Colombia: Background and U.S. Relations

Colombia: Background and U.S. Relations
October 26, 2020
Colombia, a key U.S. al y in Latin America, endured from the mid-1960s more than a
half of century of internal armed conflict. To address the country’s prominence in il egal
June S. Beittel
drug production, the United States and Colombia have forged a close relationship over
Analyst in Latin American
the past two decades. Plan Colombia, a program focused initial y on counternarcotics
and later on counterterrorism, laid the foundation for an enduring security partnership.

President Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018) made concluding a peace accord with the

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)—the country’s largest leftist
guerril a organization at the time—his government’s primary focus. Following four years of peace negotiations,
Colombia’s Congress ratified the FARC-government peace accord in November 2016. During a U.N.-monitored
demobilization in 2017, approximately 13,200 FARC disarmed, demobilized, and began to reintegrate.
The U.S.-Colombia partnership, original y forged on security interests, now encompasses sustainable
development, human rights, trade, and wider cooperation. Support from Congress and across U.S. Administrations
has been largely bipartisan. Congress appropriated more than $10 bil ion for Plan Colombia and its follow -on
programs between FY2000 and FY2016, about 20% of which was funded through the U.S. Department of
Defense. U.S. government assistance to Colombia over the past 20 years has totaled nearly $12 bil ion, with funds
appropriated by Congress mainly for the Departments of State and Defense and the U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID). The United States also has provided Colombia with assistance to receive Venezuelans
fleeing their country and, as of August 2020, some $23 mil ion to respond to the Coronavirus Disease 2019
(COVID-19) pandemic. For FY2020, Congress provided $448 mil ion for State Department- and USAID-funded
programs for Colombia. The House-passed FY2021 foreign aid appropriations bil , H.R. 7608, would provide
$457.3 mil ion to Colombia.
The 2016 Peace Accord Remains Polarizing
Iván Duque, a former senator from the conservative Democratic Center party, won the 2018 presidential election
and was inaugurated for a four-year term in August 2018. Duque has been critical of the peace accord, and soon
after coming to office he suspended peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), currently Colombia’s
largest leftist guerril a group. President Duque’s approval ratings slipped early in his presidency. His government
faced weeks of protests and strikes in late 2019 for a host of policies, including delays in peace accord
implementation. By late 2019, 25% of the peace accord’s more than 500 commitments had been fulfil ed, though
the 15-year trajectory to fulfil the ambitious accord has been stymied by several factors, including public
Violence and COVID-19 Among Ongoing Challenges
The FARC’s demobilization and abandonment of il egal activities triggered violence by other armed actors
competing to replace the insurgents. In August 2019, a FARC splinter faction announced its return to arms.
Venezuela appears to be sheltering and perhaps collaborating with FARC dissidents and ELN fighters, causing the
U.S. and Colombian governments significant concerns. Colombia’s il icit cultivation of coca peaked in 2019, and
violence targeting human rights defenders and social activists, including many leading peace-related programs,
has escalated.
The Duque administration took early measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic when it arrived in Colombia.
However, by early October 2020, Colombia had the fifth-highest number of COVID-19 infections in the world,
though its mortality rate was near the region’s average. Prior to the pandemic, the International Monetary Fund
(IMF) forecast that Colombia’s economy would exceed 3% growth in 2020. In October, the IMF revised its
forecast to a contraction of more than 8%.
The United States remains Colombia’s top trading partner, although investment from China has grown. The
Trump Administration has outlined a new $5 bil ion United States-Colombia Growth Initiative, Colombia Crece,
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Colombia: Background and U.S. Relations

which could accelerate Colombia’s economic recovery and boost long-term growth by bringing investment to
Colombia’s marginalized rural areas.
For additional background, see CRS In Focus IF10817, Colombia’s 2018 Elections, and CRS Report RL34470,
The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement: Background and Issues.
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Political and Economic Situation ....................................................................................... 1
Political Background and Colombia’s Half Century Conflict ............................................ 1
Roots of the Conflict............................................................................................. 2
The Uribe Administration (2002-2010) ......................................................................... 4
The Santos Administration (2010-2018) ........................................................................ 5
The Government of Iván Duque ................................................................................... 7
Countering Il icit Crops, Corruption, and the COVID-19 Pandemic ............................. 8
Economic Issues and Trade ....................................................................................... 10
Peace Accord Implementation ................................................................................... 12
Progress and Setbacks over Four Years Implementing the Peace Accord ..................... 14
The Current Security Environment ............................................................................. 16
FARC ............................................................................................................... 16
ELN ................................................................................................................. 17
Paramilitary Successors and Criminal Bands .......................................................... 17
Humanitarian Crisis in Venezuela and Its Consequences for Colombia............................. 18
Ongoing Human Rights Concerns .............................................................................. 19
Regional Relations................................................................................................... 23
Colombia’s Role in Training Security Personnel Abroad .......................................... 24
U.S. Relations and Policy ............................................................................................... 26
Plan Colombia and Its Follow-On Strategies ................................................................ 26
National Consolidation Plan and Peace Colombia.................................................... 29
Funding for Plan Colombia and Peace Colombia .......................................................... 30
Department of Defense Assistance ............................................................................. 32
Human Rights Conditions on U.S. Assistance .............................................................. 33
Cocaine Continues Its Reign in Colombia ................................................................... 34
Drug Crop Eradication and Other Supply Control Alternatives .................................. 35
New Counternarcotics Direction Under the Duque Administration ............................. 36
Outlook ....................................................................................................................... 38

Figure 1. Map of Colombia............................................................................................... 3
Figure 2. Implementation of the Colombia Peace Accord .................................................... 14

Figure A-1. Relationship of U.N. and U.S. Estimates of Coca Cultivation and Cocaine
Production in Colombia............................................................................................... 40

Table 1. U.S. Assistance for Colombia by State Department and USAID
Foreign Aid Account: FY2012-FY2020 ......................................................................... 31
Table 2. Department of Defense Assistance to Colombia (Preliminary Figures),
FY2016-FY2019 ........................................................................................................ 32
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Table 3. U.S. Estimates of Coca Cultivation in Colombia .................................................... 35
Table 4. U.S. Estimates of Pure Cocaine Production in Colombia ......................................... 35

Appendix A. Assessing the Programs of Plan Colombia and Its Successors ............................ 39
Appendix B. Selected Online Human Rights Reporting on Colombia .................................... 42

Author Information ....................................................................................................... 42

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Colombia: Background and U.S. Relations

Political and Economic Situation
Political Background and Colombia’s Half Century Conflict
Colombia, one of the oldest democracies in the Western Hemisphere and the third most populous
Latin American country, endured a multisided civil conflict for more than five decades. Two-term
President Juan Manuel Santos declared the conflict over in August 2017 at the end of a U.N.-
monitored disarmament.1 According to the National Center for Historical Memory 2013 report,
presented to the Colombian government as part of the peace process, some 220,000 Colombians
died in the armed conflict through 2012, 81% of them civilians.2 About 12,000 deaths or injuries
requiring amputation occurred from antipersonnel land mines laid primarily by Colombia’s main
insurgent guerril a group, the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).3 To
Colombia at a Glance
date, more than 8 mil ion Colombians, or
Population: 50.9 mil ion (2020, IMF est.)
roughly 15% of the population, have
Area: 439,736 sq. miles, slightly less than twice the size
registered as conflict victims.
of Texas (CIA)
$343.2 bil ion (2020, current prices, IMF est.)
Although the violence has scarred Colombia,
the country has achieved a significant
Per Capita Income: $6,744 (2020, current prices, IMF
turnaround. Once considered a likely
Poverty Rate: 27% (2018, WB)
candidate to become a failed state, Colombia,
over the past two decades, has overcome
Ethnic Makeup: Mixed (Mestizos) 49%, Caucasian 37%,
Afro-Colombian 10.6%, and Indigenous 3.4%.
much of the violence that had clouded its
(Colombian Ministry of the Environment, 2017)
future. For example, between 2000 and 2016, Key Trading Partners: United States (26.6%), China
Colombia saw a 94% decrease in
(16.5%), Mexico (5.8%) (2019, total trade, TDM)
kidnappings and a 53% reduction in
Exports: $39.5 bil ion total; Top export products: crude
homicides. In 2019, the homicide rate fel to
petroleum and coal, coffee, gold (2019, TDM)
25 per 100,000—near a four-decade low.4
Imports: $50.3 bil ion total; Top import products:
machinery, cel ular phones, motor vehicles, petroleum
Coupled with success in lowering violence,
(2019, TDM)
Colombia has opened its economy and
Legislature: Bicameral Congress, with 102-member
promoted trade, investment, and growth.
Senate and 166-member Lower House. (Each chamber
Colombia has become one of Latin
has 6 additional seats in the 2018-2022 Congress due to
America’s most attractive locations for
a constitutional change and peace accord requirements)
foreign direct investment. Yet, after steady
Sources: International Monetary Fund (IMF);
growth over several years, Colombia’s
Central Intel igence Agency (CIA); Trade Data
economy began to slow in 2015. It declined
Monitor (TDM); World Bank (WB).

1 Juan Manuel Santos, “Palabras del Presidente Juan Manuel Santos en el Acto Final de Dejación de Armas de las
Farc,” Presidencia de la Republica, June 27, 2017,
Presidente-Juan-Manuel-Santos-en-el-acto-final-de-dejacion-de-armas-de-las-Farc and “ Aquí Estamos Viendo que lo
Imposible Fue Posible,” Presidencia de la Republica, August 15, 2017.
2 Basta Ya! Colombia: Memorias de Guerra y Dignidad, Center for Historical Memory, at
3 About half of Colombia’s 32 departments (states) have land mines, and the government has estimated that nearly
12,000 Colombians have been injured or killed by the weapons since 1990. “Estadísticas de Asistencia Integral a las
Víctimas de MAP y MUSE.” Oficina del Alto Comisionado para la Paz. August 31, 2020,
4 Statistics from Embassy of Colombia in the United States and Parker Asmann and Eimhin O’Reilly, “InSight Crime’s
2019 Homicide Round-Up,” InSight Crim e, January 28, 2020.
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to 1.7% gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2017 but recovered in 2018.5 For 2019, the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimatesd Colombia’s GDP expanded by 3.3%. Although the
IMF had predicted the Colombian economy would expand by a similar amount in 2020, it now
forecasts an 8% contraction due to the recession triggered by the Coronavirus Disease 2019
(COVID-19) pandemic and another crash in the price of oil, which remains one of Colombia’s
top exports.6
President Iván Duque, who took office in August 2018, acknowledged that his administration
faced multiple chal enges related to the long internal conflict. He noted that a majority of the
peace accord’s implementation had yet to be started, and that the country faced a volatile internal
security situation where the FARC had demobilized but the state had failed to assert control in
rural and peripheral areas most affected by the conflict. This situation was exacerbated by an
enormous influx of Venezuelan migrants, who sought refuge in Colombia as they fled the
authoritarian government of Nicolás Maduro. As of early 2020, some 1.8 mil ion Venezuelans
were residing in Colombia.
Roots of the Conflict
The Colombian conflict predates the formal founding of the FARC in 1964, as the FARC had its
beginnings in the peasant self-defense groups of the 1940s and 1950s. Colombian political life
has long suffered from polarization and violence based on the significant inequalities suffered by
landless peasants in the country’s peripheral regions. In the late 19th century and part of the 20th
century, the elite Liberal and Conservative parties dominated Colombian political life. Violence
and competition between the parties erupted following the 1948 assassination of Liberal
presidential candidate Jorge Gaitán, which set off a decade-long period of extreme violence,
known as La Violencia.
After a brief military rule (1953-1958), the Liberal and Conservative parties agreed to a form of
coalition governance, known as the National Front. Under the arrangement, the presidency of the
country alternated between Conservatives and Liberals, each holding office in turn for four-year
intervals. This form of government continued for 16 years (1958-1974). The power-sharing
formula did not resolve the tension between the two historic parties, and many leftist, Marxist-
inspired insurgencies took root in Colombia, including the FARC, launched in 1964, and the
smal er National Liberation Army (ELN), which formed the following year. The FARC and ELN
conducted kidnappings, committed serious human rights violations, and carried out a campaign of
terror that aimed to unseat the central government in Bogotá.
Rightist paramilitary groups formed in the 1980s when wealthy ranchers and farmers, including
drug traffickers, hired armed groups to protect themselves from the kidnapping and extortion
plots of the FARC and ELN. In the 1990s, most of the paramilitary groups formed an umbrel a
organization, the United-Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). The AUC massacred and
assassinated suspected supporters of the insurgents and directly engaged the FARC and ELN in
military battles. The Colombian military has long been accused of close collaboration with the
AUC, accusations ranging from ignoring their activities to actively supporting them. Over time,
the AUC became increasingly engaged in drug trafficking and other il icit businesses. In the late

5 Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Colombia: Country Report, October 2018. Many analysts identified Colombia’s
dependence on oil and other commodity exports as the primary cause of the slowdown between 2014 and 2017.
6 International Monetary Fund (IMF), “Outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean: An Intensifying Pandemic,” IMF
, June 26, 2020; October 2020 World Economic Outlook, Statistical Appendix, at
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1990s and early 2000s, the U.S. government designated the FARC, ELN, and AUC as Foreign
Terrorist Organizations (FTOs).7
Figure 1. Map of Colombia
(departments and capitals shown)

Source: Congressional Research Service (CRS).

7 For additional background on the Foreign T errorist Organizations (FT Os) in Colombia and their evolution as part of
the multisided conflict, see CRS Report R42982, Colom bia’s Peace Process Through 2016, by June S. Beittel.
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The AUC was formal y dissolved in a collective demobilization between 2003 and 2006 after
many of its leaders stepped down. However, many former paramilitaries joined armed groups
(cal ed criminal bands, or, in Spanish, Bacrim, by the Colombian government) that have
continued to participate in the lucrative drug trade and other crime and have committed grave
human rights abuses. (For more, see “The Current Security Environment,” below.)
The Uribe Administration (2002-2010)
The inability of Colombia’s two dominant parties to address the root causes of violence in the
country led to the election of an independent, Álvaro Uribe, in the presidential contest of 2002.
Uribe, who served two terms, came to office with promises to take on the violent leftist guerril as,
address the paramilitary problem, and combat il egal drug trafficking.
During the 1990s, Colombia had become the region’s—and the world’s—largest producer of
cocaine. Peace negotiations with the FARC under the prior administration of President Andrés
Pastrana (1998-2002) had ended in failure; the FARC used a large demilitarized zone located in
the central Meta department (see map, Figure 1) to regroup and strengthen itself. The central
Colombian government granted the FARC this demilitarized zone, a traditional practice in
Colombian peace negotiations, but the FARC used it to launch terror attacks, conduct operations,
and increase the cultivation of coca and its processing, while failing to negotiate seriously. Many
analysts, noting the FARC’s strength throughout the country, feared that the Colombian state
might fail and some Colombian citizens thought the FARC might at some point successfully take
power.8 The FARC was then reportedly at the apogee of its strength, numbering an estimated
16,000 to 20,000 fighters under arms.
This turmoil opened the way for the aggressive strategy advocated by Uribe. During President
Uribe’s August 2002 inauguration, the FARC showered the event with mortar fire, signaling the
group’s displeasure at the election of a hardliner, who believed a military victory over the Marxist
rebels was possible. In his first term (2002-2006), President Uribe strengthened and expanded the
country’s military, seeking to reverse the armed forces’ prior losses to the FARC. Uribe entered
into peace negotiations with the AUC.
President Pastrana had refused to negotiate with the rightist AUC, but Uribe promoted the process
and urged the country to back a controversial Justice and Peace Law that went into effect in July
2005 and provided a framework for the AUC demobilization. By mid-2006, some 31,000 AUC
paramilitary forces had demobilized. The AUC demobilization, combined with the stepped-up
counternarcotics efforts of the Uribe administration and increased military victories against the
FARC’s irregular forces, helped to bring down violence, although a high level of human rights
violations stil plagued the country.9 Uribe became widely popular for the effectiveness of his
security policies, a strategy he cal ed “Democratic Security.” Uribe’s popular support was evident
when Colombian voters approved a referendum to amend their constitution in 2005 to permit
Uribe to run for a second term.
Following his reelection in 2006, President Uribe continued to aggressively combat the FARC.
For Uribe, 2008 was a critical year. In March 2008, the Colombian military bombed the camp of

