Witness for Peace first opened an office in Colombia in 2000, in order to document the human, social, and environmental consequences of US-sponsored Plan Colombia – a multi-billion dollar counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency package for the Colombian armed forces. Plan Colombia was intended to reduce Colombia’s cocaine production and bring peace and stability to a country experiencing an ongoing armed conflict between state security forces, various guerrilla armies, and paramilitary groups. Yet Plan Colombia’s overwhelming focus on military aid rather than social aid just made a dire situation even more precarious – fumigation and bombardment of vulnerable communities under the guise of counterinsurgency tactics just further increased mass displacement and human rights violations of especially vulnerable communities, including indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians, and campesinos.
For more than a decade, Witness for Peace has documented one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises—Colombia is currently the country with the second largest internally displaced population in the world, following Syria. More than 6.9 million Colombians have been internally displaced by right-wing paramilitaries (often working in conjunction with Colombia’s US funded and trained military), left-wing insurgents, indiscriminate aerial fumigations, large-scale extractive industries and agro-fuel production. At every turn, US corporations have benefited from the violence and mass displacement, including Coca-Cola, Chiquita, Dole and Drummond Coal.
In 2007, Witness for Peace organizers and allies achieved a major victory: the significant reduction of military aid to Colombia. However, this was a partial victory, and Witness for Peace continues educating US citizens on alternatives to militarization and fumigation, especially as a new wave of US intervention begins under a new US aid package known as “Plan Peace Colombia.”
Because sustainable solutions to poverty are a prerequisite for stopping the violence, Witness for Peace and our allies opposed the bilateral Free Trade Agreement with Colombia, implemented on May 15, 2012. This agreement, signed by Presidents Obama and Santos in 2011, was implemented without meaningful completion of the prerequisites in the Labor Action Plan. It condoned Colombia’s status as the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists as an acceptable standard for US business alliances.
In addition to our on-the-ground documentation work, Witness for Peace organizes speaking tours for Colombian community leaders and activists to meet with people, organizations, and politicians in the U.S. The visiting speakers share their first-hand experience with US foreign policy and corporate practices in Colombia. We also bring US citizens to Colombia to witness the effects of these policies and practices on the country. Upon returning to the US, delegates join a network of more than 20,000 activists giving testimony, lobbying Congress and using nonviolent direct action to demand just US foreign policies in Colombia.
Today the Witness for Peace Colombia team continues to monitor the human rights situation in country, especially considering the changing context due to a new peace accord between the Colombian government and the largest insurgent guerrilla force, the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC). Despite significant advances toward peace, an alarming trend of attacks and threats against human rights defenders, especially by neo-paramilitary groups, shows that international accompaniment continues to be important in Colombia. Partners on the ground express concerns about continuing threats in the post-accords period, including the presence of other armed actors (notably paramilitaries and the ELN guerrilla group) and the role of multinational companies exploiting the rich resources of the country, violating the human rights and labor rights of many Colombian communities.