For three years, the world has been watching as peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have moved forward, despite some tense moments. A key moment in 2015 was the signing of a transitional justice accord and the inclusion of a diversity of victims’ voices at the negotiating table in Havana.
There were welcome signs of support from the U.S. government as they embraced the peace process in concrete and visible ways, including the appointment of a U.S. special envoy for the Colombian peace process.
We also celebrated the end of the aerial spraying program as a method for coca eradication, a practice that was harmful to farmers of legal crops, rural communities and their water sources. MCC has raised concerns about this program for many years. The World Health Organization’s declaration that the herbicide used for spraying was a likely carcinogen finally led to the change in the Colombian government program, which has received significant funding from the U.S. government.
Our office was delighted to host several delegations of Colombian partners during the summer months to highlight the importance of issues like religious freedom in conflict areas, conscientious objection, and forced recruitment practices of the Colombian military. We also hosted a briefing in the Capitol on the harmful effects of fumigations, including as panelists our Mennonite Brethren partners from Choco, where cacao development projects have been particularly affected by indiscriminate aerial sprayings.
As we look to 2016, there is much hope on the horizon for the final signing of a peace accord. Many within the U.S. government have expressed that this is a top priority. While this public support for peace is positive, it will be crucial to ensure that the U.S. remains engaged in the critical post-conflict period where the implementation of the agreement must take root quickly to be successful. Congress will need to reevaluate the financial support that has been given to Colombia in the past, reallocating military aid to fund alternative development and ensuring the Colombian government has the capacity and will to implement the peace accords in every region. —Charissa Zehr