With the elections and change of administration in Colombia, peace has become the number one issue of public concern. It appears that even the guerrillas (at least the FARC) preferred the winner, Andrés Pastrana, as evidenced by meetings between the two camps in the week before the June 21 run-off with Liberal Horacio Serpa. Since then, Pastrana met with Manuel Marulanda, known as "Tirofijo," legendary commander of the FARC guerrillas, in early July, while the ELN held meetings with a wide array of sectors of Colombian civil society in Mainz, Germany. As we go to press, the Peace Assembly is about to be held in Bogotá (July 31-August 2). In our next issue we'll report on its outcomes.
Yet Colombia is as strife-torn as ever, particularly with ongoing advances of paramilitary groups in several parts of the country. It appears that these groups continue to operate largely with the acquiescence if not complicity of the Colombian Army and National Police; at the same time, the guerrillas have scored unprecedented tactical victories in the last two years.
The United States, as discussed in the overview of U.S. military involvement in Colombia, has supported the Colombian armed forces and police in several ways, mostly in the name of the drug war; yet coca crops have continued to expand, and the antidrug campaign only becomes more intertwined with counter-insurgency. Colombian human rights NGOs, in a document published in early July, note: "One of the fundamental challenges is to bring about a substantial change in the Colombian state's policy of war, so as to eradicate paramilitarism as an arm of the dirty war. People are increasingly aware that the key factor for stopping the escalation of the war and moving towards a political solution and a lasting peace is to contain paramilitarism."
The NGO communique, on "Human Rights and Political Solution to the Internal Armed Conflict in Colombia," denounces the gap between government rhetoric and deeds regarding human rights, as illustrated, for example, by the contrast "between the discourse of constitutional legality and the practice of genocide and massacres." "The result of such inconsistencies, is that in the eyes of national and international public opinion, the distinction between human rights and international humanitarian law becomes vague and confusing, and the regular forces of the state claim to be a neutral actor in the conflict between paramilitaries and guerrillas."
Here in the United States, we have an obligation to steer our government towards a policy consistent with building peace in Colombia, which should rule out all arms aid to all official forces, embrace alternative development approaches rather than aerial spraying in the effort to eradicate drug crops, and push our government towards a policy of constructive engagement with the Colombian peace process.