8 Peter DeShazo, Johanna Mendelson Forman, and Phillip McLean, Countering Threats to Security and Stability in a
Failing State: Lessons from Colom bia
, Center for Strategic & International Studies, September 2009.
9 Many Colombians have expressed disappointment in the AUC demobilization for failing to provide adequate
punishments for perpetrators and adequate reparations to victims of paramilitary violence. It has also been seen as
incomplete because those who did not demobilize or those who re-mobilized into criminal gangs have left a legacy of
criminality. For a concise history of the AUC, see “AUC Profile,” InSight Crime: Organized Crime in the Americas, at
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FARC’s second-in-command, Raul Reyes (located inside Ecuador a short distance from the
border), kil ing him and 25 others. Also in March, another of FARC’s ruling seven-member
secretariat was murdered by his security guard. In May, the FARC announced that their supreme
leader and founder, Manuel Marulanda, had died of a heart attack. The near-simultaneous deaths
of three of the seven most important FARC leaders were a significant blow to the organization. In
July 2008, the Colombian government dramatically rescued 15 long-time FARC hostages,
including three U.S. defense contractors who had been held captive since 2003 and Colombian
senator and former presidential candidate Ingrid Bentancourt. The widely acclaimed, bloodless
rescue further undermined FARC morale.10
Uribe’s success and reputation, however, were marred by several scandals, including the
“parapolitics” scandal in 2006 that exposed links between il egal paramilitaries and politicians,
especial y prominent members of the national legislature. Subsequent scandals that came to light
during the former president’s tenure included the “false positive” murders al egedly carried out
by the military (primarily the Colombian Army), in which innocent civilians were kil ed
extrajudicial y. In 2009, the media revealed il egal wiretapping and other surveil ance carried out
by the government intel igence agency, which attempted to discredit journalists, members of the
judiciary, and political opponents of the Uribe government. (In early 2012, the tarnished national
intel igence agency was replaced by Uribe’s successor, Juan Manuel Santos.) However, military
use of wiretapping continued to raise controversy, including a contentious revelation in late
Despite the controversies, President Uribe remained popular and his supporters urged him to run
for a third term. Colombia’s Constitutional Court turned down a referendum proposed to alter the
constitution to al ow President Uribe a third term in 2010.
The Santos Administration (2010-2018)
Once it became clear that President Uribe was constitutional y ineligible to run again, Juan
Manuel Santos of the pro-Uribe National Unity party (or Party of the U) quickly consolidated his
preeminence in the 2010 presidential campaign. Santos, a centrist from an elite family that once
owned the country’s largest newspaper, became Uribe’s defense minister through 2009. In 2010,
Santos campaigned on a continuation of the Uribe government’s approach to security and its role
encouraging free markets and economic opening. Santos handily won a June 2010 runoff with
69% of the vote. Santos’s “National Unity” ruling coalition, formed during his campaign,
included the center-right National Unity and Conservative parties, the centrist Radical Change
Party, and the center-left Liberal party.12
During his first two years in office, President Santos reorganized the executive branch, built on
the market opening strategies of the Uribe administration, and secured a free-trade agreement
with the United States, Colombia’s largest trade partner. The trade agreement went into effect in
May 2012. To address U.S. congressional concerns about labor relations in Colombia, including
the issue of violence against labor union members, the United States and Colombia agreed to an
Action Plan Related to Labor Rights (Labor Action Plan) in April 2011. Many of the steps

10 T he rescue operation received U.S. assistance and support. See Juan Forero, “In Colombia Jungle Ruse, U.S. Played
A Quiet Role; Ambassador Spotlights Years of Aid, T raining,” Washington Post, July 9, 2008.
11 See below for more on the wiretapping issues that plagued subsequent governments. Joe Parkin Daniels, “Colombia:
Spying on Reporters Shows Army Unable to Shake Habits of Dirty War,” Guardian, September 22, 2020.
12 In July 2011, the coalition contained 89 senators out of 102 in the Colombian upper house. However, in late
September 2013, the Green Party (renamed the Green Alliance) broke away from the ruling coalition, although it
sometimes continued to vote with the government.
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prescribed by the plan were completed in 2011, while the U.S. Congress was considering the free
trade agreement.
Significantly, the Santos government maintained a vigorous security strategy and struck hard at
the FARC’s top leadership. In September 2010, the Colombian military kil ed the FARC’s top
military commander, Victor Julio Suárez (known as “Mono Jojoy”), in a bombing raid. In
November 2011, the FARC’s supreme leader, Guil ermo Leon Saenz (aka “Alfonso Cano”) was
assassinated. He was replaced by Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri (known as “Timoleón Jiménez” or
“Timochenko”), the group’s current leader.
While continuing the security strategy, the Santos administration began to re-orient the
Colombian government’s stance toward the internal armed conflict.13 The first legislative reform
that moved this new vision along, signed by President Santos in June 2011, was the Victims’ and
Land Restitution Law (Victims’ Law), to provide comprehensive reparations to an estimated (at
the time) 4 mil ion to 5 mil ion victims of the conflict. Reparations under the Victims’ Law
included monetary compensation, psycho-social support and other aid for victims, and the return
of mil ions of hectares of stolen land to those displaced.14 The law was intended to process an
estimated 360,000 land restitution cases.15 (For more on the law, see textbox below on “Status of
Implementation of the Victims’ Law.”)
In August 2012, President Santos announced he had opened exploratory peace talks with the
FARC and was ready to launch formal talks. The countries of Norway, Cuba, Venezuela, and
Chile each held an international support role, with Norway and Cuba serving as peace talk hosts
and “guarantors.” Launched in Norway, FARC-government talks moved to Cuba, where the
negotiations continued until their conclusion in August 2016.
In the midst of extended peace negotiations, Colombia’s 2014 national elections presented a
unique juncture. As a result of the elections, the opposition Centro Democrático (CD) party
gained 20 seats in the Senate and 19 in the less powerful Chamber of Representatives,16 and its
leader, former President Uribe, became a popular senator. His presence in the Senate chal enged
the ruling coalition that backed President Santos, who won reelection in a second-round runoff in
June 2014 against a CD-nominated presidential candidate.
In February 2015, the Obama Administration provided support to the peace talks by naming a
former U.S. assistant secretary of state for Inter-American Affairs, as the U.S. Special Envoy to
the Colombian peace talks. In early October, after peace negotiations had ended, to the surprise of
many, the accord was narrowly defeated in a national plebiscite by less than a half percentage
point of the votes cast. Regardless, President Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in
December 2016, in part demonstrating strong international support for the peace agreement. In
response to the voters’ criticisms, the Santos government and the FARC crafted a modified
agreement, which they signed on November 24, 2016. Rather than presenting this agreement to a
plebiscite, President Santos sent it directly to the Colombian Congress, where it was ratified on
November 30, 2016. Although both chambers of Colombia’s Congress approved the agreement

13 In August 2014, for instance, the Colombian Constitutional Court ruled that demobilized guerrillas who had not
committed crimes against humanity could eventually run for political office.
14 T he Victims’ and Land Restitution Law (Victims’ Law) covers harms against victims that date back to 1985, and
land restitution for acts that happened after 1991.
15 Embassy of Colombia, “Victims and Land Restitution Law: Addressing the Impact of Colombia’s Internal Armed
Conflict,” fact sheet, January 2013.
16 Final results for the 2014 legislative elections provided to the Congressional Research Service (CRS) by a
Colombian Embassy official, July 22, 2014.
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unanimously, members of the opposition CD party, who criticized various provisions in the
accord, boycotted the vote.
The peace process was recognized as the most significant achievement of the Santos presidency
and lauded outside Colombia and throughout the region. Its innovative involvement of conflict
victims in the peace talks and other features received widespread approval, but it did not win
consistent support for President Santos inside Colombia, whose approval ratings fluctuated.
Disgruntled Colombians perceived Santos as an aloof president whose energy and political capital
were expended accommodating an often-despised criminal group. The accord—negotiated over
50 rounds of talks—covered five substantive topics: rural development and agricultural reform;
political participation by the FARC; an end to the conflict, including demobilization,
disarmament, and reintegration; and chapters on drug policy and justice for victims.
The Government of Iván Duque
Colombians elected a new congress in March 2018 and a new president in June 2018. Because no
presidential candidate won more than 50% of the vote in May 2018, as required for a victory in
the first round, a June 2018 second-round runoff was held between rightist candidate Iván Duque
and leftist candidate Gustavo Petro. Duque was carried to victory with almost 54% of the vote.
Runner-up Petro, a former mayor of Bogotá, former Colombian Senator, and once a member of
the M-19 gueril a insurgency, nevertheless did better than any leftist candidate in a presidential
race in the past century, winning 8 mil ion votes (or 42% of the votes cast). Around 4.2% cast
blank bal ots in protest.
Through al iance building, Duque achieved a functional majority, or a “unity” government, which
involved the Conservative Party and Santos’s prior National Unity (or Party of the U) joining the
CD, although compromise would be required to keep the two centrist parties in sync with the
more conservative CD. In the new Congress, two extra seats for the presidential and vice
presidential runners-up became automatic seats in the Colombian Senate and House, due to a
2015 constitutional change that al owed presidential runner-up Gustavo Petro to return to the
Senate. The CD party, which gained seats in both houses in the March vote, won the majority in
the Colombian Senate. However, the legislative majority fractured during President Duque’s first
year in office, which left his government with limited support in Congress to accomplish major
legislative objectives.17
President Duque campaigned on his experience as a technical y oriented politician and presented
himself as a modernizer. Duque was inaugurated in August at the age of 42—Colombia’s
youngest president elected in a century. He possessed limited prior experience in Colombian
politics. Duque was partial y educated in the United States and worked for a decade at the Inter-
American Development Bank in Washington, DC. He was the handpicked candidate of former
president Uribe, who vocal y opposed many of Santos’s policies.

17 T he FY2018-2022 Colombian Congress has 280 seats, including 10 for FARC party representatives (9 of which are
currently filled). T he two legislative sessions run from July 20 to December 16 and from March 16 to June 20. T he
Senate members are elected nationally (not by district or state), with two coming from a special ballot for indigenous
communities. T he House of Representatives has two members from each of Colombia’s 32 departments (states) and 1
more for each 125,000-250,000 inhabitants in a department, beyond the first 250,000. In the House, two seats are
reserved for the Afro-Colombian community, one for indigenous communities, one for Colombians residing abroad,
and one for political minorities.
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In a September 2018 speech before the U.N. General Assembly, the new president outlined his
policy objectives.18 Duque cal ed for increasing legality, entrepreneurship, and fairness by (1)
promoting peace; (2) combating drug trafficking and recognizing it as a global menace; and (3)
fighting corruption, which he characterized as a threat to democracy. He also maintained that the
humanitarian crisis in neighboring Venezuela was an emergency that threatened to destabilize the
region. Duque embraced a leadership role for Colombia in denouncing the authoritarian
government of President Maduro.
By late 2018, Colombia’s acceptance of more than a mil ion Venezuelans was adding pressure on
the government’s finances, generating a burden estimated at nearly 0.5% of the country’s GDP.19
The influx of Venezuelan refugees and migrants continued in 2020; despite some reverse
migration during the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 1.8 mil ion Venezuelans remained in Colombia
in early September 2020, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development
Colombian authorities have registered over 8 mil ion victims in the country’s five-decade internal
conflict—equivalent to about 15% of the current population—with 7.2 mil ion currently eligible
for reparations under the peace accord. The most common form of victimization is internal
displacement; Colombia has the world’s second-highest number of internal y displaced persons,
numbering nearly 8 mil ion. Many observers raise concerns about human rights conditions inside
Colombia and the ongoing lack of governance in remote rural areas, such as the nearly 1,400-mile
border area alongside Venezuela.
Countering Illicit Crops, Corruption, and the COVID-19 Pandemic
President Duque campaigned on restarting the practice of spraying coca crops with the herbicide
glyphosate to reduce supply. This would reverse Colombia’s decision in mid-2015 to end aerial
spraying, which had been a central—albeit controversial—feature of U.S.-Colombian
counterdrug cooperation for two decades.21 In 2017, Colombia’s Constitutional Court decided to
retain the suspension of the use of glyphosate until the government took measures to limit its
impact on humans. In 2020, Colombia continues to face chal enges in destroying and removing
coca crops, as rural areas contend with rising levels of violence and economic desperation due to
competition over the FARC’s former il icit economies. (For more, see “New Counternarcotics
Direction Under the Duque Administration” below.)
Corruption has become a top concern in Colombian politics, as members of the judicial branch,
politicians, and other officials have faced a series of corruption charges.22 Colombians’ concerns

18 Embassy of Colombia in the United States, “T he Pact for Fairness and Progress,” Remarks by the President of the
Republic, Iván Duque Márquez, before the General Assembly of the United Nations in the 73 rd period of ordinary
sessions. September 26, 2018.
19 Antonio Maria Delgado, “ Colombia Will Find It Hard to Accept Another 1 Million Venezuelan Migrants,” Miami
, November 27, 2018.
20 U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), “Venezuela Regional Crisis – Complex Emergency, Fact
Sheet #3, FY2020,” September 25, 2020.
21 For additional background, see CRS Report R44779, Colombia’s Changing Approach to Drug Policy, by June S.
Beittel and Liana W. Rosen.
22 A corruption national referendum in August 2018 was backed by President Duque but did not reach its threshold
(failing to do so by less than half a percentage point). T he actual vote favored all seven proposed changes on the ballot,
and Duque pledged to address some of the anti-corruption measures presented in the referendum through legislation.
For recent polling on the public concern about corruption, see U.S. State Department, Office of Opinion Research,
“Colombia: Nearly Four Years On, the Public Down on FARC Peace,” OPN-X-20, September 23, 2020.
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about corruption became particularly acute during the 2018 elections, as major scandals were
revealed. Several government officials were discovered to have received funding from Odebrecht,
a Brazilian construction company embroiled in a region-wide corruption scandal.23 In December
2018, presidential runner-up Gustavo Petro also was accused of taking political contributions
from Odebrecht, suggesting corrupt practices had taken hold across the Colombian political
Despite an early and long-lasting national lockdown from March to September 2020, Colombia
was unable to stop a severe COVID-19 outbreak that led to one of the Western hemisphere’s
highest daily death tolls from the virus. Observers note that government measures failed to reach
and protect the poor, who tend to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 infection due to their living
conditions and high levels of informal employment.25 By mid-October 2020, Colombia had some
28,000 deaths (56.4 deaths per 100,000). Nevertheless, Colombia’s mortality rate was wel below
several other countries in the hard-hit Latin American region. Although Colombia had registered
1 mil ion COVID-19 infections as of October 2020 (for a time, the fifth-highest number in the
world), some experts suggested widespread testing was stil lagging.26
The Duque administration struggled with low approval ratings and dissent within its governing
coalition throughout 2019. The administration’s first budget for 2019 (presented in late October
2018) was linked to an unpopular tax reform that would subject food and agricultural
commodities to a value-added tax. Duque’s own Democratic Center party split with him on the
value-added tax, which quickly sank his approval ratings from 53% in early September 2018 to a
low of 27% in November 2018.27 Duque’s national coalition was further weakened when some
parties broke from it and, in October 2019, when Defense Minister Guil ermo Botero was
threatened with censure in the Colombian Congress. Botero was forced to resign, leading to a
major cabinet reshuffle.28 Weeks of protest in autumn 2019 centered on concern about the peace
accord’s stal ed implementation, social leader kil ings, and pension and tax matters.29
However, in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the government coalition expanded to include
the centrist right-leaning Cambio Radical party and others, providing a majority in the Senate and
a near majority for the government coalition in the Chamber of Representatives.30 This expanded
coalition provided the Duque administration with sufficient legislative support to enact several
pandemic-related measures. Duque’s approval ratings improved in April 2020 to over 50% in
light of the government’s success with managing the virus outbreak and settled at 48% in a poll
taken in early October 2020.31

