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By: Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group, October 2014
The Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas are advancing steadily in negotiations in a peace process that could bring an end to 50 years of brutal conflict. They have already reached agreement on three of six “chapters” of a final accord, on rural development, political participation, and drug policy. In August 2014, they began discussions on the victims’ rights chapter.
This peace process has advanced farther than any such negotiations with the FARC in recent times. “This is farther than we have come in many years…. I know that we can achieve peace, many other countries have managed to do so,” said Clara Rojas, a newly-elected congresswoman for the Liberal Party who was kidnapped and held in captivity by the FARC guerrillas for six years.[i] In the June 2014 presidential runoff election, Colombians reelected Juan Manuel Santos in a decisive, if hardly unanimous, vote for peace.
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You’ve heard how human rights defenders, land rights leaders, union activists, Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities all still remain in danger in Colombia. And that’s true. But there’s a real opportunity for peace that could make a difference in their lives. Today, you can help: Urge your member of Congress to sign a letter from the legislatures of the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland and Northern Ireland to say: Give peace a chance.
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April 29, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (Spanish Below)
On Tuesday, April 29, 2014, 50 U.S. faith leaders released a letter to President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry urging the Obama Administration to continue and amplify its support for the Colombian peace process. The letter calls on the Obama Administration to transform U.S. assistance to Colombia from military aid to assistance directed at supporting peace. It also calls on the White House to emphasize the rights of victims of violence of all the armed actors and offer more vocal support for the current negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC and possible negotiations with the ELN.
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The United States’ diplomatic influence is ebbing in Latin America and the Caribbean. U.S. military influence, though, remains strong. The result is inertia, a policy on autopilot, focused on security threats and capabilities at a time when creativity is badly needed.
This new report finds that U.S. assistance has dropped near the lowest levels in more than a decade—about US$2.2 billion foreseen for 2014. But dollar amounts are deceptive. While U.S. diplomatic efforts are flagging, other less transparent forms of military-to-military cooperation are on the rise. For example, the report finds that Special Operations Forces, whose budgets are not being cut as they re-deploy from Iraq and Afghanistan, are visiting Latin America more frequently for joint training in war-fighting skills, intelligence gathering, and other military missions.
Despite calls in Latin America for a change in drug policy, today, the vast majority of U.S. security assistance continues to flow through counter-drug funding programs: eradicating the crops of the poorest, transferring weapons and lethal skills to institutions with recent records of human rights abuse, and increasingly with direct participation in interdiction operations—some of them disturbingly violent—on other countries’ soil, especially in Central America and the Caribbean.
WOLA, LAWGEF, and CIP—three expert organizations—manage the “Just the Facts” project, which has monitored U.S. military and police aid to Latin America since 1997. Soon, the resource currently hosted at www.justf.org will become the Latin America section of Security Assistance Monitor atwww.securityassistance.org, and the project will go global, documenting U.S. security assistance to every region of the world. Stay tuned for its upcoming launch.
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The State Department on September 15, 2011, certified that Colombia had met the human rights conditions attached to U.S. assistance. No surprise there—the State Department always certifies Colombia meets the conditions, no matter what is happening on the ground. To be fair, this time, with the year-old Santos Administration, there’s somewhat more reason to certify than during countless rounds of certification during the Uribe Administration. The certification document cites the Santos Administration's successful passage of a victims' reparations and land restitution bill; a “disarming of words” initiative in which it abandoned the inflammatory anti-NGO language used by Uribe and his top officials, which had endangered human rights defenders and journalists; progress on some historic human rights cases; and a variety of directives and policy initiatives, at least on paper, to support human rights and labor rights.
But the 118- page document contains a wealth of information that shows why we should still be deeply concerned.
In 2005, I visited the community of San José de Apartadó, Colombia. A group of poor farmers who had been repeatedly displaced from their homes by violence, they had decided to call themselves a “peace community” and reject violence from all sides—paramilitaries, guerrillas and the army. Yet the community was subjected to ever more harassment and violence, including by the local 17th army brigade. Some 170 members of the peace community have been assassinated since 1997. My visit came soon after seven members of the peace community, including three children, and a local farmer had been massacred and dismembered. The community members had left their army-occupied town to construct a bare-bones, dirt-floor village down the road.
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In March, two major annual human rights reports on Colombia were
released by the State Department and the United Nations High
Commissioner on Human Rights’ office in Colombia. They highlight some
advances, most notably a decline in killings of civilians by the army
(extrajudicial executions), but point to numerous ongoing problems,
including the major scandal of illegal wiretapping by the government’s
DAS intelligence agency, a pronounced slowness in achieving justice in
extrajudicial execution cases, threats and attacks against human rights
defenders and failures by the government in protecting them, a
resurgence of illegal armed groups following the paramilitary
demobilization, and sexual violence in the context of the conflict.
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With over 4.9 million Colombians forcibly displaced
from their homes by a debilitating
war, Colombia is now the second worst internal displacement crisis in the world. Between now and April 30, tens of thousands across the U.S. and Colombia will participate
in this year’s National Days of Action for Colombia to call for a much-needed shift in U.S. policies toward the war-torn country. Please join us!
Click here for photos, stories, instructions, factsheets, and more!
This year, the National Days of Action will focus on the displacement crisis, but in a different way than last year when we made thousands of paper dolls to symbolize the number of IDPs in Colombia. This year we’re asking you to go a step further than just understanding what
is happening, and start talking about why
in a campaign we’re calling “Face the Displaced – Colombia: Our Hemisphere’s Hidden Humanitarian Crisis.”
The art project:
Our partners in Colombia have helped us gather over 40 faces of forcibly displaced people in Colombia and their stories. As a way to make our legislators and communities face up to the human reality of this crisis, we’re going to make large posters displaying these people and their words, and will frame them with a message to President Obama asking for U.S. policies towards Colombia that will support internally displaced people and help alleviate the crisis.
Take a look at the example we made on the right. Now, imagine how powerful thousands of posters like these would be!
But we can only do it if you help us by hosting a “Face the Displaced” Poster Making Party. We’ll give you a packet with clear instructions on how to make them. By gathering a couple of friends and following a few simple steps, you’ll have a powerful educational tool at your disposal—and it’s fun! Click here to download the poster-making packet
and then click here
to register your event on our central website. Or find a poster making party to attend in your city by clicking here.
Once we’ve made these posters, we’re going to need your help organizing public events and church services all over the country where we can display these faces and teach about the displacement crisis in Colombia. Even if you can’t do a poster making party, if you can join the hundreds of grassroots groups and churches both in the United States and in Colombia that will be educating their communities throughout April and praying for peace in Colombia on the weekend of April 16-19th, it will make a huge difference. Click here for more information on organizing a demonstration.
This year we created a central site where everyone will be registering their events across the country so we can really see how much is going on. Please click here to sign up!
Or if you're interested in organizing through your church, click here for a faith-based organizing resources
. Legislative change:
We’ll work with you during April and beyond to ensure that Washington feels the force of the movement calling for change in U.S. policies towards Colombia. First, they’ll hear from you on the National Call-In Day on April 19th.
Then, once you’ve displayed these faces in your cities, send the materials to Washington in May where we’ll be doing some last big displays before taking the faces with to Congress and the Administration to deliver your message. We’ll post more info on these actions soon!
And if you have any questions or need any help organizing, email Vanessa at