process in which we participate. We are reminded in scripture that we “must seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:11). We must ensure our government does the hard work of standing behind Colombia as they pursue justice, truth, and a peace that will endure.