The Conflict in Colombia Part 5

The role of the United States

Colombia has strong ties to the United States, which since the year 2000 has given billions of dollars to the fight against drug production through the so-called Plan Colombia. Among other things, coca crops are sprayed from the air, which, however, has caused environmental damage. Plan Colombia has been criticized for not giving farmers enough help to start growing crops other than cooking. Many people are said to have switched to growing opium poppies at high altitudes, where it is more difficult to fly spray. According to a report from the US Congress, Colombian coca cultivation had increased by 15 percent in 2000-2006, despite US support.

According to a congressional resolution in the United States, there may be up to 800 American soldiers and 600 civilian employees in Colombia, but soldiers may not participate in combat. Colombia is considered America’s closest ally in Latin America. Following international pressure, the United States has called for greater respect for human rights as a condition for continued assistance. But money has been paid out despite the fact that Colombia, according to human rights organizations, has not done much to meet the conditions.

In the autumn of 2009, the United States and Colombia concluded an agreement on increased access for the Americans to seven military bases in the South American country. The agreement caused great outrage in several neighboring countries, not least Venezuela, where President Chávez accused the United States of planning attacks.

In the summer of 2010, the relationship deteriorated further when Colombia presented to the American cooperation organization OAS what was said to be evidence that Chávez had allowed Colombian guerrillas to have bases on Venezuelan territory. Chávez was furious at the allegations and broke off diplomatic ties.

New president

However, the crisis ended when Juan Manuel Santos took office as President of Colombia in August 2010. Santos took on a much more conciliatory tone in relation to neighboring countries than his predecessor Uribe.

Around the same time, Colombia’s Constitutional Court also ruled that the agreement with the United States on access to military bases was unconstitutional, as Congress was not allowed to take a position on the settlement. The Santos government later made it clear that it would not pursue the agreement further.

In September, the FARC was hit by a new killing spree, when the guerrilla’s military chief Jorge Briceño (known as “Mono Jojoy”) was killed by the military. According to President Santos, the deaths were the hardest blow to the FARC in guerrilla history. According to some observers, Briceño was Farc’s most important person, even though he was formally second. In addition, he was killed on Colombian soil, which showed that the guerrillas no longer had safe havens in the country.

Even otherwise, it was clear that both the FARC and the ELN were significantly weakened. According to government estimates, the number of members of the FARC decreased from around 20,000 to 8,000 between 2002 and 2010. The decrease was a result of the military offensive that led to many members being killed, arrested or dropped out. According to the government, ELN’s membership had more than halved during the same period, to about 1,500 members.

In February 2011, six months after taking office, President Santos announced that the biggest threat to peace and security in Colombia now was the “bacrim” ( bandas criminales emergentes ) – the criminal gangs that largely replaced the AUC right-wing militias. organized crime. At the same time, the FARC and the ELN were increasingly seen as groups without political visions that mainly engaged in criminal activities.

New peace talks begin

One year later, in February 2012, the government and representatives of the FARC held initial talks with a view to opening peace talks. This was not officially confirmed until six months later. A first round of talks was held in Oslo in October, and in November the formal peace talks began in Cuba’s capital, Havana. At the same time, the FARC announced a unilateral ceasefire. The government rejected all proposals for a ceasefire until a peace agreement was signed.

In May 2013, the parties announced that they had reached a first settlement, in the sensitive issue of a land reform. The agreement included assurances of increased social and economic justice in rural areas, and promises of land to poor farmers.

At the same time as the negotiations were going on, fighting continued on the ground. However, the parties expressed great optimism and said in August that they had come further in the negotiations than in any previous attempt to end the long conflict. In November, the government and the FARC agreed on item two of the peace talks, concerning political participation for former guerrilla members. The FARC must be able to be transformed into a political party and participate in the political process.

The next breakthrough was delayed in May 2014, when the parties presented an agreement on drug production and trade. All cultivation of coca leaves will cease and the poor farmers will be helped to switch to other cultivation, it was stated in the agreement.

Two items thus remained on the agenda for the peace talks: disarmament of the rebels and compensation to those affected by the conflict. Sometimes it was mentioned what would be a sixth negotiating point: how a final peace agreement should enter into force.

The Conflict in Colombia Part 5