By Bárbara Orozco Díaz
On June 19, 2022, for the first time in its contemporary history, Colombia makes a government shift to the political left, giving way to the "Government of the People, the Government of the No ones, the Government of Life", in the words of the President and Vice President-elect.
In the second presidential election following the signing of the Peace Accord in 2016, Colombians have gone to the polls three times this year to elect political representatives. On all occasions, the leftist coalition received the most votes and the new government will take office on August 7.
The results of the Presidential Elections’ runoff in Colombia gave a narrow victory (700,601 votes difference) to the candidate for the coalition Pacto Histórico, Gustavo Petro and his vice-president Francia Márquez Mina, the first Black woman to assume this position.
A Different Government
Beyond the political, democratic, and electoral race, the Pacto Histórico, Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez take on the serious responsibility of not forgetting that they were elected on the platform of peace, collective, community, and ancestral rights, and social processes of the Indigenous, Black, Peasant, urban poor, women, LGBT+, and young people. This new leadership was elected with the mandate to be "the Sum of Many Resistances that want a Government of Life".
However, the hope of achieving the socioeconomic and political structural changes that will allow the achievement of a peaceful country without inequalities will be a long road. Not only because of the complexity of Colombia's internal problems but also because of the intervention of major foreign interests, dating back to Spanish colonization and the rise of U.S. imperialism that persist to this day.
Politics of Love - Peace, Social Justice, and Environmental Justice
The Peace Accords signed in 2016 represented hope. Hope for a peaceful end to 52 years of armed conflict reduction in the rural-urban divide, the elimination of poverty and social injustices, and the implementation of transformative measures necessary to achieve a lasting and stable peace.
The Kroc Institute Report, which monitors the implementation of the Peace Accord, concluded that little progress has been made in the last 5 years since the signing, particularly on points 1 and 4 related to agrarian reform and illicit crop substitution. Non-compliance with the Accords has resulted in an intensification of mass violence and the proliferation of illegal armed actors. The reconfiguration of armed actors and the persistence and expansion of paramilitarism, has created extremely violent conditions for the population, especially in rural areas. The government's knee-jerk response of more militarization in the form of greater troop deployments, checkpoints and patrols with billions in financing from the U.S, has only made things worse.
In 2019 and 2020, people from across all major Colombian cities protested against the widely unpopular economic measures and tax reforms proposed by the outgoing government. The massive and unified rejection of these measures across social sectors was met with deadly State and parastate repression. In 2021, Colombia was recorded as the second most unequal in Latin America and the third most unequal of the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The majority of Colombian society has shown at the ballot box that aggressive and cruel policies do not have a place, and substantial political change is desperately needed. In his first speech as president-elect, Gustavo Petro said that it is time to put into practice the Policy of Love, not hate, and that to achieve this with consensus, a National Agreement is needed. He added that fundamental rights can no longer be meaningless words in the Constitution and that his mandate is to achieve Peace, Social Justice, and Environmental Justice.
Mother Earth - Environment
In a country like Colombia with immense natural wealth and biodiversity, extractivist policies have caused irreparable environmental damage. These mega-projects deteriorate and exacerbate climate change. The care of "Mother Earth" is a fundamental demand of the Colombian people directed toward their future government. The president-elect has called for dialogue and understanding with the United States given that it is the largest emitter of CO2, and with Latin America to discuss the steps towards energy transition and a decarbonized economy in a more decidedly integrated manner.
The United States in Colombia
This year marks 200 years of bilateral relations between the United States and Colombia. President Joe Biden has made Colombia an official Non-NATO Strategic Ally. The presence and influence of the U.S. economically, politically, and militarily cannot be overstated. In the face of this dominance, it is also 200 years of Black, Indigenous, Peasant, and worker resistance, and 530 years of anti-colonial struggle.
U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA)
Colombian Unions and their workers assess a decade since the implementation of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Colombia and the United States with the conclusion that its results have been regrettable/lamentable. National production has been negatively affected, labor rights have neither been improved nor strengthened, and the environment has suffered.
In their words, the Free Trade Agreement has been a great fraud for Colombia and Colombian workers. They conclude that the FTA with the United States (which determines government policy) is not simply a trade agreement, but an imposition in perpetuity that impedes industrial and agricultural development and the action of the State. The United States was not looking to buy more, but to sell more.
Militarization and War on Drugs Policy
The United States plays a key role in the financing and training of the Armed Forces and the National Police in Colombia. Colombia, in turn, has become a provider of military instruction in other countries, in recent years, particularly in Central America.
For decades, the U.S. has played this role no matter the political party in power. In the 1960s, the United States began formal training of the Colombian armed forces in counterinsurgency warfare. U.S. counterinsurgency manuals stated that “civilians in the operational area” such as trade unionists, students, and community organizers could be targeted with “guerrilla warfare, propaganda, subversion, [… and] terrorist activities”.
Since 1999 “Plan Colombia” has been implemented and expanded under Presidents Clinton, Obama, and Trump, at a cost exceeding more than $10 billion. While supporters of the Plan, among them President Joe Biden, claimed its primary purpose was to fight drug trafficking as part of the War on Drugs, as well as to help bring an end to the country's civil war, both challenges to peace in Colombia have been intensified during its execution. Before the signing of the Peace Accords in 2016, the “Plan Paz” was then established as another War on Drugs U.S.-Colombia policy.
Colombia receives the most military aid from the U.S. in the Hemisphere, is a major buyer of U.S. arms, and maintains one of the most long-standing military and intelligence agreements with the U.S. Currently, an average of 500 members of the Colombian Security Forces receive training every year at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation - WHINSEC - (until 2001 it was called the School of the Americas - SOA -), at Fort Benning, USA, or in Colombia itself, where U.S. military instructors travel. The 2022 defense budget approved by the Biden Administration for Colombia is an 8% increase over the previous year, totaling $453 million.
What's next for communities and the social movement?
That Colombia that has suffered and suffers oppression in multiple forms of violence has known how to resist, live with fear, and take its voice to the ballot box to open a small door and the possibility of building a new country in peace, with a dignified life and justice.
However, a political turnaround in the government will not change centuries of violence and oppression overnight. In a militarized country, with a heightened armed conflict, 17 international treaties, and enormous inequality, the daily reality of communities and the social movement will not change so easily and they will continue to struggle peacefully to end violent socio-economic and political structures regardless of the political side of the Government of the Republic of Colombia.
Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective has been present in Colombia since 2000 in order to document the human, social, and environmental consequences of the US-sponsored Plan Colombia which 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, black, and campesinxs communities.
In all these years, we have lived and documented the negative consequences of U.S. policies in the communities together with the black, indigenous and Campesino grassroots organizations with which we will continue to remain in the country.
We continue to call for solidarity among peoples for U.S. military funding to Colombia to end completely, for the U.S. to defend the implementation of the Peace Agreement signed in 2016, and to end its interventionist and corporatist policies and establish cooperative rather than imposing relationships.