The Current Situation in Colombia

A USIP Fact Sheet

October 3, 2016

After more than 50 years, one of the world’s longest-running wars is close to being ended. Colombia’s government and rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) signed a peace accord in August following years of talks in Havana. Colombian voters narrowly rejected the accord amid a low referendum turnout in October, but both sides vowed to renew talks and avoid a return to bloodshed. The U.S., which invested about $10 billion in strengthening Colombian security forces to defeat the FARC and suppress its drug trafficking, has eagerly supported the peace process. But completing an agreement and making it a reality for 47 million Colombians poses a massive challenge of national reconciliation.

A half-century of war has built massive grievances. It killed at least 220,000 people, and perhaps twice that number. A government agency to help war victims has registered 7.6 million people who were forcibly uprooted (more than 6 million), “disappeared” or killed. Preventing violence following a peace deal will require reintegrating FARC combatants into civilian life, offering victims reparations and return of their lands, and shrinking the socio-economic disparities and political exclusion at the root of the conflict. Even then, Colombia will face a smaller guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), and demobilized paramilitary fighters who have reorganized into potent criminal gangs.

USIP’s Work

For more than a decade, the U.S. Institute of Peace has helped prepare the ground for a political solution to Colombia’s conflict, particularly with an eye toward post-conflict reconciliation. The Institute’s research and policy discussions stimulate fresh thinking on how to foster peace, while small grants and technical support train Colombians for mediation, conflict resolution, and strategic planning. The World Bank, the Colombian government, and others have  extended and expanded projects initiated with USIP support such as and one using cultural programs and training for young people, teachers and families to prevent youth recruitment by armed groups. The Institute’s recent work includes:

Colombia Peace Forum. This series of conferences, initiated after the Havana peace talks began in 2012, produces creative analysis of the conflict that informs the thinking of U.S. and Colombian policymakers and opinion leaders. The forum gives voice to those often left out of formal peace processes—including women, victims, ethnic communities, and ex-combatants—by convening government officials, scholars and Colombia specialists to meet with them. When a peace accord is finalized, the forum will help those monitoring its implementation to discuss strategies.

Supporting Inclusive Peace Processes. USIP has provided technical support to many of the parties over the years of the Havana peace talks. For a more stable, comprehensive peace, USIP has funded a collaboration of scholars and ex-ELN members to clear a path for government talks with the ELN, Colombia’s second-largest guerrilla group.

The Institute distills lessons from past attempts at peacemaking in Colombia and elsewhere, and counsels international envoys and others on how peace processes can be strengthened. Colombian innovations, including the participation of victims in the process, offer important lessons for places like Northern Ireland, where justice and memory issues were postponed, and zones of warfare such as Syria, where policymakers wonder what can be done in the absence of a peace process.

Fostering Reconciliation. USIP advises and funds local initiatives for peace, contributes expertise to historical memory projects, and facilitates dialogues to reduce violence. The Institute supports a project to systematize human rights databases for use by a national truth commission that is expected to be part of a peace settlement.

Empowering Women for Mediation. USIP developed and supports a network of 30 women mediators from a dozen regions of Colombia who serve as catalysts for post-war reconciliation. The women lead projects to help prevent and mediate disputes between ex-combatants and victims, reduce tensions among ethnic groups, and foster communication between citizens and government. USIP has designed training materials to help expand this mediators’ network throughout Colombia and abroad.

Strengthening Civil Society Contributions to Peace. To create models for citizen involvement in peace and reconciliation efforts, USIP provided funding for committees in 10 of the country’s 32 administrative zones (departments) that can help monitor and implement a peace accord. The committees include local government and civil society representatives. USIP also works to reduce conflicts—over land rights, natural resources, the environment, or development priorities—that could trigger violence following an accord. For example, in the oil-rich department of Arauca, USIP funded and facilitated dialogues among companies, local authorities, and communities. The dialogues generated alternatives to planned work by the companies that would have uprooted dozens of families.

October 3, 2016