What is at Stake? Key Issues for US Policy Makers
Given the strong US stake in rigorous enforcement of the peace accord, policy makers should pay particular attention to the following issues as metrics for serious and effective peace implementation and areas requiring US diplomatic and programmatic engagement:
Priority 1: Decrease Coca cultivation
After several years of decline, coca cultivation increased dramatically during the years of the peace talks, with the area under cultivationmore than doubling between 2013 and 2016, according to the United States Office on National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).60 ONDCP estimates for 2016 indicate that coca cultivation rose 18 percent to 188,000 hectares, a record high.61 Indisputably, Colombia is today once again the number one coca and cocaine producer in the world,62 though the Colombian government has been successful with other drug interdiction efforts. It seized 421 metric tons of cocaine and cocaine base and destroyed 4,613 cocaine base laboratories and 229 cocaine hydrochloride (HCl) laboratories in 2016.63
As previously discussed, the counter narcotics mission was fundamental to both Plan Colombia’s genesis and its longevity. Early in the strategy’s rollout, declining coca cultivation provided a metric of the strategy’s
effectiveness and a justification for its continuation. Coca cultivation rose again between 2005 and 2007 before declining sharply, and to this day Plan Colombia’s success as a state building and counterinsurgency strategy is more straightforward than its counter narcotics legacy.
Rural workers have joined eradication efforts in Taraza, Colombia.
The recent dramatic increase in coca cultivation has led some to question whether Colombia has taken its eye off the
ball and allowed the counter narcotics investments of Plan Colombia to slip away. Of particular concern to US policy
makers, ONDCP has detected a recent slow rise in cocaine use in the United States.64 This moment represents a unique
opportunity for Colombia and the United States to redouble their joint efforts on coca eradication.
The US government and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) cite a number of explanations for increased coca cultivation, including the FARC urging farmers to grow more coca (in anticipation of post-peace accord crop substitution benefits), the rising price of coca leaf, efforts by coca growers to resist eradication, a declining Colombian manual eradication budget, and local factors affecting other cash crops, such as fuel shortages, localized drought, and the general lack of alternative development activities.65
Perhaps the explanation that has generated the greatest discussion is President Santos’ decision, in May 2015, to halt aerial spraying of coca fields after the World Health Organization found that the chemical employed, glyphosate, likely causes cancer in humans; the US Environmental Protection Agency has determined that there is a lack of convincing evidence for this finding.66 A year later, Colombia reauthorized manual spraying with glyphosate,67 but President Santos has continued to publicly reject a return to aerial spraying, citing a Constitutional Court
decision that may preclude it.68
Quickly and permanently reversing the upward trend in coca cultivation in Colombia is now imperative. US officials
should urge it, effective peace accord implementation will require it, and any significant US aid package is
unlikely to be politically sustainable without it. At the same time, US officials must acknowledge that the illicit
drug trade is a shared responsibility, and one ultimately driven by demand.
Finding an enhanced, workable and effective counter narcotics strategy should be a matter of top priority. The strategy should focus on holistic alternative development programs — including crop substitution initiatives where this is economically viable. This can only work in areas where there is access to markets and highways, and where security and technical assistance is provided to the communities involved. If necessary, these programs should be complemented by law enforcement and manual eradication.
Source: US Department of State, International Narcotics Control Strategy Report
Consistent with the peace accord, targeted use of aerial eradication should only be an option of last resort when
other tools such as crop substitution and manual eradication have proven unviable. Demobilized FARC members must be
held to their peace accord commitment to become part of the coca solution rather than the problem,69 including by
turning over information on drug profits, methods, and collaborators, and by participating directly in manual
Priority 2: Ensure FARC disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration
Achieving the disarmament of the FARC, according to the timeline laid out in the peace accord,70 will be an important
early test for accord implementation. Properly executed, this process can convey a powerful message about the
sincerity of the FARC’s commitment to transition to civilian life. In contrast, widespread migration of former FARC
members into organized crime would significantly undermine public confidence and dent hopes for a security dividend
in the country. Failures of verification during the paramilitary demobilization process of 2003 to 2006 led to precisely this sort of migration, sowing the seeds for the new, illegal armed groups that today pose the biggest threat to security in Colombia71
Beyond the immediate effort to disarm and demobilize thousands of FARC members lies the longer-term challenge of keeping them away from a life of crime and violence. Colombia has demonstrated an impressive capacity to reintegrate tens of thousands of former combatants into society.72 However, the government will need to combine the positive incentives of reintegration programs with a demonstrated willingness and capacity to capture and punish FARC members who return to crime, including by extraditing them to the United States.