23 In 2014, President Santos’s reelection campaign and the opposition candidate’s campaign were both accused of
accepting Odebrecht funding.
24 “Corte Suprema Llama a Declaración a Varios T estigos en el Caso del Video de Petro,” El Espectador, December
10, 2018.
25 Ana Vanessa Herrero, “Locked-Down Colombians Fly Red Flags to Call for Help,” Washington Post, May 11, 2020.
26 Sara T orres and Avery Dyer, “Argentina and Colombia, A T ale of T wo Lockdowns,” Weekly Asado, Wilson Center,
October 2, 2020.
27 See Invamer’s Colombia Opina #2,” Semana, November 2018.
28 Arthur Dhont, “Colombian Government Likely to Struggle to Implement Economic Policies in 2020 Because of
Social and Legislative Opposition,” HIS Global Insight Analysis, November 12, 2019; “Colombia: Embattled Duque
Prepares for Protests,” LatinNews Weekly Report, November 14, 2019.
29 “Will Protesters Keep T aking to the Streets in Colombia?,” Latin America Advisor (blog), Dialogue, September 23,
30 EIU, Country Report: Colombia, October 2020.
31 Invamer polling results from April 8-26, 2020, at
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In September 2020, amid a rise in mass kil ings and violence in the Colombian countryside,
protests against police brutality and abuse in response to social protest were fueled by the death of
a Colombian lawyer at the hands of the Bogotá police.32 In mid-October, a national mobilization
of indigenous groups that traveled across the country to come to the capital joined a national
strike by students; labor unionists; and those concerned with flagging peace accord
implementation, political violence, and pandemic response in largely peaceful protest in cities and
towns across Colombia.33
Economic Issues and Trade
The Colombian economy is the fourth largest in Latin America after Brazil, Mexico, and
Argentina (as measured at the end of 2019). The World Bank characterizes Colombia as an upper-
middle-income country, although its commodities-dependent economy has been hit by oil price
declines and peso devaluations, at times eroding fiscal revenue. The United States is Colombia’s
largest trade partner, and bilateral economic relations have deepened since the U.S.-Colombia
Free Trade Agreement entered into force in May 2012.34 By 2021, the agreement is to phase out
al tariffs on consumer and industrial products.
The total stock of U.S. investment in Colombia rose to $7.2 bil ion in 2017, with mining,
manufacturing, and wholesale trade as the leading sectors. According to the 2020 National Trade
Estimate Report, U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) in Colombia was $7.7 bil ion in 2018, a
7.1% increase over 2017, led by mining, manufacturing, finance, and insurance.35 In common
with most Latin American nations, Colombia has sought over the past decade to increase the
attractiveness of investing. Some analysts contend that Colombia’s FDI increase came not only
from the extractive industries, such as petroleum and mining, but also from such areas as
agricultural products, transportation, and financial services. Investment from China in Colombia
has increased at a slow but steady rate in recent years, including in the Bogotá metro system and
communications.36 Over the past decade, the bulk of Chinese investment has been in oil and gas.37
Despite its relative economic stability, high poverty rates and inequality have contributed to social
upheaval in Colombia for decades. The poverty rate in 2005 was slightly above 45%, but it
declined to 27% in 2018. The issues of limited land ownership and high rural poverty rates
remain contentious. According to a 2011 U.N. study, 1.2% of the population owned 52% of the; “ Encuesta de Opinión” and Centro
Nacional de Consultoría, S.A.
. October 5, 2020, at
32 Juan Pappier, “T he Urgent Need to Reform Colombia\’s Security Policies,” Human Rights Watch, Americas
, September 22, 2020; Steven Grattan and Anthony Failoa, “ In Colombia, a Death in Police Custody Follows
a History of Brutality,” Washington Post, October 6, 2020.
33 ”Protesters in Colombia Decry Government Pandemic Response,” Associated Press, October 21, 2020; Bocanegra,
Nelson. “T housands, Including Indigenous People, March in Peaceful Colombia Protests,” Reuters, October 21, 2020.
34 T he agreement is officially known as the U.S.-Colombia T rade Promotion Agreement. For more background, see
CRS Report RL34470, The U.S.-Colom bia Free Trade Agreem ent: Background and Issues, by M. Angeles Villarreal
and Edward Y. Gracia.
35 United States T rade Representative, “2019 National T rade Estimate Report,” March 2019; “2020 National T rade
Estimate Report,” March 2020.
36 “China’s Strong Push into Colombia,” Al Jazeera, February 22, 2020; “Foreign Investment in Colombia Holds Firm,
says T rade Minister,” Financial Tim es, October 7, 2020.
37 “Colombia: OFDI China a Nivel de Empresa (200-2019),” accessed October 28, 2020, distributed by Red Académica
de América Latina y el Caribe sobre China y Monitor de la OFDI de Chin a en América Latina y el Caribe, at
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land, and data revealed in 2016 indicated about half of working Colombians were employed in
the informal economy. Promoting more equitable growth and ending the internal conflict were
twin goals of the two-term former Santos administration. Unemployment, which historical y has
been at over 10%, fel below that double-digit mark during Santos’s first term and remained so
until it nudged just over 10% in 2018. In 2019, the Duque administration’s first full year in office,
Colombia’s unemployment rate climbed to 10.5%. The Economist Intel igence Unit estimates
that in 2020, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Colombia’s unemployment rate wil
exceed 16% (adding a mil ion newly unemployed).38
Colombia’s Stimulus to Foster a Recovery
Fol owing one of the longest national lockdowns in South America, begun in March 2020, Colombia lifted its
pandemic-related restrictions to reopen ful y in September. The government enacted measures to counter a
historic economic contraction (more than 15%, from April to June 2020), the country’s worst quarter-on-quarter
economic performance on record.
The Colombian government announced fiscal measures, including flexibility in the use of income to finance
extraordinary operating expenditures and a relaxation of debt rules. In a May 2020 executive decree, the
government announced it would subsidize 40% of the $250-per-month minimum wage for workers at companies
that have seen revenues drop by at least 20% during the pandemic. On September 22, the government announced
it would issue another round of subsidies in December to such businesses.
In late September, Colombia’s government signaled its plans to draw from an International Monetary Fund (IMF)
flexible credit line that was recently increased by the IMF to $17.2 bil ion. This is the first time any country has
tapped resources from that mechanism since it was set up in 2009.
The Colombian government’s recovery strategy includes three planks: (1) refocusing on renewable energy, (2)
speeding development in its rural periphery most affected by the 50-year internal conflict, and (3) extending
broadband as part of a Colombian digital transition. These approaches aim to transform Colombia from a
commodity-based economy to a value-added services economy.
Sources: Economist Intel igence Unit (EIU), Country Report: Colombia, September 2020; EIU, “Colombia to
Draw from IMF Flexible Credit Line,” October 6, 2020; Mariana Palau, “Colombia Pins Recovery Hopes on
Technology not Oil,” Financial Times, October 7, 2020; Luisa Horwitz, Paoloa Nagovitch, Hol y Sonneland,
and Carin Zissis, “The Coronavirus in Latin America,” Americas Society/Council of the Americas, September
23, 2020.
According to State Department analysis of national investment climates, Colombia has
demonstrated a political commitment to create jobs, develop sound capital markets, and achieve a
legal and regulatory system that meets international norms. Within a framework of relative
economic stability, Colombia has a complicated tax system, high corporate tax burden, and
ongoing piracy and counterfeiting concerns. In Transparency International’s Corruption
Perception Index, Colombia ranked 96 out of the 180 countries polled in 2019, placing it
regional y just behind Ecuador and ahead of Peru, Brazil, and Mexico.39
Colombia’s rural sector activists periodical y have demanded long-term and integrated-
agricultural reform in a country with one of the most unequal patterns of land ownership in the
world and many landless rural poor. The Duque government also has faced pressure from student
mobilizations and other groups demanding more public education funding, full peace accord
compliance, and greater employment opportunity.40 Although protests waned during the
pandemic, they may reemerge with increased demands as restrictions are lifted.

38 EIU, Country Report: Colombia, September 2020.
39 T ransparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index 2019,” January 2020, at
40 Steven Grattan, “Colombia Protests: What Prompted T hem and Where Are T hey Headed?,” Al Jazeera, November
26, 2019.
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The United States is Colombia’s leading trade partner. Colombia accounts for a smal percentage
of U.S. trade (approximately 1%), ranking 23rd among U.S. export markets and 25th among
foreign exporters to the United States in 2019. Colombia has secured free-trade agreements with
the European Union, Canada, and the United States, as wel as with most nations in Latin
Colombia is a founding member of the Pacific Al iance along with Chile, Mexico, and Peru. The
Pacific Al iance aims to go beyond reducing trade barriers by creating a common stock market,
al owing for the eventual free movement of businesses and persons, and by serving as an export
platform to the Asia-Pacific region. In April 2020, Colombia became the third Latin American
country to join the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, after a seven-year
accession process.
In August 2020, the Trump Administration announced a new United States-Colombia Growth
Initiative, Colombia Crece, to harness assistance from a variety of U.S. agencies, such as the
International Development Finance Corporation, to bring investment to Colombia’s rural areas
and fight crime through sustainable development and growth. According to U.S. National
Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, on an official visit to Colombia in August 2020, investment
levels wil reach $5 bil ion.41
Peace Accord Implementation
The four-year peace talks between the FARC and the Santos administration started in Norway and
moved to Cuba, where negotiators worked through a six-point agenda during more than 50
rounds of talks. Over the course of four years, the Colombian government and the FARC
negotiated several central issues, with the following major sub-agreements:
 land use and rural development (May 2013);
 the FARC’s political participation after disarmament (November 2013);
 il icit crops and drug trafficking (May 2014);
 victims’ reparations and transitional justice (December 2015); and
 the demobilization and disarmament of the FARC and a bilateral cease-fire (June
A sixth topic provided for mechanisms to implement and monitor the peace agreement. Al parties
to the accord recognized that implementation would be chal enging, with many Colombians
questioning whether the FARC would be held accountable for its violent crimes.42
In August 2016, the Santos administration and FARC negotiators announced they had concluded
their talks and achieved a 300-page peace agreement. The accord was narrowly defeated in a
popular referendum held in early October 2016, but it was revised by the Santos government and
agreed to by the FARC. The Colombian Congress ratified a revised accord at the end of
November 2016.

41 White House, “Statement by National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien, Press Release, August 17, 2020;
“Colombia y Estados Unidos Lanzan Iniciativa ‘Colombia Crece.’” El Tiempo. August 17, 2020.
42 For more background on the peace talks and the actors involved in the conflict, see CRS Report R42982, Colombia’s
Peace Process Through 2016
, by June S. Beittel.
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Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled in October 2017 that over the next three presidential terms
(until 2030), Colombia must follow the peace accord commitments.43The Special Jurisdiction of
Peace (JEP by its Spanish acronym), set up to adjudicate the most heinous crimes of Colombia’s
decades-long armed conflict, began to hear cases in July 2018. However, Colombians remain
skeptical of the JEP’s capacity. Some analysts have estimated that implementing the programs
required in the accord may cost up to $45 bil ion over 15 years.44 The country faces steep
chal enges to underwrite the post-accord peace programs in an era of declining revenues and
competing chal enges, such as the influx of Venezuelan migrants and the health and economic
crises resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame is responsible
for monitoring implementation of the peace agreement. The latest assessment, covering
developments through November 2019, shows the portions of the agreement furthest along in
implementation are disarmament and demobilization. During a U.N.-monitored demobilization in
2017, some 13,200 FARC (armed combatants and militia members) disarmed, demobilized, and
began the reintegration process.45
By contrast, the least-implemented peace accord elements (see Figure 2) involve land reform and
rural development, particularly measures concerned with more equitable access to land for rural
inhabitants. There also have been limited advances in implementation of the National Program for
the Substitution of Il icit Crops and the Comprehensive Community and Municipal Substitution
and Alternative Development Programs in some 3,053 vil ages in 19 departments.46

43 “Colombia Peace Deal Cannot Be Modified for 12 years, Court Rules,” Reuters, October 11, 2017.
44 See, for instance, “Implementacíon del Acuerdo de Paz Necesitaria $76 Billones Adicionales,” El Espectador,
September 21, 2018.
45 T he 13,200 demobilized FARC include those who had been imprisoned for crimes of rebellion, who were accredited
by the Colombian government as eligible to demobilize. (T ally of demobilized from Luisa Fernando Mejía, “How
Colombia Is Welcoming Migrants—and Staying Solvent,” Am ericas Quarterly, September 11, 2019, at .)
46 Germán Valencia and Fredy Chaverra, “PDET -PNIS T erritories in T ension with the Future Zones,” Fundacion Paz y
Reconciliacion. July 20, 2020, at
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Figure 2. Implementation of the Colombia Peace Accord

Source: Created by CRS with data from the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre
Notes: The Kroc Institute is the first university-based research center to directly support the implementation of
a peace accord.
Territorial y Focused Development Programs (PDETs in Spanish) are a tool outlined in the peace
accord for planning and managing a broad rural development process, with the aim of
transforming 170 municipalities (11,000 vil ages in 19 departments) most affected by the armed
conflict. PDETs target counties (municipios) known to have the highest concentration of conflict
victims, with the highest numbers of mass kil ings and forced disappearances.47 These conflict-
battered areas general y have chronic poverty, high inequality, and il icit crops.
The development program outlined for the PDETs includes roads and transportation, health care
and education, and programs to foster economic development in these rural areas over a 10- to
15-year timeline. According to an October 2019 U.N. Verification Mission report, some 650 such
projects are complete; the government reported that 500 more were under way. The Defense
Ministry’s strategy for “post-conflict” Colombia also identifies priority zones for stabilization,
known as Zonas Futuros, (Future Zones/Strategic Zones of Comprehensive Intervention). The
995 vil ages identified by the Defense Ministry are located within the PDETs.48
Progress and Setbacks over Four Years Implementing the Peace Accord
Although progress has been uneven across al commitments, some programs received external
and international pressure to proceed quickly and were “fast tracked” by the Colombian
Congress. For example, in a December 2016 ruling, the Colombian Constitutional Court granted
fast-track implementation to the revised peace accord, particularly as it applied to the FARC’s
disarmament and demobilization. Other factors that became obstacles to quick implementation
included efforts by the Duque government to revise the accord. In March 2019, the Duque
government sought changes to 6 of the 159 articles that make up the law governing the peace

47 Ibid.
48 For more background, see Colombian Ministry of Defense, Defense and Security Policy – DSP: For Legality,
Entrepreneurship, and Equity
, January 2019.
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accord, including proposed changes to the JEP. Those changes were defeated in the Colombian
Congress, however, and rejected by Colombia’s Constitutional Court.49
FARC assets are of interest to the U.S. State Department, which lists the FARC as a Foreign
Terrorist Organization, and the Colombian government, which planned to use the assets for
remuneration to victims in compliance with Colombia’s peace accord. The FARC disclosed in
September 2017 what it claimed were its total hidden assets, listing more than $330 mil ion in
mostly real estate investments. This announcement drew criticism from several analysts who
maintain that FARC assets are likely much greater, with some estimating that FARC profits from
the various criminal economies it controlled prior to demobilization total above $500 mil ion
annual y.50
One of Colombia’s greatest post-conflict chal enges continues to be ensuring the personal
security for ex-combatants and demobilized FARC. The FARC’s reintegration into civil society
remains a charged topic; in the 1990s, FARC attempts to start a political party, known as the
Patriotic Union, resulted in more than 3,000 party members being kil ed by right-wing
paramilitaries and others.51 The demobilized FARC face numerous risks, although most remain
committed to the peace process. The U.N. Security Council’s October 1, 2019, report of the
Verification Mission in Colombia stated that 147 former FARC members who demobilized (more
than 1%) had been murdered and another 12 demobilized FARC were missing or disappeared.52
In October 2020, the JEP court announced it would take up the issue of ex-combatant kil ings,
which by then had reached 230 kil ings of former and demobilized FARC.53
In addition to unmet government guarantees of security, the FARC has criticized the government
for not adequately preparing for the group’s demobilization and reintegration. The U.S. State
Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism covering 2018 noted that reintegration program
delays could encourage more ex-combatants to return to criminal activities, including terrorism.
The State Department’s terrorism report covering 2019 (and published in June 2020) stated that
“roughly 13,000 FARC ex-combatants and former militia members continued to participate in
social and economic reincorporation activities.” 54
According to observers, the government failed to provide basic resources to FARC members
gathered throughout the country in special y designated zones for disarmament and
demobilization (later renamed reintegration zones). Several U.N. reports have flagged the
dangers of failing to reintegrate former FARC combatants and not providing viable options for

