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Protect Colombia’s Peace: Why Colombia’s peace matters to the United States and Latin America, and what the United States can do about It

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As Colombia approaches four years since the signing of a historic peace agreement, a vibrant citizen energy to build a just and lasting peace is struggling to overcome governmental reluctance to fully implement the accords and reopen negotiations with the remaining guerrilla groups. The international community must act to catalyze support for peace.

Since the signing of the peace accords in 2016, over 13,000 FARC guerrillas have demobilized, the overwhelming majority of whom remain in civilian life. The Colombian government is providing some, although far from all, of the reintegration services promised by the accords. Members of the former guerrillas can participate in politics. The tripartite transitional truth and justice system has conducted outreach to thousands of victims across Colombia and in exile.

Victims of the conflict placed their trust in the peace accords. Victims are facing their abusers in hearings and offering heart-wrenching testimony to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) and the Truth Commission. Victims and civil society organizations pulled together hundreds of reports on the devastating impact of the conflict for the transitional justice system. Farmers and Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities organized with local governments to create the local development plans (PDETs) envisioned in the agreement. Social leaders are putting their lives on the line leading their communities to eradicate and replace coca as agreed to in the accords. A dynamic multisector civil society movement, including the Defendamos la Paz coalition, is bringing together Colombians of all walks of life, from members of the Colombian Congress to campesino leaders, in online, media, artistic, and street actions for peace. As a campesina leader noted, “Why do we want to defend the peace agreement? Because it is ours. We built it.”

Despite this outpouring of civic action by Colombians—many of them victims of the conflict—to make the peace accords real, the government’s actions have been limited and have failed to protect those risking their lives for peace.

The toll can be seen in the over 500 human rights defenders and social leaders killed since the accords were signed.

The original sin is the Colombian government’s failure to bring the civilian state into areas from which the FARC withdrew—a failure that began with the Santos Administration’s lack of a post-agreement plan and intensified with the Duque Administration’s deliberate underinvestment in peace accord implementation. Paramilitary successor groups, ELN, dissident FARC, and drug trafficking networks are occupying the space that the Colombian government failed to claim. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, in 2019, 25,303 people were internally displaced in mass displacements in Colombia while 27,694 were confined by conflicts, with the areas hardest hit being Nariño, Chocó, and Antioquia. Antipersonnel mines and explosives harmed 352 people, of whom 42 were killed. “Life without fear is overdue in Colombia,” declared the head of the ICRC in Colombia.

Yet it is not too late to invest in Colombia’s peace.