COLOMBIA: Half of EU Aid to Go Directly to Victims

Constanza Vieira

BOGOTA, Apr 16 2007 (IPS) - Half of Europe’s aid for Colombia over the next seven years will go directly to victims of the civil war and civil society organisations that provide them with assistance.

Half of Europe’s aid for Colombia over the next seven years will go directly to victims of the civil war and civil society organisations that provide them with assistance.

The European Union (EU) decision “is a political triumph for the victims,” Jorge Rojas, director of the Consultancy on Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES), a respected local human rights group, told IPS.

During her three-day visit to Colombia, which ends Tuesday, European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner announced that Colombia’s aid for the 2007-2013 period would be increased from a total of 105 million euros (142 million dollars) to 160 million euros (216 million dollars), for all of the EU programmes in Colombia.

The issues of greatest concern to the EU in Colombia are social cohesion, regional economic integration linked to competitiveness, the fight against drug trafficking, “and of course respect for human rights,” said the commissioner.

“As always, these programmes go on one hand towards the government but on the other towards the NGOs, civil society,” Ferrero-Waldner said in response to a question from IPS during a news briefing on Monday.

The proportion of aid that will go through the government and directly towards the communities and civil society is “fifty-fifty,” Adrianus Koetsenruijter, ambassador-chief of the European Commission team to Colombia and Ecuador, told IPS.

The EU is the world’s single largest aid donor, and Colombia is suffering the worst humanitarian crisis in the western hemisphere, with a decades-long armed conflict in which the state security forces and far-right paramilitaries are fighting leftist guerrillas.

Ferrero-Waldner outlined the three main areas of EU cooperation with Colombia.

The first is support for initiatives aimed at achieving peace, stability and social cohesion, including local and alternative development projects and assistance to those displaced by the violence and other victims, she said. “This is our top priority, towards which more or less 70 percent of our funds will go,” she explained.

The second is “support for the rule of law, justice and human rights, which will account for more or less 20 percent of our funds,” she said.

Ferrero-Waldner said that around 10 percent of the funds would go to the third area, “a new line” of economic cooperation, to boost competitiveness and integration.

The EU is interested in a free trade agreement with Colombia and other countries in the Andean region, but it wants a bloc-to-bloc accord, and is thus focusing on strengthening the Andean Community, made up of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Chile is also in the process of rejoining the trade bloc, while Venezuela is pulling out.

Alternative development is aimed at encouraging small farmers to abandon the cultivation of coca, the raw material for cocaine, of which Colombia is the world’s leading producer. Drug trafficking is now the main fuel for the war. Early this month, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice certified to Congress that Colombia’s government and armed forces are “fulfilling U.S. requirements on human rights,” which led to the release of 55 million dollars in military aid that had been frozen. Colombia is the third-largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the world, after Israel and Egypt. A large part of the European aid funds that will go towards the first area (peace, stability and alternative development) will focus on several regions in Colombia where the EU has been supporting, since 2001, activities in favour of reconciliation and peace, especially through the so-called “peace laboratories.”

The peace laboratories “seek alternatives to illicit crops, provide civic training in search of non-violent ways of living in communities, and support social cohesion,” Koetsenruijter told IPS.

Two peace laboratories are already functioning in areas that have been especially hard-hit by the violence, and Ferrero-Waldner announced the creation of a third, which will cover 33 municipalities in the province of Meta and the Montes de María region in the north of Colombia, and will receive more than 24 million euros (32 million dollars) in aid from the European Commission. “We can do a great deal with that,” said the commissioner.

She also announced an agreement with the government high adviser’s office for reintegration, in charge of the social reinsertion of demobilised members of paramilitary groups, which completed a partial demobilisation process last year as a result of negotiations with the government.

The accord “also foresees support for displaced Colombians (who number 3.8 million according to CODHES) as well as for the communities where the demobilised paramilitaries are resettled,” she added.

But it is not just a question of funds. “This is political support for the victims,” said Rojas. “It is a way of guaranteeing that the victims exercise their rights in the midst of the conflict, because there are no guarantees” for their safety.

Up to now, the largest proportion of international aid went to the Colombian state, through the presidential agency for social action and international cooperation.

“The government’s aid policy is based on a model that confuses victims with victimisers, which is the model followed by the agency for social action. The displaced and the demobilised members of paramilitary groups are all mixed in together, for example, and the victims are thus forced to live alongside those who filled them with terror,” said the activist, whose group, CODHES, is the leading source of information on the displaced.

While demobilised paramilitaries who have been assigned to resettle in specific communities receive psycho-social assistance from the government, the victims of the civil war do not, Frank Pearl, high adviser for social and economic reintegration, confirmed in a conversation with IPS.

“The EU is saying that not only the state should be supported, but victims’ organisations as well,” said Rojas. “This will give them a major role to play and will place them at the centre of the public debate.”

This recognition is important, “especially because we’re talking about sectors that have been socially fragmented, like trade unions and organisations of peasant farmers,” he said.

“The victims, but also society as a whole, require a greater effort in terms of psycho-social recuperation, which I believe must be understood in the EU. It is impossible to think about rebuilding the country, the nation, society, without addressing the effects” of the war on millions of people, Rojas argued.

“I think that is what the EU is focusing on, and I believe international aid could undergo a certain restructuring, or even a political earthquake,” he said.

“This is a triumph for the victims, a triumph for Colombian society,” he underlined.

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COLOMBIA: Half of EU Aid to Go Directly to Victims

Constanza Vieira

BOGOTA, Apr 16 2007 (IPS) - Half of Europe’s aid for Colombia over the next seven years will go directly to victims of the civil war and civil society organisations that provide them with assistance.

Republish | | Print |