FERGUS FALLS -- Despite an influx of money from the United States and elsewhere to continue a war on drugs in the South American country of Colombia, forces are threatening the Colombian peace process in rural areas.

A 2016 peace initiative signed by the national government and dissidents of the Colombian armed forces is not working.

Contrary to what’s the official goal of the Colombian government to track down and destroy coca, a crop used in cocaine production, the government itself is to blame for continuing oppression of poor people in rural areas.

Those were some of the takeaways from Leider Valencia of Colombia, who spoke on the subject Oct. 3 at M State, Fergus Falls.

He leads an organization (COCCAM) of rural farmers in their quest for the government of Colombia to uphold their promise of rural economic development and viable crops to substitute coca.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

Valencia said the reality in his country is that drug cartels and guerrillas, smaller groups of combatants, are fighting against each other to influence the Colombian government that struggles to stop them.

“Drug traffickers have the power to put politicians into power,” Valencia said. “The real problem for rural people in Colombia lies in government and deep corruption.”

According to an organization called Witness for Peace, U.S. involvement and military aid have exacerbated internal disputes leading to human rights violations in Colombia of which Bogota is the capital city.

Witness for Peace is a politically independent, grassroots organization. Members are committed to nonviolence and led by faith and conscience.

They support peace, justice and sustainable economies in Colombia and elsewhere around the world.

Leider Valencia, of Colombia, South America, spoke to M State, Fergus Falls students and area residents Oct. 3 about the forces that threaten the Colombian peace process. (Photo by Tom Hintgen / Otter Tail County Correspondent)
Leider Valencia, of Colombia, South America, spoke to M State, Fergus Falls students and area residents Oct. 3 about the forces that threaten the Colombian peace process. (Photo by Tom Hintgen / Otter Tail County Correspondent)

Displaced people in Colombia

Caught in the middle, between soldiers and guerrilla forces, are people in rural areas of Columbia who have no government support for security, infrastructure, food and health care.

Colombia has a population of close to 50 million, but close to 6 million are displaced individuals.

Witness for Peace representatives point out that Colombia now exceeds Syria, a country northwest of Iraq, in the total number of people displaced from their lands. Once these lands are vacated, multinational companies quickly move in to set up large-scale agriculture plantations and mining operations.

When peace accords break down, violence quickly takes place.

Accompanying Valencia at M State, Fergus Falls, on Oct. 3 was Evan King, a representative of Witness for Peace and translator who lives in Bogota, Colombia.

He works in Colombia to gain what he considers the knowledge necessary to return to the United States and advocate against harmful U.S. policies. He also advocates for an uplifting of human rights and support of Colombian communities in rural areas.

With Valencia and King in Fergus Falls was Elizabeth Moldan, an organizer for the Witness for Peace, Midwest Region, based in the Twin Cities.

Just to survive, many farmers have no choice but to continue to grow coca, the crop used in cocaine production, and marijuana.

The good news is that small farmers are making efforts to convert coca crops into tea, flour, ointments and other products. Growing coffee is another option, but they are not receiving the support promised in the 2016 peace accord.

“Keep in mind,” Valencia said, “that with coffee there’s only one harvest every 12 to 18 months, compared to four harvests a year for coca. Another factor is that coffee prices on the open market, with competition from Brazil and other countries, may result in little if any compensation to those of us in Colombia, for all the work done with coffee crops.”

He said that rural people are more than willing to substitute coca for other crops, but this process needs to be economically feasible. In the meantime, many communities form their own civilian forces for protection.

“Our goal continues to be to live in dignified conditions,” he said.

More about the event

Valencia’s talk was the fourth annual international social justice event sponsored by the Sociology Department at M State, Fergus Falls. The Underwood Unitarian Church cosponsored the event.

“At M State, Fergus Falls, we are committed to providing students with a pertinent broad-based education,” said Sue Wika, sociology instructor and resident of rural Battle Lake. “Hearing from Valencia helps us understand the nuances of U.S. policies and the factors contributing to the movement of people.”