The U.S. Must Work for Peaceful Resolution to Colombian Armed Conflict

07/05/2011 07:27 pm ET | Updated Sep 04, 2011

While the mainstream press has been silent on the issue, there is a growing movement in Colombia for a peaceful settlement of the decades-long civil war in Colombia between the FARC and ELN guerillas and the Colombian government. A step was made in the direction of building a process toward such a settlement on June 8th with the National Meeting of Peasant, Afro-descendent and Indigenous Peoples for Land and Peace in Bogota.

As an article from Justice for Colombia (JFC) notes, "the meeting launched the preparations for the National Conference on Peace that will be held in Barrancabermeja later this year [from August 12 - 15], aimed at using the experiences of different communities to begin a debate on how to achieve a peaceful solution to Colombia's social and armed conflict." JFC notes that speakers at this meeting included representatives of Colombia's peasant communities, a delegate of Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, Jesuit priest Father de Roux, a delegate representing the Colombian government and the Jimmy Carter Foundation.

JFC explains that "Father de Roux, and the peasant representative Miguel Cifuentes, both spoke of the need for land redistribution and the right of return for the displaced, while Cifuentes also emphasised the need for social justice." I met Father de Roux, who I am told is one of the driving forces behind the peace talks, in Barrancabermeja back in September of 2000 as part of a delegation with the Madison-based Colombia Support Network. He is a kind, soft-spoken priest who has bravely worked for peace, justice and the economic development of the Middle Magdalena Region of Colombia for many years. As the Jesuit Refugee Service notes on its website, working for peace and justice in Colombia is a dangerous business, and Father de Roux has been threatened as a result of his work:

"The Jesuits of Colombia have also been personally touched by the continued armed conflict in Colombia. On March 28, 2011, one of the Jesuit run Programs for Peace and Development received a death threat from an apparent paramilitary group that specifically named Fr. Francisco "Pacho" de Roux, S.J. -- the current Jesuit Provincial of Colombia -- as a target for attack, and promised violence against a displaced community accompanied by the Jesuit-run program."

The Jesuit Refugee Service states the problem confronting Colombia well: "With an ongoing conflict that has killed at least 30,000 civilians [some estimates are much higher -- up to 100,000 when including the disappeared] and displaced 5,000,000, Colombia continues to endure the largest and most protracted humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere, and is home to one of the largest displaced populations in the world" -- now even larger than that of The Sudan. In light of such a dire humanitarian conflict flowing from the armed conflict, a sustainable peace is desperately needed in Colombia.

Sadly, the U.S. has never been a force for peace in Colombia. While Colombia has stumbled through a number of peace processes, the U.S. has never supported any of these, instead deciding, as is its wont generally, to give masses of military aid to Colombia -- over $7 billion since the year 2000. For all of this military aid, given ostensibly to fight drugs and terrorism, Colombia and the U.S. have received precisely nothing. Thus, the drug flow from Colombia has not decreased (if anything, it has increased); terrorism, especially from the right-wing paramilitaries which have received assistance and material support from the very military the U.S. has been supporting, has (quite predictably) not ceased; and the civil war continues in a stalemate with devastating effects on the civilian population. In short, the U.S. support for war in Colombia -- as almost all of its war efforts -- has failed miserably.

It is now time for the U.S. to try another tack. The U.S. must actively support a negotiated peace process in Colombia, and support the Father de Roux's of Colombia risking their lives to bring a just peace to that country. Given the close relationship which the U.S. and Colombia have maintained, the U.S.'s support and encouragement for peace may be the missing ingredient needed to end a war which has brought Colombia to the brink of being a failed state. It is quite possible that a sustained peace in Colombia, brought about by U.S. efforts, could be President Obama's greatest legacy in this Hemisphere, and indeed, the world.