49 T he rejected changes reasserted that FARC must pay victims of their crimes with seized assets, revised extradition
rules, and toughened rules concerning sentencing of war crimes.
50 Jeremy McDermott, “The FARC’s Riches: Up to %580 Million in Annual Income,” InSight Crime, September 6,
51 For more about the decimation of the former FARC-linked party called the Patriotic Union in the 1980s, see CRS
Report R42982, Colom bia’s Peace Process Through 2016 , by June S. Beittel.
52 United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, Report of the Secretary-General, S/2019/780, October 1, 2019.
53 “JEP Cites Minister and Prosecutor for Murders Against Former Combatants, Fundación Paz & Reconciliación,”
October 16, 2020.
54 U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism : Colombia Report, June 24, 2020, at
reports/country-reports-on-terrorism-2019/. Reporting from September 2019 suggests 35 collective reintegration
productive projects have been approved; of those project s, funding has been dispersed for 22 projects. Unit ed Nations
Verification Mission in Colombia, Report of the Secretary-General, S/2019/780, October 1, 2019. However, FARC
living in the zones (around 3,000 in the fall of 2019) questioned their safety following the October 2019 murder of a
demobilized FARC fighter within a reintegration zone, the first to take place in an area under government protection.
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income.55 Peace process advocates have cited inadequate attention to the inclusion of ethnic
Colombians such as Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities—who are among those
victimized and hit hardest by the conflict—in peace accord implementation, as required in the
peace accord’s ethnic chapter.56
As agreed in the peace accord, the demobilized rebels transitioned to a political party that became
known as the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (retaining the acronym FARC) in
September 2017.57 The FARC party ran several candidates in congressional races in March 2018
but failed to win any additional congressional race for which it competed. In October
2019department and municipal elections, the FARC party won a mayoral contest in the Bolivar
department but lost most of the other races it entered, although it won some seats on city councils
in more rural municipalities or in coalitions with other leftist candidates.58
The Current Security Environment
Colombia has confronted a complex security environment of armed groups: two violent leftist
insurgencies, the FARC and the ELN, and groups that succeeded the AUC following its
demobilization during the Uribe Administration. The State Department’s 2019 Country Reports
on Terrorism, published in June 2020, stated that the major terror attacks in the country during
2019 included bombings, attacks on police and military, and violence against civilians carried out
by FARC dissidents and ELN fighters.
Several sources estimate that nearly 3,000 former FARC are dissidents who either rejected the
peace settlement or have, since demobilizing, rejected it and returned to il icit activities.59 These
armed individuals remain a threat. Seuxis Hernández, known by his alias Jesús Santrich, was a
case example. Colombian authorities jailed Santrich for al egedly committing drug trafficking
crimes involving exporting 10,000 kilograms of cocaine in 2017, after the peace accord was
ratified. Santrich did not show up in court and left the FARC reintegration camp where he was
residing. He then joined the former FARC leader and former head peace negotiator known by the
alias Iván Márquez. On August 29, 2019, a FARC splinter faction lead by Márquez and Santrich
cal ed for a return to armed struggle, al eging the Colombian government had not complied with
the peace accord and had failed to protect demobilized FARC. Rodrigo Londoño, the former top

55 Edith Lederer, “UN Official: Reintegrating Colombia’s Rebels is Not Going Well,” Associated Press, October 20,
2017; op. cit, United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, Report of the Secretary -General, S/2019/780, October
1, 2019.
56 Colombia recognizes some 710 indigenous reserves, while Afro -Colombian territories encompass some 6.5 million
hectares of land. For more, see Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli, “ T he Slow Death of Colombia’s Peace Deal,” Foreign
, October 30, 2019; and “ Colombia Update: Attacks on Social Leaders, Forced Eradication Operations, and the
Ongoing Abuses Amid the Pandemic,” June 26, 2020.
57 Lisa Haugaard and Andrea Fernández Aponte, “Colombia’s Peace Process: Successful Disarmament, But Other
Implementation Proceeds Slowly,” Latin America Working Group, September 28, 2017.
58 EIU, “Colombia Politics: Quick View-Local Elections Highlight Weakening of Party Machine,” ViewsWire, October
28, 2019.
59 Many analysts estimate the level of dissidence at under 10% though this may be increasing. In a mid-2019 study,
Ideas for Peace Foundation, a respected Colombian think tank, found that 8% of demobilized FARC are unaccounted
for, although some of those are unlikely to have rearmed. See Ideas for Peace Foundation, “ La Reincorporación de los
excombatientes de las FARC,” July 2019. In June 2020, the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism ,
maintained that 2,600 FARC had become peace accord dissidents, including those who never demobilized, who left the
peace process, or who constitute new recruits.
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guerril a leader who heads the FARC political party,60 immediately denounced the cal to return to
war and said this faction of dissidents would face consequences. He cal ed for continuing
implementation and enforcement of the peace accord.61
Colombia’s second-largest rebel movement, the National Liberation Army (Ejército de
Liberación Nacional, or ELN), began formal peace talks with the Colombian government after
the FARC peace accord was approved in sessions held first in Ecuador and later in Cuba. In
January 2019 the ELN exploded a car bomb at a National Police academy in southern Bogotá
shattering il usions that Colombia’s long internal conflict with insurgents was coming to an end.
The bombing, al egedly carried out by an experienced ELN bomb maker, kil ed 21 police cadets
(as wel as the bomber) and injured several dozen more. The ELN took responsibility for the
attack in a published statement. Large demonstrations followed in Bogotá, protesting the return of
violence to Colombia’s capital city.
As a result of the bombing, the Duque government broke off peace talks with the ELN.62
President Duque requested the extradition of the team of ELN peace negotiators in Cuba to face
charges of terrorism in Colombia.63 He maintained that the ELN delegation members must have
had prior knowledge of the car bombing, which they denied. In September 2019, President Duque
threatened to denounce Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism at the U.N. General Assembly if the
ELN leaders were not turned over to his government.64 In a speech at the United Nations,
President Duque described military intel igence concerning some 1,400 ELN fighters present in
Venezuela.65 According to State Department’s 2019 terrorism report, there are about 3,000 active
members of the ELN.
Paramilitary Successors and Criminal Bands
The FARC’s demobilization has triggered open conflict among armed actors who fight to control
the il icit markets that the demobilized insurgents abandoned. The ongoing lack of governance in
remote rural areas recal s the conditions that original y gave rise to the FARC and other armed
groups. The AUC, (as noted earlier, was a national umbrel a organization of paramilitaries that
official y disbanded a more than decade ago.66 Some 31,000 AUC members demobilized between
2003 and 2006, and Colombia’s 2005 Justice and Peace Law required demobilized AUC
combatants to confess to crimes such as forced disappearances and provided for victim
compensation. However, many former AUC paramilitaries subsequently joined criminal gangs,
which are more focused on profits than ideology.67 Opposing the national government does not

60 T he FARC political party retained the insurgency acronym.
61 “FARC Splinter T akes Up Arms, Jeopardizing Peace Accord,” Latin News Weekly Report, September 5, 2019.
62 Joshua Goodman, “Colombia Asks Cuba to Arrest ELN Negotiators for Car Bombing,” Associated Press, January
19, 2019.
63 T he Cuban government was a host and guarantor of the peace talks with the ELN.
64 “Colombia T hreatens to Denounce Cuba as a Sponsor of T errorism,” Associated Press, September 10, 2019.
65 President Iván Duque Márquez, “Llegó el Momento de Pasar de los Discursos a las Acciones, Y Colombia Está
Actuando,” Speech before the United Nations General Assembly, United Nations, September 25, 2019.
66 T he U.S. State Department removed the organization from the list of Foreign T errorist Organizations in July 2014 .
67 According to some analysts, all but one of the major Bacrim have their roots in the AUC. See Jeremy McDermott,
“T he BACRIM and T heir Position in Colombia’s Underworld,” InSight Crime, Organized Crime in the Americas, May
2, 2014.
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appear to be their objective, although some of these criminal groups have at times sought
territorial control in parts of Colombia.68
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Drug Threat Assessment, published in
January 2020, maintained that large-scale Colombian crime groups work closely with Mexican
and Central American transnational criminal organizations to export quantities of cocaine out of
Colombia every year.69 Typical y, despite ideological differences, the FARC (now dissident
FARC) and ELN cooperate with paramilitary successor groups in drug trafficking and other il icit
activities, frequently using Venezuela as a drug transit corridor.70
Humanitarian Crisis in Venezuela and Its Consequences
for Colombia71
Overlaying the chal enges that Colombia faces domestical y, the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela
set in motion a mass exodus of migrants, the majority of whom are now residing in Colombia. In
early May 2019, the Director General of Colombia’s migration services announced that of the
more than 1 mil ion Venezuelans living in Colombia, some 770,000 had a form of legal status
granting them access to social services and employment.72 Providing services to those migrants
has increased pressure on the Colombian government’s finances. The arrival of the COVID-19
pandemic led Colombia to close its borders with Venezuela, however, ending what had been a
welcoming approach to displaced Venezuelans.
Venezuelan migrants and refugees are vulnerable to a variety of threats, including sexual
violence, the use of minors in armed violence, exposure to excessive force, and homicide. Several
humanitarian organizations attempt to provide the Venezuelan arrivals with situational knowledge
in Colombia, as many come destitute, with significant health and emergency care needs, and with
almost no understanding of the precarious areas where they may be residing in Colombia.
Since early 2019, more than 1,000 Venezuelan security forces have deserted into Colombia. The
Colombian military has disarmed them and placed them in housing near the border, along with
their family members.73 In May 2019, Colombia’s migration agency signed an agreement with the
interim government of Venezuela to permit security forces (military and police) who have
defected from the Maduro government to have temporary legal status to work and receive
assistance in Colombia.74 As part of what many observers consider a more tolerant policy to

68 For a discussion of the informal justice provided by Bacrim, see International Crisis Group, Colombia’s Armed
Groups Battle for the Spoils of Peace
, October 19, 2017.
69 U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), 2019 National Drug Threat Assessment,
DEA-DCT -DIR-007-20, January 30, 2020.
70 Since 2005, U.S. Administrations have made an annual determination that Venezuela has failed demonstrably to
adhere to its obligations under international narcotics agreements. President T rump made the most recent determination
for FY2021 in September 2020.
71 T his section is drawn largely from CRS Insight IN11163, New U.S. Sanctions on Venezuela, coordinated by Clare
Ribando Seelke, and CRS In Focus IF11029, The Venezuela Regional Hum anitarian Crisis and COVID-19, by Rhoda
Margesson and Clare Ribando Seelke. For background on Venezuela, see CRS Report R44841, Venezuela:
Background and U.S. Relations
, coordinated by Clare Ribando Seelke.
72 Gobierno de Colombia, “Más de 1 Millón 260 Mil Venezolanos se Encuentran Radicados en el País: Director de
Migración Colombia,” May 2, 2019.
73 Karen DeYoung and Mary Beth Sheridan, “Venezuelan Military Foils U.S. Hopes,” Washington Post, April 14,
2019. T he article states that more than 2,000 troops and family members from Venezuela were waiting in border -area
74 Gobierno de Colombia, “Colombia Determina Esquema de Atención para Ex -Militares y Ex-Policias Venezolanos
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receiving Venezuelan migrants, the Duque government also granted citizenship to more than
24,000 children born to Venezuelans inside Colombia since 2015 and to those who may be born
in Colombia until August 2021.75
Some observers predict a prolonged stalemate. By early 2020, Colombia had received more than
1.8 mil ion Venezuelans. Tensions heightened between the Maduro government and the Duque
government when Venezuela started to amass some 150,000 troops along the border with
Colombia for “military exercises” planned to take place in September 2019.76 The situation was
taken up by the signatories of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, also known as
the Rio Treaty. In a regional response to the crisis in Venezuela, at a meeting held on the sidelines
of the U.N. General Assembly, 16 of the 19 signatories of the treaty agreed to impose targeted
sanctions on individuals and entities associated with the Maduro government.77
From FY2017 through May 2020, the U.S. government provided more than $610.6 mil ion in
humanitarian and emergency food assistance in response to the Venezuela regional crisis. This
included $534.4 mil ion to support Venezuelan refugees and migrants who fled to other countries,
with the largest concentration in Colombia.78 The United States also is helping to coordinate and
support a broader regional response to the Venezuelan migration crisis.
Ongoing Human Rights Concerns
Colombia’s multisided internal conflict over a half century generated a lengthy record of human
rights abuses. Although it is widely recognized that Colombia’s efforts to reduce violence,
combat drug trafficking and terrorism, and strengthen the economy have met with success, many
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and human rights groups continue to report significant
human rights violations. These violations include violence targeting noncombatants, such as
kil ings, torture, kidnappings, enforced disappearance, forced displacements, forced recruitments,
massacres, and sexual attacks. According to official data reported in Colombia, more than 83,000
people were victims of enforced disappearances during the armed conflict.79
Colombia continues to experience murders and threats of violence against journalists, human
rights defenders, labor union members, social activists such as land rights leaders, and others.
Crimes of violence against women, children, Afro-Colombian and indigenous leaders, and other
vulnerable groups continue at high rates. In December 2018, the U.N. special rapporteur on
human rights defenders strongly criticized the heightened murders of human rights defenders,
which he maintained were committed by hitmen paid less than $100 per murder, according to
reports from activists and other community members.80 These ongoing assaults reflect constraints

que se Encuentran en el T erritorio Nacional,” May 15, 2019.
75 USAID, “ Venezuela Regional Crisis: Fact Sheet #3, FY2019,” September 4, 2019; Luisa Fernando Mejía, “How
Colombia Is Welcoming Migrants – and Staying Solvent,” Am ericas Quarterly, September 11, 2019.
76 Morgan Phillips, “Venezuela Starts Military Exercises at Colombia Border, U.S. Promises ‘Full Support,’” Fox
News, September 10, 2019.
77 CRS Insight IN11116, The Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance and the Crisis in Venezuela , by Peter J.
78 CRS In Focus IF11029, The Venezuela Regional Humanitarian Crisis and COVID-19, by Rhoda Margesson and
Clare Ribando Seelke.
79 Statement of Frederico Andreu-Guzmán, Witness, “Enforced Disappearance in Latin America,” Hearing of the
House Foreign Affairs Committee, T om Lantos Human Rights Commission, October 1, 2020. T he statement also notes
only 130 convictions have been won for this gross human rights violation over recent decades.
80 “UN: Human Rights Activists Say Hitmen T argeting T hem in Colombia,” Reuters, December 3, 2018.
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of the Colombian judicial system to effectively prosecute crimes and overcome impunity. (See
Appendix B for additional resources on human rights reporting in Colombia.)
Extrajudicial Executions and “False Positives.” For many years, human rights organizations
have raised concerns about extrajudicial executions committed by Colombian security forces,
particularly the military. In 2008, it was revealed that several young men from the impoverished
community of Soacha, neighboring the capital city of Bogotá, were lured, al egedly by military
personnel, from their homes to another part of the country with the promise of employment and
executed. The Soacha murder victims had been disguised as guerril a fighters to inflate military
claims of enemy body counts, and reporters labeled the deaths false positives. Following an
investigation into the Soacha murders, the military fired 27 soldiers and officers, including three
generals, and the army’s top commander resigned.81
In 2009, the false positive phenomenon, which was happening more broadly in Colombia, was
investigated by the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, which issued a report.
The report concluded “the sheer number of cases, their geographic spread, and the diversity of
military units implicated, indicate that these kil ings were carried out in a more or less systematic
fashion by significant elements within the military.”82 The majority of the cases took place
between 2004 and 2008, when U.S. assistance to Colombia peaked.
The Attorney General’s Office reported that from 2017 to mid-2018, 246 security forces were
convicted in cases related to false positives, 716 cases were in the prosecution phase, and 10 new
investigations had been opened. In total, the government had convicted 1,176 members of the
security forces in cases related to false positives by mid-2018, including at least eight colonels.
For 2019, the State Department reported that in a similar period, from January through
September, investigations of past kil ings continued but slowed, resulting in seven new cases of
aggravated homicide by state agents. A new case was opened against a colonel for al egedly
ordering the kil ing of a demobilized member of the FARC, and the soldier who carried out the
shooting was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. In addition, the Attorney General’s
office reported two new convictions of security force members committing homicides of persons
protected under international humanitarian law, and by mid-2019 it had 2,504 open investigations
related to false positive kil ings or other extrajudicial kil ings.83
In May 2019, a New York Times press investigation revealed that several top Colombian military
officials had reintroduced a policy to reward high kil counts, causing an outpouring of criticism
regarding recreating the possibility for more false positives.84 In 2017, the U.S. Congress added to
its criteria for human rights reporting to release the final tranche of U.S. military financing
assistance that Colombia should demonstrate that senior military officers had been held to
account for their role in false positives, including being the intel ectual authors for such crimes.
The Duque government responded to the 2018 scandal by rescinding the order to increase results