Priority 3: Enforce accountability for conflict-related crimes
Punishing wartime atrocities by the FARC, state actors, and other parties to the conflict was perhaps the most complicated issue at the negotiation table, and one of the most contentious away from it. Former President Uribe called the agreement on transitional justice a “veiled amnesty”;73 Human Rights Watch termed it “agreeing to impunity.”74 Other respected legal scholars and human rights advocates defended the agreement as a necessary compromise consistent with international law.75 The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has initially issued a guardedly positive statement on the peace accord.76
US policy makers have a clear interest and stake in the peace deal’s resolution of accountability issues. Congress
regularly conditions assistance to Colombia on punishing conflict atrocities, and the US Senate called on Colombia
to “hold accountable perpetrators of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law and
ensure that they are appropriately punished.”77 The US and Colombian governments stated publicly that the peace accord should comply with international law and ensure accountability for human rights violations on all sides.78
The credibility and durability of the transitional justice process will reside largely in the interpretation and enforcement of key concepts such as “effective restriction of liberty” and “full truth,” especially by the judges and prosecutors of the Special Peace Tribunal. If those convicted of serious crimes have their movements tightly restricted and closely monitored, if they declare their illicit assets and make reparations to victims, if those who fail to strictly comply are promptly remanded back to the ordinary justice system, and if Colombians regularly see images of them carrying out taxing work that benefits society and conflict victims — such as manual coca eradication or humanitarian demining — the transitional justice agreement will gain credibility.
For this to happen, the United States must continue to stress consistently the need for the peace accord to comply with international law and to ensure accountability for human rights violations on all sides.79 It must also employ both diplomatic and programmatic tools — including technical assistance for transitional justice bodies, funding to support victims’ rights, and limited conditionality — to further the cause of accountability.
The United States must continue to stress consistently the need for the peace accord to comply with international law and to ensure accountability for human rights violations.
The United States should continue to urge Colombia to comply with the recommendations of the specialized international bodies with jurisdiction to monitor the transitional justice proceedings, including the ICC, the Inter-American Commission and Court of Human Rights, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. US law enforcement officials should seek permission to participate in the questioning of demobilized FARC members, who have agreed to disclose the “full truth,” regarding their criminal operations in return for substantially reduced
sentences. At the same time, placing the rights of the victims of the conflict front and center, the US must also
keep a close eye on the accountability for state actors and third parties.
Priority 4: Focus on security, rule of law, and transnational organized crime
Colombia’s homicide rate in 2016 was 25 percent lower than when peace negotiations began, aided by the cease re that accompanied the peace talks.80 In fact, at 25 per 100,000, today’s homicide rate is the lowest in forty years.81 Over the same period, kidnappings dropped over 30 percent and acts of terrorism fell over 75 percent.82 If this
downward trend can be sustained, it will represent a compelling measure of the concrete benefits of peace for both
Colombians and the broader region.
Continued progress in reducing crime and violence in Colombia, particularly transnational organized crime, will
depend in large part on successfully reintegrating FARC ex-combatants into civilian life and limiting the migration
of ex-guerillas into criminal groups. It would be a failure of the process if demobilized fighters form or join
armed groups that fill the vacuum left by the FARC and continue criminal activities such as drug trafficking,
extortion, human trafficking, and illegal mining.83 A decade ago, a flawed paramilitary demobilization process gave
birth to today’s new illegal armed groups, sometimes referred to as BACRIM (bandas criminales). Both these groups and the ELN view the FARC’s demobilization as an opportunity to recruit seasoned warriors and expand their territory.84
This poses a huge risk across the hemisphere. Colombian criminal entities do not operate in a silo; they are connected to transnational organized crime networks that pose a threat to the United States. With rising tensions in Venezuela, the region faces an imminent challenge to contain sources of illegality, in particular along the Colombia-Venezuela border. With the repression and human rights abuses, escalating crime, and food shortages in Venezuela, Colombia will play a pivotal role in any eventual transitionthat occurs.
