Colombia, arguably our hemisphere’s most troubled country, has been beset by widespread violence and terror since 1948. The conflict has included different actors and dimensions throughout this time; currently drug lords, left-wing guerrilla groups, the government and rightist paramilitaries all struggle for control of the country. Because of the violence, many Colombians have little opportunity for a safe and secure livelihood. Almost 4 million people have become internally displaced as a result of the conflict, while hundreds of thousands of Colombians have fled to neighboring countries Afro-Colombians have particularly been collectively targeted and are forcibly removed from their territories to facilitate access of multi-national corporations for resource extraction. Tens of thousands of children are recruited to fight in the conflict. And the conflict has targeted churches of numerous denominations, assassinating priests and nuns, including the Archbishop of Cali, Iaias Duarte Cancino.
Each year, the United States provides hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Colombian government through a program called Plan Colombia. The plan includes counternarcotics programs (including military aid and aerial fumigation) and some funding for alternative crop development, judicial reform, and aid to forcibly displaced families. The aerial fumigation, undertaken to eradicate coca crops (which fund the drug lords’ fighting), damages the health and environment of those living around the farmland.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has aggressively increased military action, ostensibly in an effort to end the armed conflict in the country. However, violence has both continued and escalated, especially in the most vulnerable, resource-rich areas of the countryside. Human rights advocates, including religious leaders and pastors of peace communities, continue to be harassed, threatened and assassinated. Demobilization of paramilitary groups has largely failed leading to their remergence under new names, and has even resulted in the reincarnation of some as private security groups, giving them the opportunity to legally harass and terrorize local populations.