Why the Trump White House must continue to invest in Colombia
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As President Trump and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos meet at the White House, the fate of that country’s historic peace agreement hangs in the balance.

Early indications are that the Trump administration’s 2018 foreign aid budget will include a 44 per cent cut in the main economic aid program that sustains peace implementation efforts. 

Slashing support for Colombia would be a major setback to the peace process and could undermine decades of U.S. effort against violent insurgency and narcotics trafficking.

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Since “Plan Colombia” began in 2000, the United States has invested more than $10 billion in helping Colombia counter the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and stem the drug production and trafficking networks that feed corruption and violence in Colombia and in our own country.

 

Most of the funding went to military programs that were partially successful in suppressing FARC. Murders and kidnappings in the cities and towns decreased significantly and economic development surged.

A weakened FARC came to the bargaining table in 2012 and last year signed the agreement that ended more than 50 years of war. U.S. aid and security support played an important role in achieving that victory and creating the conditions for peace.

The agreement between the government and FARC is the most extensive peace accord ever negotiated. The six-part 300-pages long document contains more than 570 specific commitments, according to the coding of the Peace Accords Matrix.

Since the signing of the agreement, the guns of the guerillas have fallen silent, and nearly 7,000 active FARC fighters have entered cantonment zones where they are preparing to give up their arms and reintegrate into civilian society. There are many other complex arrangements in the accord, including a major emphasis on economic development and the empowerment of rural communities that have long suffered from exploitation and neglect. 

These attempts to address the root causes of war have been slow to start and are heavily dependent on U.S. and international aid. Their success is crucial to the long-term prospects for sustainable peace in Colombia.

One of the most important parts of the peace agreement is a major new effort to reduce the production of coca and other illicit crops. This is important to the U.S., since much of Colombia’s drug production ends up on our streets, and the money to pay for it corrupts our financial institutions.

For decades the United States and Colombia have attempted without success to stem narcotics production through forced eradication, often through aerial fumigation programs that were halted in 2015 for public health reasons.

The peace treaty offers a new strategy. It allows for the continuation of forced eradication, but it focuses on reaching voluntary agreements with coca growers in the territories, offering financial assistance for those who eradicate coca and substitute legal crops.

As of March the government has signed voluntary eradication agreements with associations representing more than 50,000 coca-growing households. These efforts are a promising start, but a long-term effort will be needed to significantly reduce coca production and the threat it poses to both countries.

Continued high levels of U.S. economic and political support will be necessary for this purpose, not only for drug eradication programs but for economic development support to help provide new livelihoods for former growers.

The U.S. has invested heavily in Colombia over the years, and that commitment is starting to pay dividends. We helped Colombian security forces beat back the insurgency and supported a negotiated agreement that ends the armed conflict and offers the promise of new opportunities in marginalized territories.

To turn our back on that achievement now would be the height of folly.

The Trump administration should sustain the U.S. commitment to Colombia and continue our investment in reducing armed violence and narcotics trafficking.

David Cortright is a professor of peace studies at the University of Notre Dame and Director of its Peace Accords Matrix program.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.