More than two years after the signing of Colombia’s peace agreement paving the way to ending 50 years of war, the Colombian government’s lackluster implementation of the accord and declining international attention threaten the construction of peace. The FARC guerrillas were successfully demobilized and disarmed and violence levels dropped in many parts of Colombia. However, plans to increase the government’s reach into conflict zones, reintegration of ex-combatants into civilian life, and efforts to dismantle other i legal armed groups are proceeding too slowly. Commitments to address the needs of the neglected rural population for land and jobs have stalled in Colombia’s legislature. President Duque’s March 2019 decision, with the U.S. embassy’s support, to send the transitional justice mechanism back to the Congress for revision shook trust in the basic framework of the peace accord. As a result, many areas of the countryside are still in conflict, and violence wi l spiral up further if the agreements’ commitments to reintegrate ex-combatants and address the root causes of the conflict are not fulfilled. The most visible and tragic symbol of the peace accord’s troubles is the 164 human rights defenders, local leaders building peace in their communities, assassinated in 2018.
If implemented well, this comprehensive peace accord would end the Western Hemisphere’s longest running conflict, a war that has cost the lives of over 261,000 people, the vast majority of them civilians, and forced nearly 8 million Colombians to flee their homes, a level of internal displacement on the order of Syria. The accord offers Colombia a roadmap to modernize and incorporate abandoned areas of the countryside, tackle i licit drug production, trafficking and organized crime in a more sustainable manner, and address deep-seated issues that fuel violence and inequality.
For the United States, much is at stake if Colombia fails to implement the accords. The U.S. government’s diplomatic efforts were a crucial factor in reaching a peace agreement. This wise investment should not be wasted. Only if peace gains ground in the former conflict zones, which are also the principal areas of coca production, wi l sustainable advances in reducing coca production, drug trafficking, and organized crime be realized. And finally, Colombia’s conflict affects the Latin American region and the consolidation of peace is an asset to its neighbors. As the Venezuelan tragedy unfolds next door, Colombia is playing a critical role offering refuge to over 1 million Venezuelan refugees.
If the conflict continues, Colombia’s rural poor, including Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, small farmers (campesinos), women and children, wi l once again bear the brunt of the violence. Another generation of Colombia’s valiant and vibrant human rights and social leaders wi l be displaced, exiled, or killed.
This Wake-Up Call outlines the promises of and challenges for peace in Colombia and recommends ways the United States can contribute to sustainable solutions. If U.S. policymakers act boldly to encourage compliance with the accords, it is not too late to preserve Colombia’s fragile peace.