The US government must increase diplomatic and financial support to help Colombia prepare for the possibility of a post-conflict scenario, stated a report published Monday by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).
Titled “Ending 50 Years of Conflict,” the report expressed confidence in the ongoing peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the rebel group, FARC, saying that it is “not unreasonable to expect an [peace] accord by the end of 2014.”
The FARC are the largest guerrilla group operating in Colombia, and the guerrilla organization have been fighting the Colombian government for 50 years.
The report, written by Adam Isacson, WOLA’s Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy, calls on the US government to renew its diplomatic and financial support, both during the negotiations and in the event of a possible post-conflict transition process.
The WOLA is a US-based NGO that promotes human rights, democracy and social justice in Latin America and the Caribbean.
A significant portion of the report focuses on the need for increased financial support from the United States.
Financial assistance, Isacson argues, is critical in ensuring that Colombia can meet post-conflict challenges, a process which will be “expensive” but “absolutely necessary.”
Some examples of these challenges include, “bringing government into lawless areas; demobilizing and reintegrating combatants; assisting displaced populations’ return; protecting rights defenders; helping to fulfill accords on land, political participation, and victims.”
To help the Colombian government accomplish these priorities, the United States must, “provide support at the same, or greater, levels of assistance that Colombia has been receiving since the mid-2000s.”
During that time period, the United States provided aid to the country under the auspices of Plan Colombia, an economic package that provided billions of dollars in military aid to help the Colombian government fight left-wing guerrillas and drug traffickers.
The report indicates that because the United States provided billions of dollars to Colombia’s military, which has a well documented history of human rights violations, it should also be willing to spend similar amounts on transitional measures in a post-conflict scenario.
US aid to Colombia has been declining in recent years, at an annual rate of approximately 10-15%.
WOLA argues that for Colombia to successfully oversee a post-conflict transition process, “reductions in assistance to Colombia would have to end, and reverse, upon the signing of a peace accord.”
Other policy recommendations for the United States include exhibiting flexibility on drug policy, supporting international verification and monitoring, and supporting the process of demobilization and reintegration.
Reintegration perhaps one of the most important parts of the process, since the Colombian government is eager to avoid the problems it faced when overseeing the demobilization of the paramilitary organization, AUC.
Although the AUC formally demobilized in 2006, its dissolution marked the emergence of successor groups formed by mid-level commanders of the paramilitary organization, who were exempted from justice or never took part in the demobilization process. These neo-paramilitary groups function in much the same way as the AUC once did.
Speaking with Colombia Reports, WOLA’s Isacson said, “Colombia has learned a lot about demobilizing ex-combatants over the past 12 years, and the reintegration program is a lot better today than it was at the 2003-06…there’s more of a recognition that it will be a long-term and expensive endeavor.”
He goes on to explain however that similar to the AUC, many ex-FARC combatants will not take part in the process. To keep those numbers low, it is important to maintain a well funded program that provides, “psycho-social support and employability.”
According to Isacson, the most difficult part of the process will be to establish a strong government presence in areas that have historically been controlled by the FARC, “where the illegal economy (drugs, mining, extortion) offers attractive opportunities to ex-fighters.”
It is “not clear whether Colombia will be able to fill that vacuum,” Isacson stated.
The FARC has been fighting the Colombian state since its foundation in 1964. A reported 5 million Colombians have been displaced from their homes, as a result of fighting between the rebels, the Colombian military and state-aligned paramilitary groups.
The rebel group is currently negotiating a political end to the conflict with the government of President Juan Manuel Santos.
This represents the fourth historic attempt at peace talks between the government and the FARC.
- Interview with Adam Isacson
- “Ending 50 Years of Conflict” (WOLA)