81 For example, as of mid-2013, 18 colonels were accused of links to the crimes committed in Soacha; two had been
convicted. See U.S. Department of State, Mem orandum of Justification Concerning Hum an Rights Conditions with
Respect to Assistance for the Colom bian Arm ed Forces
, September 11, 2013.
82 United Nations, “Statement by Professor Philip Alston, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions–
Mission to Colombia, 8-18 June 2009,” press release, at
83 U.S. State Department, Colombia: 2018 Human Rights Report, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, March
2019; Colom bia: 2019 Hum an Rights Report, Country Reports on Hum an Rights Practices, March 2020.
84 Nicholas Casey, “Colombia Debates Censuring Ministers for Army Kill Order,” New York Times, June 11, 2019;
Colombia’s Return to the discredited “Body Count” Strategy,” Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), June 2,
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of guerril a fighter deaths, and President Duque established an independent commission to
quickly make recommendations to him to reinforce the respect for human rights within the armed
forces.85 Wiretapping scandals have periodical y rocked the Colombian military and intel igence
services; in May 2020, one such scandal was revealed that is al eged to involve U.S foreign
assistance to spy on dozens of public figures and journalists.86
Human Rights Defenders and Journalists. According to Somos Defensores (“We are
Defenders”), a Colombian NGO that tracks violence against defenders, the deaths of human
rights defenders and activists increased even after the end of the conflict was declared, with more
than 100 such individuals kil ed each year from 2017 through 2019 (and even before year’s end in
2019). Such deaths have shot up in 2020, with massacres (defined as kil ing of more than three
persons) that included ethnic teens and activists, according to the Washington Office on Latin
America, a human rights advocacy group.87 Cases against those making threats and those
responsible for ordering or carrying out assassinations are rarely resolved. In 2018, the Duque
government launched a national Pact for Life and the Protection of Social Leaders and Human
Rights Defenders (PAO) and instal ed a commission to operationalize the PAO, but the kil ing of
social leaders continues. According to many human rights activists, perpetrators of abuses stil
have little to fear in terms of legal consequences.
Violence toward social leaders began to rise after the implementation of the 2011 Victims’ Law,
which authorized the return of stolen land. A September 2013 report by Human Rights Watch
pointed to the rise in violence against land activists and land claimants who had received positive
rulings but were too intimidated to return to their land. Within the first 18 months of the law ’s
implementation, the Colombian government reported some 25 kil ings and Human Rights Watch
documented 500 serious threats against land claimants.88 The land return or full compensation
promised to victims in the law has been slow to date. (See textbox on “Status of Implementation
of Colombia’s Victims’ Law,” below.)
For more than a decade, the Colombian government tried to suppress violence against groups
facing extraordinary risk through the National Protection Unit (UPN by its Spanish acronym).
Colombia’s UPN provides protection measures, such as bodyguards and protective gear, to
individuals in at-risk groups, including human rights defenders, journalists, trade unionists, and
others. However, according to international and Colombian human rights groups, the UPN has
been plagued by corruption issues and has inadequately supported the prosecution of those
responsible for attacks. The State Department’s certification concerning human rights compliance
published in August 2019 notes that the UPN protected about 7,300 individuals at extraordinary

85 U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, “Certification Related to Foreign Military Financing for Colombia Under
Section 7045 (b) (4) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2019
(Div. F, P.L. 116-6). T he certification is described in more detail below in section on Human Rights Conditions on U.S.
Assistance. In addition, in November 2019, Defense Minister Guillermo Botero stepped down to avoid censure for
mishandling a raid against a FARC dissident camp in which several recruited children were alleged to have been
extrajudicially murdered.
86 Keyal Vyas, “Colombia Used U.S. Gear for Internal Spying,” Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2020.
87 Human rights defenders include community leaders, land rights activists, indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders,
and women’s rights defenders., Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli, “T he Slow Death of Colombia’s Peace Deal,” October 30,
2019; Steven Grattan, “Dozens of Young People Killed in Colombia, Perpetrators Unknown,” August 24, 2 020.
88 Human Rights Watch, The Risk of Returning Home: Violence and Threats Against Displaced People: Reclaiming
Land in Colom bia
, September 2013.
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risk, including trade unionists and leaders, journalists, human rights defenders, social leaders, and
more than 330 land restitution claimants.89
Status of Implementation of Colombia’s Victims’ Law
The 2011 Victims’ and Land Restitution Law (Victims’ Law) is a major piece of legislation entitling Colombian
conflict victims to compensation and, if displaced, the return of their stolen land. Reparations to victims may
include access to health and psychosocial services, financial compensation, and community restoration projects.
With support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other donors, a Victims Unit was
established to coordinate the range of services for conflict victims by several government agencies. USAID also
supported the implementation of a Victims’ Registry, which now includes more than 8 mil ion victims. Reinforced
by the 2016 peace agreement, the effort to compensate victims also al ows for redistribution of assets obtained
from the FARC. Through its Victims Unit, the Colombian government had disbursed about $1.8 bil ion as of mid-
The law provides restitution of land to those displaced since January 1, 1991, encompassing as many as 360,000
families (impacting up to 1.5 mil ion people) who lost an estimated 6 mil ion hectares of land. According to
authorities, as much as half the land to be restituted contains land mines. The presence of il egal y armed groups
also has slowed implementation.
Over the last eight years, the implementation of land restitution has been less successful than anticipated.
Colombia’s Land Restitution Unit received more than 123,000 requests, and almost 78,000 cases have been
processed in the administrative phase, which is a necessary step before being sent to a judge. The Colombian
government reports that 4,581 properties have received rulings from judges (about 8%, according to some
sources) in favor of restitution, totaling 370,253 hectares (approximately 914,915 acres). In the case of indigenous
and Afro-Colombian communities, which fal under a distinct land restitution process, only six cases have been
completed for col ective reparations. A lack of comprehensive land titling remains a significant barrier for land
return, even though land titling is a major commitment of the peace accord.
Sources: Colombian Government, Unidad Administrativa Especial de Gestión de Restitución de Tierras
Despojadas, [infographic], October 31, 2019, at s-de-
restitucion-de-tierras; Fundación Forjando Futuros, “Así va la Restitución,” [infographic], October 2019, at
01.jpg. Ted Piccone, Peace with Justice: The Colombian Experience with Transitional Justice, Brookings Institution,
July 2019.
Violence and Labor. The issue of violence against the labor movement in Colombia has sparked
controversy and debate for years. In April 2011, the United States and Colombia agreed to an
“Action Plan Related to Labor Rights” (the Labor Action Plan, LAP), which contained 37
measures that Colombia would implement to address violence, impunity, and workers’ rights
protection. Before the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement entered into force in April 2012, the
U.S. Trade Representative determined that Colombia had met al the important milestones in the
LAP to date.90
Despite the programs launched and measures taken to implement the LAP, human rights and
labor organizations claim that violence targeting labor union members continues. (Some analysts
continue to debate whether labor activists are being targeted because of their union activities or
for other reasons.) The Colombian government has acknowledged that violence and threats
continue, but points to success in reducing violence general y and the number of homicides of
labor unionists specifical y. Violence levels in general are high in Colombia, but have steadily
been decreasing. According to data reported by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime in its annual
homicide report, rates have decreased dramatical y since 2002, when the homicide rate was 68.9

89 Op. cit., U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, “Certification Related to Foreign Military Financing for Colombia
Under Section 7045 (b) (4) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs A ppropriations Act,
90 U.S. T rade Representative (UST R), “FACT SHEET : Historic Progress on Labor Rights in Colombia,” April 15,
2012, at -us/press-office/fact -sheets/2012/april/historic-progress-labor-rights-colombia.
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per 100,000.91 Colombia’s national homicide rate fel below 25 per 100,000 in 2017; after a slight
increase in 2018, it returned to a rate of 25.4 per 100,000 in 2019.92
Murders of labor unionists also have declined. According to the Colombian labor rights NGO and
think tank the National Labor School (Escuela Nacional Sindical), there was a significant decline
from 191 labor union murders in 2001 to 29 reported in 2018. From January 2018 to June 2019,
the Attorney General’s Office reported 27 labor union members were kil ed. Although
prosecutions were slow, the rate of case resolution improved due to the standing up of an “elite
group” to implement a strategy to prioritize the resolution of labor unionist homicides.93
Internal Displacement. The internal conflict has been the major cause of a massive displacement
of the civilian population that has many societal consequences, including implications for
Colombia’s poverty levels and stability. Colombia has one of the largest populations of internal y
displaced persons (IDPs) in the world. Most estimates place the total at more than 7 mil ion IDPs,
or more than 10% of Colombia’s estimated population of 50 mil ion. This number of Colombians,
forcibly displaced from some 6 mil ion hectares of land and impoverished as a result of the armed
conflict, continues to grow. The number of mass displacements (tal ies of forced displacement of
10 or more families or 50 individuals) spiked in 2019. The Colombian ombudsman’s office
reported some 58 instances of mass displacement in the first three-quarters of 2019, resulting in
more than 15,000 Colombians becoming IDPs. Indigenous and Afro-Colombian people make up
an estimated 15%-22% of the Colombian population, but they are disproportionately represented
among those displaced.94
IDPs suffer stigma and poverty and are often subject to abuse and exploitation. In addition to the
disproportionate representation of Colombia’s ethnic communities among the displaced, other
vulnerable populations, including women and children, have been disproportional y affected.
Women, who make up more than half of the displaced population in Colombia, can become
targets for sexual harassment, violence, and human trafficking. Displacement is driven by a
number of factors, though the leading cause is confrontations between insurgents and crime
groups and the Colombian security forces. Inter-urban displacement, which often results from
violence and threats by organized crime groups, is a growing phenomenon in cities such as
Buenaventura and Medel in.
Regional Relations
Colombia shares long borders with neighboring countries, and some of these border areas have
been described as porous to il egal armed groups that threaten regional security. Colombia has a
1,370-mile border with Venezuela, approximately 1,000-mile borders with both Peru and Brazil,
and shorter borders with Ecuador and Panama. Much of the territory is remote and rugged and
suffers from inconsistent state presence. Although al of Colombia’s borders have been
problematic and subject to spil over effects from Colombia’s armed conflict, the most affected are
Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama.

91 U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, Global Study on Homicide, 2013, March 2014.
92 Chris Dalby and Camilo Carranza, “InSight Crime’s 2018 Homicide Round-Up,” InSight Crime, Janaury 22, 2019;
Asmann and O’Reilly, “InSight Crime’s 2019 Homicide Round-Up,” InSight Crime, January 28, 2020.
93 State Department, Colombia: 2019 Human Rights Report, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, March 2020.
94 T he government’s victims’ registry is a national database that includes in it victims going back to the 1960s. It counts
a total of 7.2 million individuals displaced since that time. See also Maria Alejandra Navarrence, “ Increase in Violence
Leads to More Forced Displacements in Colombia,” InSight Crime, October 23, 2019.
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Over the years, Colombia’s relations with Venezuela and Ecuador have been strained by
Colombia’s counterinsurgency operations, including cross-border military activity. The FARC
and ELN insurgents have been present in shared-border regions and in some cases the insurgent
groups used the neighboring countries to rest, resupply, and shelter.
Former President Uribe accused the former Venezuelan government of Hugo Chávez of harboring
the FARC and ELN and maintained that he had evidence of FARC financing the 2006 political
campaign of Ecuador’s leftist President Rafael Correa. Relations between Ecuador and Colombia
remained tense following the Colombian military bombardment of a FARC camp inside Ecuador
in March 2008. Ecuador severed diplomatic relations with Colombia for 33 months.95
Venezuela’s economic crisis significantly worsened throughout 2018 and 2019, prompting a sharp
increase in migrants seeking to escape into or through Colombia.96 Venezuela’s instability, porous
border with Colombia, and corrupt and lawless environment have attracted drug traffickers and
other Colombian armed actors, such as the ELN and dissident FARC, who operate openly there.
President Duque acknowledged that Venezuela had once served as a vital escape valve for
Colombian refugees and displaced fleeing their half-century conflict, for which he was grateful.
Part of the welcoming policy his government has forged toward Venezuelan migrants was in
recognition of the escape valve that Venezuela provided for conflict victims of Colombia.
For many years, the region in Panama that borders Colombia, the Darien, was host to a permanent
presence of FARC soldiers who used the remote area for rest and resupply as wel to transit drugs
north. By 2015, according to the State Department, the FARC was no longer maintaining a
permanent militarized presence in Panamanian territory, in part due to effective approaches taken
by Panama’s National Border Service in coordination with Colombia. Nevertheless, the remote
Darien region stil faces chal enges from smal er drug trafficking organizations and criminal
groups such as Bacrim and experiences problems with human smuggling with counterterrorism
Colombia’s Role in Training Security Personnel Abroad
When Colombia hosted the Sixth Summit of the Americas in April 2012, President Obama and
President Santos announced a new joint endeavor, the Action Plan on Regional Security
Cooperation (USCAP). This joint effort, built on ongoing security cooperation, addresses
hemispheric chal enges, such as combating transnational organized crime, bolstering
counternarcotics, strengthening institutions, and fostering resilient communities.97 The Action
Plan focuses on capacity building for security personnel in Central America and the Caribbean by
Colombian security forces (both Colombian military and police). To implement the plan,
Colombia undertook several hundred activities in cooperation with Panama, Costa Rica, El
Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic, and between 2013 and 2017