The United States can help ensure Colombiahas the law enforcement and military capacity to be an important player in regional stabilityas well as pursue illegal groups and halt their transnational ow of resources. Severely disrupting the narcotics trade is critical as is workingto eviscerate human trafficking organizations, illegal mining flows, and money laundering schemes. Another priority is to support Colombia’s push to bring enhanced security as well as development and democratic governance to post-conflict areas.85 Backing Colombia’s efforts to
achieve a just and lasting peace with the ELN is critical if nascent talks advance.
The United States can help ensure Colombia has the law enforcement and military capacity to be an important player in regional stability.
The United States has unique capabilities to contribute. Increasing the Colombian military’s airlift capacity was a key component of Plan Colombia, and will be similarly important as the national police assume greater responsibility for combating illegal armed groups. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has a proven ability to support the extension of democratic institutions, government services, and rule of law to former conflict areas, and can scale up these efforts with the required resources.
The United States should also continue capacity-building efforts to improve Colombia’s ability to investigate and prosecute complex financial crimes. These include the laundering of money, which derives primarily from Colombia’s illicit drug production, and illegal mining, which continues to penetrate the economy.86 Assisting Colombia’s efforts to locate and
repatriate any undeclared FARC assets should be a particular priority, and can help fund peace implementation.
Priority 5:Priority 5: Promote investment and economic growth
Delivering a measurable economic peace dividend will be instrumental to maintaining investments in peace implementation and support from Colombia’s influential business leaders. Colombia’s finance minister and some economists have predicted that peace could add approximately 1 percent per year to Colombia’s gross domestic product (GDP), a figure disputed by others.87
A growing Colombian economy benefits the United States by providing an expanding market for US goods and services.
It also positions Colombia to invest more heavily in areas that directly impact US priorities, whether expanding
counter narcotics operations, securing former FARC territory, expanding state presence and institutions to address
the root causes of crime and violence, dealing with the humanitarian fallout from the situation in Venezuela, or
exporting security expertise to Central America and beyond.
The town of Arauquita, on the border with Venezuela, is increasingly affected by the instability unleashed by the Maduro government.
As such, the United States has an interest in ensuring the proper functioning of the TPA in both countries. It should also employ commercial diplomacy tools to advance opportunities for US firms and promote economic development in Colombia, particularly in areas historically marginalized. At the same time, the United States can help create economic opportunities in these underdeveloped and post-conflict areas largely populated by Afro-Colombian and indigenous populations, women and poor farmers, through trade capacity building under the framework of the TPA and the US-Colombia Action Plan on Racial and Ethnic Equality.
The United States should work closely with the recently formed US-Colombia Business Council, comprised of business
leaders from both countries,88 to stress the private sector’s importance to the success of peace implementation, including by investing in post-conflict areas and providing employment opportunities for reintegrated former combatants. By supporting the development of integrated economic development plans for regions with potential for growth and market expansion, the United States can provide opportunities for US companies in areas such as infrastructure, construction, and agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, and machinery.
The United States can also provide an even playing field for American workers, encourage responsible business conduct, and promote high standards for global commerce through enforcement of the Labor Action Plan, the US National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Colombian participation should be encouraged in the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative and Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.
Palm oil extraction is another source of economic activity in the countryside.
