By Heather McGregor
Colombia has not known peace for more than half a century. Currently, there are 5 million people displaced from their homes within the country, the highest number in the world. These numbers are increasing, as conflict between the Colombian government and guerrilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) continues, even as the sides have begun a negotiated peace process. Homes and land are being illegally seized and sold for profit by various paramilitary groups. Minority groups including indigenous people, Afro-Colombians and small-scale farmers are especially vulnerable to these losses.
The United States has been heavily involved in Colombia’s civil war since the 1960s. Colombia is a major recipient of U.S. military aid, with most of these dollars supporting “international narcotics control and law enforcement.” The United States is also the source country for most of the weapons used by the armed groups, as well as the destination for most of the illegal drugs produced in Colombia. Conversely, the U.S. has incredible potential to contribute to sustainable peace in the region. The MCC Washington office is urging policy makers to reconsider military aid strategies in Colombia and throughout Latin America.
On May 15 the long-delayed U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement came into effect. The MCC Washington Office advocated against the agreement due to its potential impact on Colombian small farmers and the potential increase in violence against union leaders and minority groups. Colombia remains the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists.
On April 15-16, 28 Mennonite congregations joined hundreds of other churches across the country in Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia. Congregations hosted public events, focused on Colombia in worship services, and sent thousands of postcards to President Obama.
The postcards urged the U.S. to: promote an end to the conflict; prioritize funding to support victims of the violence; cease military aid to Colombia that fuels war; end toxic aerial spraying programs and support alternative development; and not implement the free trade agreement until human rights defenders and union leaders are truly protected.
The “Peace Commission of the Council of Evangelical Churches of Colombia” (CEDECOL) visited D.C. in June, representing many of the Protestant, evangelical and Anabaptist churches in Colombia. The delegation discussed violence and injustice in their communities, and the failure of U.S. military aid. They spoke with Senate offices, State Department staff, and at a briefing in the House of Representatives sponsored by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.).
In October, the Colombian government and the FARC met for the first time in 10 years to begin peace talks. The MCC Washington Office encourages you to stay informed and prayerfully involved in this fragile process.
In the spring of 2013 a great way to lend support to peace in Colombia will be to participate in the next Days of Prayer and Action. For more information, visit washington.mcc.org/days.