95 Also in 2008, Ecuador filed a suit against Colombia in the International Court of Justice, claiming damages to
Ecuadorian residents affected by spray drift from Colombia’s aerial eradication of drug crops. In September 2013,
Colombia reached an out -of-court settlement with Ecuador. See section, “ Drug Crop Eradication and Other Supply
Control Alternatives
96 For more on Venezuela, see CRS Report R44841, Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations, coordinated by Clare
Ribando Seelke, and Juan Forero, “ Venezuela’s Misery Fuels Mass Migration —Residents Flee Crumbling Economy in
Numbers that Echo Syrians to Europe,” Wall Street Journal, February 14, 2018.
97 U.S. Department of State, “Joint Press Release on the United States-Colombia Action Plan on Regional Security
Cooperation,” April 15, 2012, at
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trained almost 17,000 individuals.98 The Colombian government notes that this program grew
dramatical y from 34 executed activities in 2013 to 372 activities completed in 2019.99 Although
as of October 2020 USCAP activities fel below 50 as a result of the pandemic, the Colombian
government is in discussion to resume the training.
Colombia has increasingly trained military and police from other countries both under this
partnership and other arrangements, including countries across the globe. According to the
Colombian Ministry of Defense, around 80% of those trained were from Mexico, Central
America, and the Caribbean. U.S. and Colombian officials maintain that the broader effort is
designed to export Colombian expertise in combating crime and terrorism while promoting the
rule of law and greater bilateral and multilateral law enforcement cooperation.
Critics of the effort to “export Colombian security successes” maintain that human rights
concerns have not been adequately addressed.100 Some observers question the portion of these
activities that are funded by the U.S. government and want to see more transparency.101 In one
analysis of the training, a majority of the training was provided by Colombian National Police
rather than the Colombian Army, in such areas as ground, air, maritime, and river interdiction;
police testimony; explosives; intel igence operations; psychological operations; and Comando
JUNGLA, Colombia’s elite counternarcotics police program.102
Other analysts praise the Colombian training and maintain that U.S. assistance provided in this
way has helped to improve, professionalize, and expand the Colombian military, making it the
region’s second largest. As that highly trained military shifts from combating the insurgency and
the Colombian National Police take the dominant role in guaranteeing domestic security,
Colombia may play a greater role in regional security and even in coalition efforts
international y.103 In September 2017, President Trump announced he had considered designating
Colombia in noncompliance with U.S. counternarcotics requirements. He did not take the step in
part because of Colombian training efforts to assist others in the region with combating narcotics
and related crime.104

98 Colombian Embassy to the United States, “Colombia: Exporter of Security and Stability,” March 2015.
99 Colombian Ministry of Defense, “International Cooperation Balance, 2010 -2018,” September 2018; Ministry of
Defense information provided by Colombian Embassy personnel, October 27, 2020.
100 See, for example, Sarah Kinosian, John Lindsay-Poland, and Lisa Haugaard, “T he U.S. Should not Export
Colombia’s Drug War ‘Success,’” InSight Crime: Investigation and Analysis of Organized Crime, July 9, 2015.
101 For example, critics have raised concerns that such programs circumvent congressionally imposed human rights
restrictions on U.S.-funded security cooperation, such as vetting participants to identify and bar human rights violators.
See Adam Isacson et al., Tim e to Listen: Trends in U.S. Security Assistance to Latin Am erica and the Caribbean , Latin
America Working Group Education Fund, Center for International Policy, and the Washington Office on Latin
America, September 2013. For more on the Leahy Law provisions that seek to bar assistance to human rights violators,
see CRS Report R43361, “Leahy Law” Hum an Rights Provisions and Security Assistance: Issue Overview,
coordinated by Nina M. Serafino.
102 See interview with Professor Arlene T ickner at “Security Diplomacy Centerpiece of Colombia’s Foreign Policy,”
World Politics Review, September 5, 2014.
103 Colombia and NAT O signed a memorandum of understanding focused on future security cooperation and consultation
in 2018, which was affirmed by the Constitutional Court. According to a consultation with the Colombian Embassy in
December 2019, Colombia has a standing International Partnership Cooperation Program with NAT O and is the only
global partner presently in the region. Areas of cooperation include demining, gender, and cyber.
104 For more information on the certification process, see CRS Report RL34543, International Drug Control Policy:
Background and U.S. Responses
, by Liana W. Rosen.
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U.S. Relations and Policy
Colombia is a key U.S. al y in the region. With diplomatic relations that began in the 19th century
following Colombia’s independence from Spain, the countries have enjoyed close and strong ties.
Because of Colombia’s prominence in the production of il egal drugs, the United States and
Colombia forged a close partnership over the past two decades. Focused initial y on
counternarcotics, and later counterterrorism, a program cal ed Plan Colombia laid the foundation
for a strategic partnership that has broadened to include sustainable development, human rights,
trade, regional security, and many other areas of cooperation.
Between FY2000 and FY2016, the U.S. Congress appropriated more than $10 bil ion in
assistance from U.S. State Department and Department of Defense (DOD) accounts to carry out
Plan Colombia and its follow-on strategies. During this time, Colombia made notable progress
combating drug trafficking and terrorist activities and reestablishing government control over
much of its territory. Its economic and social policies lowered poverty levels, and its security
policies reduced Colombia’s homicide rate.
Counternarcotics policy has been the defining issue in U.S.-Colombian relations since the 1980s
because of Colombia’s preeminence as a source country for il icit drugs. Peru and Bolivia were
the main global producers of cocaine in the 1980s and early 1990s. However, successful efforts in
reducing supply in those countries pushed cocaine production to Colombia, which soon surpassed
both its Andean neighbors. At least since the 1990s, Colombia’s long internal armed conflict was
supercharged by profits from il icit crops, primarily cocaine. Other large il icit businesses
sustained both leftist guerril a groups and Colombia’s paramilitaries, including human trafficking
and il icit resource extraction, such as logging and gold mining.105
Colombia emerged to dominate the cocaine trade by the late 1990s. National concern about the
crack cocaine epidemic and extensive drug use in the United States led to greater concern with
Colombia as a source. As Colombia became the largest producer of coca leaf and the largest
exporter of finished cocaine, heroin produced from Colombian-grown poppies was supplying a
growing proportion of the U.S. market.106 Alarm over the volumes of heroin and cocaine being
exported to the United States was a driving force behind U.S. support for Plan Colombia at its
The evolution of Plan Colombia took place under changing leadership and changing conditions in
both the United States and Colombia. Plan Colombia was followed by successor strategies such
as the National Consolidation Plan, described below, and U.S.-Colombia policy has reached a
new phase anticipating post-conflict Colombia.
Plan Colombia and Its Follow-On Strategies
Announced in 1999, Plan Colombia original y was a six-year strategy to end the country’s
decades-long armed conflict, eliminate drug trafficking, and promote development. The
counternarcotics and security strategy was developed by the government of President Andrés

105 Nick Miroff, “Colombia Is Preparing for Peace. So Are Its Drug T raffickers,” Washington Post, February 2, 2016.
106 According to State Department testimony, by 2001, Colombia was providing 22% to 33% of the heroin consumed in
the United States. Paul E. Simons, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement
Affairs, testimony before a hearing of the House of Representatives, Committee on Government Reform, December 12,
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Pastrana in consultation with U.S. officials.107 Colombia and its al ies in the United States
realized that for the nation to gain control of drug trafficking required a stronger security
presence, the rebuilding of institutions, and extending state presence where it was weak or
Initial y, the U.S. policy focus was on programs to reduce the production of il icit drugs. U.S.
support to Plan Colombia consisted of training and equipping counternarcotics battalions in the
Colombian Army and specialized units of the Colombian National Police, drug eradication
programs, alternative development, and other supply reduction programs. The original 1999 plan
had a goal to reduce “the cultivation, processing, and distribution of narcotics by 50%” over the
plan’s six-year timeframe. The means to achieve this ambitious goal were a special focus on
eradication and alternative development; strengthening, equipping, and professionalizing the
Colombian Armed Forces and the police; strengthening the judiciary; and fighting corruption.
Other objectives were to protect citizens from violence, promote human rights, bolster the
economy, and improve governance. U.S. officials expressed their support for the program by
emphasizing its counterdrug elements (including interdiction). The focus on counternarcotics was
the basis for building bipartisan support to fund the program in the U.S. Congress because some
Members of Congress were leery of involvement in fighting a counterinsurgency, which they
likened to the “slippery slope” of the war in Vietnam.108
President George W. Bush came to office in 2001 and oversaw some changes to Plan Colombia.
The primary vehicle for providing U.S. support to Plan Colombia was the Andean Counterdrug
Initiative, which was included in foreign operations appropriations. The Bush Administration
requested new flexibility so that U.S.-provided assistance would back a “unified campaign
against narcotics trafficking, terrorist activities, and other threats to [Colombia’s] national
security” due to the breakdown of peace talks between the FARC and the Pastrana government in
February 2002.109 Congress granted this request for a unified campaign to fight drug trafficking
and terrorist organizations as Members of Congress came to realize how deeply intertwined the
activities of Colombia’s terrorist groups were with the il icit drug trade that funded them.110
However, Congress prohibited U.S. personnel from directly participating in combat missions.
Congress placed a legislative cap on the number of U.S. military and civilian contractor personnel
who could be stationed in Colombia, although the cap was adjusted to meet needs over time. The
current limit (first specified in the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act, as amended) caps
total military personnel at 800 and civilian contractors at 600, although numbers deployed have
been far below the 1,400-person cap for years and now total fewer than 200.111

107 For a nuanced description of U.S. involvement in the development of Plan Colombia, see Stuart Lippe, “T here is No
Silver Bullet and Other Lessons from Colombia,” Interagency Journal, vol. 5, no. 3 (Fall 2014).
108 Ibid.
109 Cynthia J. Arnson, “T he Peace Process in Colombia and U.S. Policy,” in Peace, Democracy, and Human Rights in
Colom bia
, eds. Christopher Welna and Gustavo Gallón (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), pp.
110 Congress granted the expanded authority requested by the Bush Administration in an emergency supplemental
appropriations bill (H.R. 4775, P.L. 107-206), which gave the State Department and the Department of Defense (DOD)
flexibility to combat groups designated as terrorist organizations as well as to fight drug trafficking. T he legislation was
signed into law on August 2, 2002. Congress granted this new authority in the aftermath of terrorist attacks on the
United States on September 11, 2001, and during a period when there was growing support in the U.S. Congress to
combat terrorism.
111 T he FY2005 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4200) raised the military cap from 400 to 800 and the
civilian cap from 400 to 600. T he number of U.S. personnel has declined significantly from the peak years of 2005 -
2007, reflecting the gradual nationalization of U.S.-supported programs.
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President Uribe (2002-2010) embraced Plan Colombia with an aggressive strategy toward the
insurgent forces that prioritized citizen security. His Democratic Security Policy, implemented
first in a military campaign cal ed Plan Patriota, relied on the military to push FARC forces away
from the major cities to remote rural areas and the borderlands. Like his predecessor, President
Pastrana, Uribe continued to expand the Colombian military and police. He enhanced the
intel igence capacity, professionalization, and coordination of the forces, in part with training
provided by U.S. forces. His strategy resulted in expanded state control over national territory112
and a significant reduction in kidnappings, terrorist attacks, and homicides. In 2007, the Uribe
Administration announced a shift to a “Policy of Consolidation of Democratic Security.” The new
doctrine was based on a “whole-of-government” approach to consolidate state presence in
marginal areas that were historical y neglected—vulnerable to drug crop cultivation, violence,
and control by il egal armed groups. Cal ed a strategic leap forward by then-Defense Minister
Juan Manuel Santos, in 2009 the new strategy came to be cal ed the National Consolidation Plan
(see below).
Colombian support for Plan Colombia and for the nation’s security program grew under Uribe’s
leadership. President Uribe levied a “wealth tax” to fund Colombia’s security efforts, taxing the
wealthiest taxpayers to fund growing defense and security expenditures. Overal U.S.
expenditures on Plan Colombia were only a portion of what Colombians spent on their own
security. By one 2009 estimate, U.S. expenditures were not more than 10% of what Colombians
invested in their total security costs.113 In 2000, Colombia devoted less than 2% of its GDP to
military and police expenditures and in 2010 that investment had grown to more than 4% of GDP.
One assessment notes “in the end there is no substitute for host country dedication and funding”
to turn around a security crisis such as Colombia faced at the beginning of the mil ennium.114
In 2008, congressional support for Plan Colombia and its successor programs also shifted. Some
Members of Congress believed that the balance of programming was too heavily weighted toward
security. Prior to 2008, the emphasis had been on “hard side” security assistance (to the military
and police) compared with “soft side” traditional development and rule of law programs.
Members debated if the roughly 75%/25% mix should be realigned. Since FY2008, Congress has
reduced the proportion of assistance for security-related programs and increased the proportion
for economic and social aid. As Colombia’s security situation improved and Colombia’s economy
recovered, the United States also began turning over to Colombians operational and financial
responsibility for efforts formerly funded by the U.S. government. The Colombian government
“nationalized” the training, equipping, and support for Colombian military programs, such as the
counterdrug brigade, Colombian Army aviation, and the air bridge denial program. U.S. funding
overal began to decline. The nationalization efforts were not intended to end U.S. assistance, but
rather to gradual y reduce it to pre-Plan Colombia levels, adjusted for inflation.115
A key goal of Plan Colombia was to reduce the supply of il egal drugs produced and exported by
Colombia but the goals became broader over time. Bipartisan support for the policy existed

112 Although Democratic Security evolved over Uribe’s two-terms in office, the strategy is credited by some analysts
for its coherence. “Uribe and his advisors developed a coherent counterinsurgency strategy based on taking and holding
territory, protecting local populations, controlling key geographic cor ridors ... and demobilizing the paramilitary forces
that threatened democracy and state authority as much as did the FARC.” Stuart Lippe, “T here is No Silver Bullet and
Other Lessons from Colombia,” Interagency Journal, vol. 5, no. 3 (Fall 2014).
113 Peter DeShazo, Johanna Mendelson Forman, and Phillip McLean, Countering Threats to Security and Stability in a
Failing State: Lessons from Colom bia
, Center for Strategic & International Studies, September 2009.
114 Stuart Lippe, “T here is No Silver Bullet and Other Lessons from Colombia,” Interagency Journal, vol. 5, no. 3 (Fall
115 U.S. Department of State, Report on Multiyear Strategy for U.S. Assistance Programs in Colombia, Report to
, April 2009.
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through three U.S. Administrations—President Bil Clinton, President George W. Bush, and
President Barack Obama. Plan Colombia came to be viewed by some analysts as one of the most
enduring and effective U.S. policy initiatives in the Western Hemisphere. Some have lauded the
strategy as a model. In 2009, Wil iam Brownfield, then-U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, described
Plan Colombia as “the most successful nation-building exercise that the United States has
associated itself with perhaps in the last 25-30 years.”
Other observers, however, were critical of the policy as it unfolded. Many in the NGO and human
rights community maintained the strategy, with its emphasis on militarization and security, was
inadequate for solving Colombia’s persistent, underlying problems of rural violence, poverty,
neglect and institutional weakness. Nevertheless, it appears that improvements in security
conditions have been accompanied by substantial economic growth and a reduction in poverty
levels over time. (See Appendix A for additional information on assessments of Plan Colombia
and its successors.)
National Consolidation Plan and Peace Colombia
The National Consolidation Plan first launched during the Uribe Administration, (renamed the
National Plan for Consolidation and Territorial Reconstruction), was designed to coordinate
government efforts in regions where marginalization, drug trafficking, and violence converge.
The whole-of-government consolidation was to integrate security, development, and
counternarcotics to achieve a permanent state presence in vulnerable areas. Once sec urity forces
took control of a contested area, government agencies in housing, education, and development
would regularize the presence of the state and reintegrate the municipalities of these marginalized
zones into Colombia. The plan had been restructured several times by the Santos government.
Some analysts criticize the Colombian government’s failure to assert control throughout the
national territory in the wake of the FARC’s demobilization.116
The United States supported the Colombian government’s consolidation strategy through an
inter-agency program cal ed the Colombia Strategic Development Initiative (CSDI). CSDI
provided U.S. assistance to “fil gaps” in Colombian government programming. At the U.S.
Embassy in Colombia, CSDI coordinated efforts of the U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID), the State Department’s Narcotics Affairs Section, the U.S. Military
Group, and the Department of Justice to assist Colombia in carrying out the consolidation plan by
expanding state presence and promoting economic opportunities in priority zones.117 It combined
traditional counternarcotics assistance for eradication, interdiction, alternative development, and
capacity building for the police, military, and justice sector institutions with other economic and
social development initiatives.
As the peace agreement between the FARC and the government moved forward into
implementation, the focus of U.S. assistance to Colombia has shifted again. With a foundation of
the work done to advance consolidation, U.S. assistance has begun to aid in post-conflict
planning and support Colombia’s transition to peace by building up democratic institutions,
protecting human rights and racial and ethnic minorities, and promoting economic opportunity.
USAID’s country cooperation strategy for 2014-2018 anticipated the Colombian government
reaching a negotiated agreement with the FARC, but remained flexible if an agreement was not