Priority 6: Protect targeted communities and individuals
In December 2016, thirty-seven members of the US House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry expressing deep concern about the escalation of killings and assaults on human rights defenders, LGBT and women activists, labor leaders, and other social leaders in Colombia.89 A few days earlier, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia had expressed similar alarm, noting that it had recorded fifty-two murders of human rights defenders in the first eleven months of the year, particularly in rural areas.90 The Washington Post reported that only a handful of suspects had been arrested, but that shadowy right-wing militias were thought to be
Increasing gender-based violence against women, in particular, has been identified by the UN as a serious obstacle to lasting and stable peace.92 As illegal groups try to co-opt the FARC’s territory and illicit profit making—the most
powerful criminal gang, the Clan del Golfo or Los Urabeños, is reportedly offering former FARC fighters salaries of $600 per month — community leaders and social activists in rural areas are often the ones to speak out and put up resistance, putting them in harm’s way.93
The international community in Colombia, including the United States Embassy, has reacted strongly to the attacks on
human rights defenders, notably through an initiative called Ambassadors with Defenders (Embajadores con Defensores)
designed to bring visibility to the work of human rights advocates and call for prompt investigations of attacks
against them.94 In addition, the National Unit for Protection (Unidad Nacional de Protección), a Colombian agency
designed to provide various forms of protection to at-risk civil-society leaders, should continue to receive special
technical assistance and funds.
The peace accord with the FARC anticipates the risk of violence against peace advocates and former FARC members, including by contemplating US support for the newly created National Commission on Security Guarantees (Comisión Nacional de Garantías de Seguridad) and the Special Investigation Unit (Unidad Especial de Investigación).95 This is
of particular importance to avoid repeating the story of the political party Union Patriotica in the late 1980s and
1990s, when paramilitary agents systematically killed demobilized left-wing guerillas.
UN Security Council resolutions, including Resolution 1325, reaffirm the important role of women in post-conflict
reconstruction and stress the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the
maintenance and promotion of peace and security.96 The United States should voice strong support for such
participation while continuing to participate actively in the Ambassadors with Defenders initiative, constantly
supporting the National Unit for Protection, and providing the assistance contemplated in the peace accord.
Priority 7: Facilitate political participation
The peace accord includes a series of measures designed to facilitate the FARC’s transition from illegal armed insurgency to legal political party. Most contentiously, it guarantees the FARC’s eventual political movement a minimum of ten seats — five in the Senate, five in the House — in the Colombian Congresses to be elected in 2018 and 2022.97 One week before the plebiscite, High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo identified this provision as the
one generating the greatest resistance among Colombian citizens.98 Former President Uribe and other “no” campaigners
claim that the FARC’s entry into politics represented a Cuban-Venezuelan Trojan horse.99
Only by maintaining a close relationship with Colombia can the United States ensure joint interests are advanced in the hemisphere and beyond.
The FARC leaders have made clear that they have not abandoned their political agenda. Many Colombians harbor deep
misgivings about the FARC’s impact on the Colombian body politic, the illicit support they have received from
regimes in Cuba and Venezuela, or the potential—as “no” campaigners have warned—that a former guerrilla or a
political ally could one day occupy the Colombian presidency.
The question for US policy makers is to what extent such sentiments should influence policy toward Colombia. The
United States has tools for opposing the FARC’s tactics and criminality, including the FARC’s designations as a
foreign terrorist organization and as a significant foreign narcotics trafficker under the Kingpin Act.100 The United States should be in no rush to delist the FARC before the strict criteria for such a step are met. If and when the FARC fulfill their obligations under the peace accord and meet the criteria for delisting, however, US policy makers should be prepared to apply the law, taking into due consideration of the impact such a decision will have on this and future peace processes.
These policy issues, though by no means exhaustive, provide a notion of the priorities facing US policy maker and
the choices that will confront US leaders as they craft future strategy toward Colombia. The risk of failing to
forge consensus is not so much a breakdown in bilateral relations or a wild deviation in strategy, but more likely a
relative paralysis in policy making. The consequence would be a steady reduction in US support and engagement at a
juncture where core US interests and investments are at stake.
Only by maintaining a close relationship with Colombia can the United States ensure joint interests are advanced in
the hemisphere and beyond. As the recommendations that follow aim to demonstrate, common sense consensus is
achievable and would maintain the long-term bipartisan strategic perspective that has characterized US policy toward
Colombia for almost two decades.