Peace Process: Light at the end of the tunnel?

Since the election and inauguration of President Andrés Pastrana, peace has been the foremost issue of public debate, with a seemingly unprecedented moment at hand. As this issue goes to press, it has been announced that Pastrana will meet with FARC leader Manuel Marulanda, aka Tirofijo, on January 7, in the demilitarized zone. Yet at the same time, untold atrocities continue to produce widespread killings provoked by all actors in the war.

This issue seeks to further public debate on the peace process, human rights, and the role of U.S. policy. We feature the October 2 conference "Possibilities for Peace: A Human Rights Perspective," held on Capitol Hill, including summaries of the sessions and the edited remarks of Pastrana's High Commissioner for Peace, Víctor G. Ricardo, and of Carlos Rodríguez of the Colombian Commission of Jurists. Other articles describe the zona de despeje, the situation in Antioquia, and the problems of guerrilla reinsertion into civilian life.

In this issue we also celebrate three major events in Washington relating to Colombia, the October opening of the U.S./Colombia Coordinating Office in Washington (see p.2); the October 1 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards ceremony, where the Coordinación Colombia-Europa (now Colombia-Europa-Estados Unidos)—our counterpart in the U.S./Colombia Coordinating Office—was awarded the international prize for 1998; and on November 9 the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award was shared by four Colombian activists.

Fall 1998 also saw two tours to the United States of grass-roots activists, by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom; we have included some of the remarks by the participants in both tours.

Political violence against human rights activists, labor unions, and peasant communities has become endemic in virtually all parts of Colombia. The situations of southern Bolívar and Barrancabermeja, the murder of trade union and human rights leader Jorge Ortega and further threats to unionists, and the plight of the Embera-Katío communities of Tierralta, Córdoba, are the subjects of the urgent action appeals.

Of special concern at this time is the sharp increase in U.S. aid to the Police and Army, and a recent special agreement between the Pentagon and the Colombian Defense Ministry: While President Clinton spoke of supporting President Pastrana's efforts to secure peace, reinforcing ties with the military and police may well be at odds with efforts by the Colombian authorities to engage in a peace process with the guerrillas, who are the predominant force in much of the expanding coca-growing areas of the southern plains and jungles.