116 Remarks of Paul Angelo, Fellow, Council of Foreign Relations, “Waiting for Peace: Violence Against Social
Leaders in Colombia,” webinar from the Inter-American Dialogue, Washington, DC, October 21, 2020, at -waiting-for-peace-violence-against -social-leaders-in-colombia/.
117 Ibid.
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signed. It recognized early implementation efforts, especial y in the first 24 months after
signature, would be critical to demonstrate or model effective practices. In the next five years, it
envisioned Colombia evolving from aid recipient to provider of technical assistance to neighbors
in the region.118
Consolidating state authority and presence in the rural areas with weak institutions has been a
significant chal enge since the FARC’s disarmament in summer 2017. Reintegration of the FARC
and possibly other insurgent forces, such as the ELN, wil be expensive and delicate. In particular,
critics of the Colombian government’s consolidation efforts maintain the Santos administration
often lacked the commitment to hand off targeted areas from the military to civilian-led
development and achieve local y led democratic governance.119 Consolidation efforts suffered
from low political support, disorganization at the top levels of government, and failure to
administer national budgets effectively in more remote areas, among other chal enges. The
Territorial y Focused Development Programs (PDETs) for rural development (the land and rural
development sub-agreement of the 2016 peace accord) incorporated a participatory process to
achieve local development, which required sustained effort.
In August 2018, after President Duque took office, USAID announced a framework of priorities
for U.S. economic development assistance to Colombia. Some of these priorities include
promoting and supporting a whole-of-government strategy to include the dismantling of
organized crime; increasing the effectiveness of Colombia’s security and criminal justice
institutions; promoting enhanced prosperity and job creation through trade; improving the
investment climate for U.S. companies; and advancing Colombia’s capacity to strengthen
governance and transition to sustainable peace, including reconciliation among victims, ex-
combatants, and other citizens.120
Funding for Plan Colombia and Peace Colombia
The U.S. Congress initial y approved legislation in support of Plan Colombia in 2000, as part of
the Military Construction Appropriations Act of 2001 (P.L. 106-246). Plan Colombia was never
authorized by Congress, but it was funded annual y through appropriations. From FY2000
through FY2016, U.S. funding for Plan Colombia and its follow-on strategies exceeded $10
bil ion in State Department and Defense Department programs. From FY2000 to FY2009, the
United States provided foreign operations assistance to Colombia through the Andean
Counterdrug Program (ACP) account, formerly known as the Andean Counterdrug Initiative, and
other aid accounts. In FY2008, Congress continued to fund eradication and interdiction programs
through the ACP account, but funded alternative development and institution building programs
through the Economic Support Fund (ESF) account. In the FY2010 request, the Obama
Administration shifted ACP funds into the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement
(INCLE) account.
Since FY2008, U.S. assistance has gradual y declined because of tighter foreign aid budgets and
nationalized Plan Colombia-related programs. In FY2014, in line with other foreign assistance
reductions, funds appropriated to Colombia from State Department accounts declined to slightly
below $325 mil ion. In FY2015, Congress appropriated $300 mil ion for bilateral assistance to
Colombia in foreign operation. The FY2016 Omnibus Appropriations bil (P.L. 114-113) provided
Colombia from U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development accounts,

118 USAID/Colombia, Country Development Cooperation Strategy 2014-2018, A Path to Peace, June 13, 2014.
119 See, for example, Adam Isacson, Consolidating “Consolidation,” Washington Office on Latin America, December
120 USAID, Colombia: Integrated Country Strategy, August 14, 2018.
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slightly under $300 mil ion, nearly identical to that appropriated in FY2015 (without P.L. 480, the
Food for Peace account, the total for FY2016 was $293 mil ion as shown in Table 1. In FY2017,
Congress funded a program the Obama Administration had proposed cal ed “Peace Colombia” to
re-balance U.S. assistance to support the peace process and implementation of the accord. The
FY2017 omnibus appropriations measure, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017 (P.L. 115-
31), funded the various programs of Peace Colombia at $391.3 mil ion.
In the FY2017 legislation, Congress appropriated the following:
 The ESF account increased to $187 mil ion (from $134 mil ion in FY2016) to
build government presence, encourage crop substitution and provide other
assistance to conflict victims, including Afro-Colombian and indigenous
communities. However, only $180 mil ion was subsequently al ocated.
 INCLE funding increased to $143 mil ion with a focus on manual eradication of
coca crops, support for the Colombian National Police, and judicial reform
 INCLE funding also included $10 mil ion for Colombian forces’ training to
counterparts in other countries.
 $38.5 mil ion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF); and
 $21 mil ion in Nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining, and Related
Programs (NADR), which was a relatively large increase from under $4 mil ion
in FY2016 to focus on demining.
In the table, account data from the annual international affairs congressional budget justification
documents show congressional appropriations for foreign aid for Colombia from FY2012 to
FY2020. In October 2020, Congress approved a continuing resolution to fund U.S. foreign
assistance programs at the FY2020 levels through December 11, 2020. The House-passed version
of the FY2021 foreign operations measure (H.R. 7608, H.Rept. 116-444) would provide $457.3
mil ion to support the peace process and security and development efforts in Colombia. The
Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to mark up a foreign assistance appropriations bil for
Table 1. U.S. Assistance for Colombia by State Department and USAID
Foreign Aid Account: FY2012-FY2020
(in mil ions of current U.S. dol ars)
Sources: CRS, with data from the annual International Affairs Congressional Budget Justifications (FY2010 -
FY2020); figures for FY2020 are from United States Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related
Programs Appropriations Act, 2020 (P.L. 116-94).
Notes: Accounts as fol ows: ESF = Economic Support Fund; IMET = International Military Education and
Training; INCLE = International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement; NADR = Nonproliferation, Anti-
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Terrorism, De-mining and Related Programs; and FMF = Foreign Military Financing; DA = Development
Assistance. Table does not include P.L. 480 (also known as Food for Peace) or Global Health.
Department of Defense Assistance
A variety of funding streams support DOD training and equipment programs. Some DOD
equipment programs are funded by annual State Department appropriations for FMF, which
totaled $38.5 mil ion in FY2020 and for the most recent four years. International Military
Education and Training (IMET) funds, which totaled $1.9 mil ion in FY2020, support training
programs for the Colombian military, including courses in the United States. Apart from State
Department funding, DOD provides additional training, equipping, and other support through its
own accounts. Individuals and units receiving DOD support are vetted for potential human rights
issues in compliance with the Leahy Law (see “Human Rights Conditions on U.S. Assistance,
below).DOD programs in Colombia are overseen by U.S. Southern Command. Between FY2016
and FY2018, DOD-funded programs aimed at counternarcotics and security goals averaged $70
mil ion per year for Colombia, as indicated in Table 2.
Table 2. Department of Defense Assistance to Colombia (Preliminary Figures),
(in mil ions of current U.S. dol ars)

Counternarcotics—Former Section
1004 Authorities
Counternarcotics—Section 284
Authorities as of NDAA 2017
Counternarcotics—Former 1033
Authorities, Became 333
Global Train and Equip Program—
Section 333 Authorities as of
NDAA 2017
Combating Terrorism Fel owship
response from
DOD HIV/AIDS Prevention
Program—F Operational Plan
response from
Defense Institution Reform
Humanitarian Mining Action
Humanitarian Assistance Program
Traditional Commanders Activities
response from
Defense Institution Reform
Source: Department of Defense, Office of Secretary of Defense, response to CRS request in October 2020.
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Notes: NDAA 2017 = National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (P.L. 114-328). The
categorization of funding shifted between FY2017 and FY2018, accounting for some of the funding al ocation
changes, including the change of 1033 Authorities into 333 Authorities. Figures may not sum to the total due to
rounding. Data are preliminary from source and were al that was available at the time of publication.
Human Rights Conditions on U.S. Assistance
Some Members of Congress have been deeply concerned about human rights violations in
Colombia—especial y those perpetrated by any recipients or potential recipients of U.S.
assistance. In Colombia’s multisided conflict, the FARC and ELN, the paramilitaries and their
successors, and Colombia’s security forces have al committed serious violations. Colombians
have endured generations of noncombatant kil ings, massacres, kidnappings, forced
displacements, forced disappearances, land mine casualties, and acts of violence that violate
international humanitarian law. The extent of the crimes and the backlog of human rights cases to
be prosecuted have overwhelmed the Colombian judiciary, which some describe as “inefficient”
and overburdened. Many human rights groups maintain that although some prosecutions have
gone forward, most remain unresolved and the backlog of cases has been reduced slowly. In
addition, continued violations remain an issue.
Since 2002, Congress has required in annual foreign operations appropriations legislation that the
Secretary of State certify annual y to Congress that the Colombian military is severing ties to
paramilitaries and that the government is investigating complaints of human rights abuses and
meeting other human rights statutory criteria. (The certification criteria have evolved over time.)
For several years, certification was required before 30% of funds to the Colombian military could
be released. The FY2014 appropriations legislation reduced that to 25% of funding under the
FMF program be held back pending certification by the Secretary of State. Some human rights
groups have criticized the regular certification of Colombia, maintaining that evidence they have
presented to the State Department has contradicted U.S. findings. However, some critics have
acknowledged the human rights conditions on military assistance to Colombia to be “a flawed but
useful tool” because the certification process requires that the U.S. government regularly consult
with Colombian and international human rights groups. Critics general y acknowledge that over
time, conditionality can improve human rights compliance.121
Additional tools for monitoring human rights compliance by Colombian security forces receiving
U.S. assistance are the so-cal ed “Leahy Law” restrictions, which Congress first passed in the late
1990s prior to the outset of Plan Colombia. First introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy, these
provisions deny U.S. assistance to a foreign country’s security forces if the U.S. Secretary of
State has credible information that such units have committed “a gross violation of human
rights.” The provisions apply to security assistance provided by the State Department and DOD.
The Leahy Law under the State Department is authorized by the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA) of
1961, as amended, and is codified at 22 U.S.C. 2378d (§520M of the FAA). The DOD Leahy
provisions, which for years applied just to DOD training, now include a broader range of
assistance, as modified in the FY2014 appropriations legislation. The provision related to the
Leahy Laws for DOD assistance is codified at 10 U.S.C. 362, and prohibits “any training,

121 Lisa Haugaard, Adam Isacson, and Jennifer Johnson, A Cautionary Tale: Plan Colombia’s Lessons for U.S. Policy
Toward Mexico and Beyond
, Latin America Working Group Education Fund, Center for International Policy,
Washington Office on Latin America, November 2011. T he authors caut ion that the benefits of the certification are
present only under certain conditions: “Human rights conditions only became a useful lever in extreme circumstances
and with enormous effort by human rights groups.”
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equipment, or other assistance,” to a foreign security force unit if there is credible information
that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.122
Both the State Department and DOD Leahy provisions require the State Department to review
and clear—or vet—foreign security forces to determine if any individual or unit is credibly
believed to be guilty of a gross human rights violation. Leahy vetting is typical y conducted by
U.S. embassies and State Department headquarters. Reportedly on an annual basis about 1% of
foreign security forces are disqualified from receiving assistance under the Leahy provisions,
although many more are affected by administrative issues and are denied assistance until those
conditions are resolved. Tainted security force units that are denied assistance may be remediated
or cleared, but the procedures for remediation differ slightly between the DOD and State (or
FAA) provisions.
Because of the large amount of security assistance provided to Colombian forces (including the
military and police), the State Department reportedly vets more candidates for assistance in
Colombia than in any other country.123 In the late 1990s, poor human rights conditions in
Colombia were a driving concern for developing the Leahy Law provisions.124 The U.S. Embassy
in Bogotá, with nearly two decades of experience in its vetting operations, has been cited as a
source of best practices for other embassies seeking to bring their operations into compliance or
enhance their performance.
However, some human rights organizations are critical of the Leahy vetting process and assert
that U.S. assistance under the Leahy process have failed to remove human rights violators from
the Colombian military. A human rights NGO, Fel owship of Reconciliation, has published
reports al eging an association between false positive kil ings and Colombian military units vetted
by the State Department to receive U.S. assistance.125 However, some have questioned the
group’s methodology. Some human rights organizations contend that the U.S. government has
tolerated abusive behavior by Colombian security forces without taking action or withholding
assistance. At the end of October 2019, the Duque government formal y renewed the mandate of
the U.N.’s High Commissioner of Human Rights for three more years, which has had a
significant presence in Colombia during the internal conflict and beyond.
In another human rights-related matter regarding the armed services wiretapping scandal in 2020,
House action included in the House-passed version of FY2021 National Defense Authorization
Act (NDAA; H.R. 6395), Section 1298, which would require a report on possible misuse of U.S.
security-sector funds for il egal surveil ance by Colombia’s armed services.
Cocaine Continues Its Reign in Colombia126
According to U.S. government estimates, Colombia’s potential production of pure cocaine fel to
170 metric tons in 2012, the lowest level in two decades. However, it started to rise slightly in

122 See CRS In Focus IF10575, Human Rights Issues: Security Forces Vetting (“Leahy Laws”), by Liana W. Rosen.
123 See “Colombia Case Study” in CRS Report R43361, “Leahy Law” Human Rights Provisions and Security
Assistance: Issue Overview
, coordinated by Nina M. Serafino.
124 T he first enactment of the Leahy provisions restricted international narcotics control assistance in an amendment to
the 1997 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act .
125 See Fellowship of Reconciliation and U.S. Office on Colombia, Military Aid and Human Rights: Colombia, U.S.
Accountability, and Global Im plications
, 2010; Fellowship of Reconciliation and Colombia-Europe-U.S. Human
Rights Observatory, The Rise and Fall of “False Positive” Killings in Colom bia: The Role of U.S. Military Assistance,
2000-2010, May 2014.
126 For more background, see CRS Report R44779, Colombia’s Changing Approach to Drug Policy, by June S. Beittel
and Liana W. Rosen.
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2013 and more dramatical y from 2014 through 2017 (see Table 3 and Table 4, which show the
U.S. estimates for coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia over several years, and
Figure A-1, which compares U.S. and U.N. estimates). Following a U.N. agency affiliate’s
determination that the herbicide used to spray coca crops was probably carcinogenic, Colombia’s
minister of health determined that aerial eradication of coca was not consistent with requirements
of Colombia’s Constitutional Court. In 2018, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reported
that 93% of cocaine seized in the United States originated in Colombia. At the same time,
Colombia has set records for many years in drug interdiction and general y is considered a strong
and reliable U.S. counternarcotics partner. However, even with record seizures in 2017 and 2018,
the interdiction of cocaine was insufficient to counter the large increases in production. As
indicated in Table 3 and Table 4, cultivation and production remain at historical y high levels.
Table 3. U.S. Estimates of Coca Cultivation in Colombia
(in thousand hectares [ha])
2016 2017
Area (in
1,000 ha)
% Change

Sources: Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), “New Annual Data Released by White House Drug
Policy Office Shows Record High Cocaine Cultivation and Production in Colombia,” June 28, 2018; “United
States and Colombian Officials Set Bilateral Agenda to Reduce Cocaine Supply,” fact sheet, March 5, 2020; U.S.
Department of State, International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), volume I, Colombia country reports
for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.
Table 4. U.S. Estimates of Pure Cocaine Production in Colombia
(in metric tons)
% Change

