The United States and the Peace Process in Colombia

By: Luis Carlos Palomino

10th Febuary, 2021

The United States has historically been the most relevant international actor in the development of the Colombian conflict. The northern country has exerted influence on Colombian institutions to protect the economic interests of its fellow nationals, as well as fighting communism, drug trafficking, and terrorism in the continent. On the other hand, the Colombian government has been a loyal ally in this project, not only in its territory but in the entire planet. The closeness has been such that the country of the south has defined its international relations around the defense of the interests of the United States, independently of the different governments that have exercised executive power.

This profound relationship has been one of the most important factors in the development of the Colombian conflict. Although the United States has been perceived positively by the Colombian governments without exception, this has not been the case by other sectors of Colombian society, especially by the guerrilla insurgency. The tension between the guerrillas and the U.S. government has historically been one of the factors hindering projects for a negotiated peace with the FARC, especially during the Caguán negotiations (1998-2000). In this a case, the Plan Colombia was transformed from a project of multilateral humanitarian aid for the post-conflict, into a unilateral project of the United States to cooperate with the Colombian government in the war against drugs.

Within this complicated history, that Barack Obama's administration made it a state policy to cooperate with peace in Colombia was a fundamental step in reaching an agreement in Havana. However, after the signing of the agreement, both in Colombia and in the United States, this support was undermined by the arrival of new governments that are ideologically closer to those warmongering positions of the past.

With its new administration, the United States dissociated itself as much as possible from committing resources at the international level, under a logic of nationalist protectionism and non-intervention. The return to the ideology and positions of the past was gradual but certain; leaving many sectors of post-conflict cooperation without sufficient resources to operate and leaving the most active institutions in Colombian territory in the hands of hawks.1

The best example of this has been the case of the entrapment of Alias Jesus Santrich. The former guerrilla leader, who was part of the FARC-EP negotiating team in Havana, was accused of continuing to traffic illicit drugs after the signing of the agreement, with evidence collected by the Colombian Prosecutor's Office in cooperation with DEA agents. However, after the indictment, Santrich, along with part of the FARC leadership, abandoned the peace process and returned to the insurgency, claiming that this operation had been a setup to sabotage the incorporation of ex-guerrillas into civilian life. Several months later, it was revealed that the drugs with which the ex-guerrilla member was charged were provided by the Prosecutor's Office itself, among other irregularities that supported the theory that it had all been a political trap.

The newspaper 'El Espectador' made a deep investigation on the topic. Read it in Spanish here.

However, just as changes in 2016 in the U.S. government resulted in the sabotage of the Colombian peace process, new government changes have the potential to reverse this position. After the electoral defeat of Donald Trump and the return of the Democrats to the executive, it is to be expected that the United States will take again a much more active and competent role in the implementation of the peace agreement. This is not only as part of what is expected from Biden's international policy or the Democrats' ideological perspective but also because of the unusual support that opponents of the peace process gave to Trump's re-election campaign, thus entering into open opposition to the new government

The incoming U.S. government has a historic responsibility to demonstrate that its commitment to Colombian peace is real and transcends any ideological differences it may have with the actors involved in that process, putting peace, democracy, sovereignty, and the rule of law above its interests.


1. 'Hawks' is a term that has been normally used in North American academy to refer to political sectors from both parties who favor military interventions instead of diplomatic solutions at the international level.