Investing in Peace: Colombia, a Foreign Assistance Success

The world recently watched a breakthrough that has the potential to end the globe’s longest running conflict. On August 24, the government of Colombia and The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army (Spanish: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—Ejército del Pueblo, or FARC), announced a final peace accord, after nearly four years of negotiations to end their 52-year conflict. Our U.S. foreign assistance will play a critical supporting role as Colombia prepares to implement the agreement.

The final accord and President Obama’s new “Peace Colombia” strategy will drive our U.S. foreign assistance to the country in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017. In the FY 2017 State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Congressional Budget Request, we requested $391.2 million to resource “Peace Colombia,” which refocuses our bilateral relationship for a post-accord era. Our foreign assistance supports capacity-building and technical assistance in areas of mutual interest to Colombia and the U.S., like coca eradication and interdiction, and programs supporting licit economic opportunities in conflict regions, humanitarian assistance and reparations for conflict victims and vulnerable populations, and more.

Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources Deputy Director Lesley Ziman visited a site for the Global Demining Initiative in Meta State, Colombia in May. [State Department Photo courtesy of Lesley Ziman]

In my May visit to the country, as Colombia’s landscape rolled out in waves beneath our “helo,” I saw first-hand just how our U.S. foreign assistance works. On one of my site visits in country, we made our way to San Martin in Meta state -- a conflict-affected area historically influenced by the FARC -- to visit the police force tasked with re-establishing a government presence in this slice of rural Colombia.

When we touched down in San Martin, we were greeted by a professional police force that was ready to serve and protect, and that prioritized improving their relationship with the community. The State Department’s International Narcotics and Law (INL) Police Re-Establishment Program, funded by U.S. foreign assistance, provides support for this police force in training, equipment, construction, and more, to enable security, and economic development to thrive in Colombia’s most vulnerable zones.

Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources Deputy Director Lesley Ziman visited Carbineros Police Base in San Martin in Meta State, Colombia, in May. Children there attend school on the police base. (State Department Photo, courtesy of Lesley Ziman)

This police force offers much more than protection. They have a large canine contingent, not just to help detect drugs or explosives, but also to help build relationships with the community. Because their animal counterparts are integral to their work, the San Martin police force has a large cadre of veterinarians to assist in caring for their horses and their dogs. These doctors also work in the community, helping citizens better care for their pets and their livestock -- critical assets in a rural economy. San Martin police are also helping Colombia continue to transform its economy, assisting citizens in starting and maintaining businesses. They created a safe market where Colombians can sell produce or other goods, and even assist in transporting business owners to and from their homes.

INL is not alone -- our dynamic foreign assistance programming is flourishing across the country in support of a Colombian government that is committed to peace. USAID’s Consolidated Enhanced Livelihoods Initiative (CELI) program is a prime example of how the government is caring for its people in many of the “pop-up” cities around the country -- makeshift communities where citizens fleeing from the FARC choose to live, rather than risking returning to their homes. These unofficial cities faced problems like access to clean water, education, and more. The Colombian government acknowledged the plight of their citizens and, rather than attempting to evict them or force them to relocate, is meeting them where they stand. The government is building housing, schools, and community centers to help support their people and their newfound homes.

Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources Deputy Director Lesley Ziman visited the “13 de Mayo” community in Villavicencio, a community of internally displaced persons, in Meta State, Colombia in May. [State Department Photo courtesy of Lesley Ziman]

It is critical that we maintain these investments in peace even as we face broader budget constraints. With efforts like the INL Police Re-Establishment Program, USAID’s CELI program; humanitarian landmine clearance, and our sustained investment over time, our robust partnership with Colombia can continue to grow. This continued investment in Colombia and in Latin America and globally provides a tremendous return on investment to the American taxpayer. With a price tag of less than one percent of the total federal budget, U.S. foreign assistance supports global efforts to combat climate change, address global health issues, counter violent extremism, and more. As we watch Colombia transition to peace, I am hopeful that our foreign assistance can continue to effectively support and enable such excellent partner countries to create a more peaceful shared global community.

About the Author: Lesley Ziman serves as the Deputy Director for the Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources

Children play under a Colombian flag during a May Day protest in Bogota, Colombia.
Posted by Lesley Ziman
September 15, 2016

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