Source: ONDCP, “New Annual Data Released by White House Drug Policy Office Shows Record High
Cocaine Cultivation and Production in Colombia,” fact sheet, June 28, 2018; “United States and Colombian
Officials Set Bilateral Agenda to Reduce Cocaine Supply,” fact sheet, March 5, 2020.
Drug Crop Eradication and Other Supply Control Alternatives
Both manual eradication and aerial eradication were central components of Plan Colombia to
reduce coca and poppy cultivation. Manual eradication is conducted by teams, usual y security
personnel, who uproot and kil the plant. Aerial eradication involves spraying the plants from
aircraft with an herbicide mixture to destroy the drug crop, but it may not kil the plants. In the
context of Colombia’s continuing internal conflict, manual eradication was far more dangerous
than aerial spraying. U.S. and Colombian policymakers recognized the dangers of manual
eradication and, therefore, employed large-scale aerial spray campaigns to reduce coca crop
yields, especial y from large coca plantations. Colombia is the only country global y that aerial y
sprayed its il icit crops, and the practice has been controversial for health and environmental
reasons, resulting in a Colombian decision to end aerial eradication in 2015.
In late 2013, Ecuador won an out-of-court set lement in a case filed in 2008 before the
International Court of Justice in The Hague for the negative effects of spray drift over its border
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with Colombia.127 In negotiations with the FARC in the peace talks, the government and the
FARC provisional y agreed in May 2014 that voluntary manual eradication would be prioritized
over forced eradication. Aerial eradication remained a viable tool in the government’s drug
control strategy, according to the agreement, but would be permitted only if voluntary and manual
eradication could not be conducted safely.
At the U.S.-Colombia High Level Dialogue held in Bogotá in March 2018, a renewed
commitment to the enduring partnership between the United States and Colombia was
announced. A major outcome was a U.S.-Colombia pledge to reduce il egal narcotics trafficking
through expanded counternarcotics cooperation. The new goal set was to reduce Colombia’s
estimated cocaine production and coca cultivation to 50% of current levels by 2023.128
After President Duque took office, USAID announced a framework of priorities for U.S.
development assistance to Colombia in August 2018. Some of these priorities to stabilize the
peace include promoting and supporting a whole-of-government strategy to dismantle organized
crime; increasing the effectiveness of Colombia’s security and criminal justice institutions;
promoting enhanced prosperity and job creation through trade; and strengthening governance and
civil society to transition to sustainable peace, including reconciliation among victims, rural
communities, and combatants.129 The causes of conflict in Colombian society, such as lack of
access to land addressed in the peace accord, need to be resolved to promote a sustainable peace,
according to USAID.
U.S. assistance administered by the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and
Law Enforcement includes funding with a focus on the manual eradication of coca crops, support
for the Colombian National Police, and judicial reform efforts. The assistance also supports
Colombian training to counterpart security forces in other countries to counter transnational
organized crime and drug trafficking. Several programs attempt to increase accountability and
transparency in troubled rural regions, expand access to justice, and increase coordination
between municipal and regional governments to access Colombian resources at the national level.
New Counternarcotics Direction Under the Duque Administration
Experimentation with delivering glyphosate by drones (rather than planes) began in June 2018
under the Santos administration and continues under the Duque government.130 Drug trafficking
continues to trigger conflict over land in Colombia and affects the most vulnerable groups,
including Afro-Colombian, peasant, and indigenous populations. Some analysts warn that
national and international pressure for drug eradication could lead to increased human rights
Colombia has set records in cocaine production in recent years. In 2019, according to U.S.
estimates, the country produced 951 metric tons of pure cocaine. In 2019, President Duque and

127 Ecuador received $15 million in compensation from Colombia for alleged health and environmental harms, and the
formal imposition of a ban on spraying in the 10 kilometer zone up to the border with Ecuador. “ Ecuador Wins
Favorable Settlement from Colombia, T erminates Aerial Spraying Case in International Court of Justice, ” Business
, September 19, 2013; Pablo Jaramillo Viteri and Chris Kraul, “ Colombia to Pay Ecuador $15 Million to Settle
Coca Herbicide Suit,” Los Angeles Tim es, September 16, 2013.
128 U.S. Department of State, “U.S.-Colombia Dialogue Reaffirms an Enduring Partnership,” Press Release, March 1,
129 USAID, Colombia: Integrated Country Strategy, August 14, 2018.
130 John Otis, “Colombia is Growing Record Amounts of Coca, T he Key Ingredient in Cocaine,” National Public
Radio, October 22, 2018; “Colombia to Use Drones to Fumigate Coca Leaf with Herbicide,” Reuters, June 26, 2018.
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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reaffirmed a March 2018 commitment to work together to lower
coca crop levels and cocaine production by 50% by 2023.131 President Duque campaigned on
resuming forced aerial eradication (or spraying of coca crops) with the herbicide glyphosate; in
August 2020, he cal ed again for the resumption of spraying while escalating other methods of
forced eradication, such as forced manual eradication. His focus on “peace with legality,” critics
contend, replaced the approach of participatory planning and development embodied in the peace
accord with a focus on national security that is primarily led by the defense ministry.132 The
Trump Administration notably endorsed aerial eradication as “an irreplaceable tool” for Colombia
in the September 2020 Presidential Determination on Major Il icit Drug Producing Countries for
The Trump Administration has prioritized join counternarcotics efforts in its cooperation with
Colombia. As noted earlier, from 2013 to 2017, Colombia experienced its highest increase in
il icit crop cultivation. In the spring and summer of 2020, U.S. Southern Command
(SOUTHCOM) conducted a counternarcotics surge.134 U.S. Admiral Craig S. Fal er, who leads
SOUTHCOM, hailed the surge operation as an al -of-government exercise involving 22 countries
in the region, including Colombia, to demonstrate partner country commitment and capacity to
combat narcotics trafficking and the national security threat of transnational crime.135 The surge
was one of the largest recent engagements of U.S. assets for anti-drug activities, such as Navy
ships, AWACS surveil ance aircraft, and on-ground special forces.136 In July 2020, SOUTHCOM
reported the surge had netted 122 metric tons of il egal drugs, mostly cocaine and also marijuana.
The surge anti-drug mission was run in paral el with a Colombian-led operation known as Orion
5, which encompassed 25 nations in Latin America and the Caribbean and in Europe.137
In addition, the first deployment in the Western Hemisphere of a U.S. Army Security Force
Assistance Brigade was in June 2020 to Colombia. The company-sized deployment of 53 U.S.
Army forces was for four months to train Colombian forces in counternarcotics logistics,
services, and intel igence capabilities to support U.S.-Colombian collaboration.138

131 Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), “ United States and Colombian Officials Set Bilateral Agenda to
Reduce Cocaine Supply,” fact sheet, March 5, 2020.
132 Juan Fernando Cristo, former Colombian Minister of Interior, “Waiting for Peace: Violence Against Social Leaders
in Colombia.,” webinar from the Inter-American Dialogue, Washington, DC, October 21, 2020, at -waiting-for-peace-violence-against -social-leaders-in-colombia/.
133 White House, Office of the Press Secretary, “Presidential Determination on Major Drug T ransit or Major Illicit
Drug Producing Countries for Fiscal Year 2021,” presidential memorandum, September 16, 2020, at -major-illicit-drug-
134 U.S. Southern Command begins at the Mexican border and contains within its regional command the remaining
elements of Central and South America (31 countries and 16 dep endencies and areas of special sovereignty). For more,
see CRS In Focus IF11464, United States Southern Com m and (SOUTHCOM), by Kathleen J. McInnis and Brendan W.
135 Admiral Craig S. Fuller, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, Press Briefing, U.S. State Department, April 20,
2020; remarks by President T rump, “ Briefing on SOUT HCOM’s Enhanced Counternarcotics Operations, ” July 10
2020, at -trump-briefing-southcom-enhanced-
counternarcotics-operations/ (hereinafter cited as Remarks by President T rump in Briefing on SOUT HCOM).
136 Joshua Goodman, “U.S. Naval Buildup in Caribbean Not Aimed at Ousting Maduro,” Associated Press, April 20,
137 Remarks by President T rump in Briefing on SOUT HCOM.
138 For more background, see CRS In Focus IF10675, Army Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs), by Andrew
Feickert .
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Congress remains interested in Colombia’s future, because the country has become one of the
United States’ closest al ies in the region and because the United States has invested in
Colombia’s security and stability for more than two decades. Plan Colombia and its successor
strategies have expanded from counternarcotics to include democratic development, human rights
protections, humanitarian relief, economic growth, and trade. Congress has been interested in
expanding investment and trade opportunities bilateral y with Colombia and with regional trade
groups, such as the Pacific Al iance. Some analysts maintain that advancing U.S.-Colombian
trade relies on strengthening the entire binational relationship.
The annual level of foreign assistance provided by Congress for Colombia began to dec line in
FY2008 but rose again between FY2017 and FY2020 to support peace and the implementation of
the peace accord signed with the FARC. As Congress considers future appropriations, it may
assess whether and how to build on cooperation with Colombian partners to continue to train
Central American security forces and other third-country nationals in counternarcotics and
security. Congress may continue to oversee issues related to drug trafficking; Colombia’s effort to
combat il egal armed groups; the status of human rights protections; and the expansion of health,
economic, environmental, energy, and educational cooperation. Congress and the Trump
Administration have highlighted Colombia’s leadership in the region to counter growing political
instability in Venezuela.
The record expansion of coca cultivation and cocaine exports to the United States since 2016 may
significantly hinder efforts to consolidate peace inside Colombia and could increase corruption
and extortion. A significant portion of the Colombian public is skeptical of the peace process and
the FARC’s role in Colombia’s democracy. Other Colombians maintain that full implementation
of the peace accord is necessary both to honor commitments agreed to by demobilized
combatants and to fulfil promises made to several mil ion victims of the conflict.
President Duque’s administration faces four main chal enges, al of which are now also under the
cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis: (1) the upsurge in il icit drug crops, (2) slow
implementation of the peace accord, (3) violent competition among criminal groups in rural areas,
and (4) Venezuela’s unfurling humanitarian crisis. Colombia’s generous and welcoming approach
to Venezuelan migrants—encouraged by the United States—has stal ed due to the five-month
national lockdown and the pandemic-related economic devastation for Colombian citizens living
on the margins throughout the country.
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Appendix A. Assessing the Programs of Plan
Colombia and Its Successors
Analysts have long debated how effective Plan Colombia and its follow-on strategies were in
combating il egal drugs. Measured exclusively in counternarcotics terms, Plan Colombia has had
mixed results. It failed to meet a goal set in 1999 to lower cultivation, processing, and distribution
of il icit drugs by 50% in six years. Although Colombia achieved some significant reductions in
cultivation, these reductions have not been sustained. According to U.S. estimates, cultivation of
coca declined from 167,000 hectares in 2007 to 78,000 hectares in 2012.139 Likewise, opium
poppy cultivation declined by more than 90% between 2000 and 2009. Nevertheless, coca
cultivation levels have rebounded in recent years.
According to the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, Colombia in 2017 cultivated an
unprecedented 209,000 hectares of coca, capable of yielding 921 metric tons of pure cocaine. The
United Nations (U.N.) estimates of coca cultivation and cocaine production—using a different
methodology but in paral el with the same trends as U.S. estimates—found that Colombia’s
potential production of cocaine in 2017 reached nearly 1,370 metric tons, 31% above its 2016
estimate (for a comparison of U.S. and U.N. estimates, see Figure A-1). For 2018, which is not
shown in the figure, the U.S. government reported that Colombia’s coca cultivation dropped
slightly to 208,000 hectares and its potential cocaine production declined to an estimated 887
metric tons.140 The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Drug Threat Assessment,
published in October 2019, noted that Colombia remains the source of more than 90% of the
cocaine seized in the United States.
Several analysts maintain the record high levels may be stabilizing but have yet to decrease
significantly due to a number of factors. Causes for the record high in production may include a
peace accord commitment to pay peasant coca producers to voluntarily eradicate and shift to
alternative crops (which became an adverse incentive to expand cultivation) and the
government’s inability to assert control in areas once dominated by the Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia (FARC) following the guerril a organization’s demobilization. Many
observers argue that these complex causes require a sophisticated and integrated approach to
influence and reverse.141
Aerial spraying of il icit coca was a core feature of U.S.-Colombian counterdrug cooperation for
two decades. U.S. State Department officials attribute Colombia’s decline in coca cultivation
between 2007 and 2013 to the persistent aerial eradication of drug crops supplemented by manual
eradication where viable. Between 2009 and 2013, Colombia aerial y sprayed roughly 100,000
hectares annual y. In 2013, however, eradication efforts declined. Colombia aerial y eradicated
roughly 47,000 hectares. It manual y eradicated 22,120 hectares—short of the manual eradication
goal of 38,500 hectares. The reduction in aerial spraying was due to several causes: the U.S.-
supported spray program was suspended in October 2013 after two U.S. contract pilots were shot
down, rural protests in Colombia hindered manual and aerial eradication efforts, and security
chal enges limited manual eradicators working in border areas.

139 A hectare is about 2.5 acres.
140 White House, “ONDCP Reports Cocaine Production in Colombia is Leveling Off ,” June 26, 2019, at
141 “Cocaine Production in Colombia is at Historic Highs,” Economist, July 6, 2019; Vanda Felbab-Brown, Detoxifying
Colombia’s Drug Policy: Colombia’s Counternarcotics Options and their Impact on Peace and State Building,

Brookings Institution, January 2020.
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Figure A-1. Relationship of U.N. and U.S. Estimates of Coca Cultivation and Cocaine
Production in Colombia

Source: Government Accountability Office (GAO), U.S. Counternarcotics Assistance Achieved Some Results, But
State Needs to Review the Overal U.S. Approach
, GAO-19-106, December 2018.
In 2017, Colombia’s Constitutional Court decided to retain the suspension of the use of the
herbicide. President Duque ordered more extensive forced eradication of coca crops, but his
request to relaunch aerial spraying was not granted in 2019, which left the program’s future
unclear.142 However, because the court delegated to an executive-appointed national drug council

142 In July 2019, Colombia’s Constitutional Court rejected a request by President Duque to apply the herbicide
glyphosate for aerial eradication of coca.
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the authority to resolve the safety issues with regard to spraying and to assess mitigation efforts,
the program of glyphosate spraying ultimately may resume.143
USAID-funded alternative development programs in Colombia to assist with the transition from a
dependency on il icit crops to licit employment and livelihoods have seen mixed results.
Alternative development was once narrowly focused on crop substitution and assistance in
marketing and supportive infrastructure. A shift took place with the Colombian government’s
adoption of a “consolidation” strategy, and USAID worked to strengthen smal farmer producer
organizations, improve their productivity, and connect them to markets.
The sometimes poor and unsustainable outcomes from alternative development programs
conducted during the Colombian armed conflict resulted from ongoing insecurity and lack of
timeliness or sequencing of program elements, according to some observers. However, the
renewed commitment to alternative development and crop substitution in the 2016 FARC-
government peace accord also faces chal enges. Formal implementation of the peace accord on
drug eradication and crop substitution began in late May 2017, with collective agreements
committing communities to replace their coca crops with licit crops. In some regions, the program
is extended to families that cultivate coca and to producers of legal crops and landless
harvesters.144 The Colombian government also committed to a combined approach of both
voluntary and forced manual eradication. Some analysts contend that prioritizing voluntary
eradication coupled with robust alternative development sequenced over a longer time frame and
bolstered with wel -designed interdiction is the only sustainable route to diminish coca

143 “Colombia: Duque Opens Congress with Call for Action,” Latin News Weekly Report, July 25, 2019.
144 Juan Carlos Garzón-Vergara, Progress Report on Coca Crop Substitution in Colombia: Trends, Challenges and
Recom m endations
, Fundación Ideas para la Paz, 2017.
145 See, for example, Felbab-Brown, Detoxifying Colombia’s Drug Policy: Colombian’s Counternarcotics Options and
their Im pact on Peace and State Building,
Brookings Institution, January 2020.
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Appendix B. Selected Online Human Rights
Reporting on Colombia

Amnesty International
Committee to Protect
Human Rights Watch
Latin America Working
Programa Somos Defensores
(We Are Defenders
Transparency International
United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees
U.S. Department of State,
Country Report on Human
Rights Practices, 2019

Washington Office on Latin
America (WOLA)

Author Information

June S. Beittel

Analyst in Latin American Affairs

Research Assistant Rachel Martin provided diligent and expert research to update this report.
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