Last Wednesday, over 40 internally displaced people gathered in a local Mennonite church to reflect on congressional movement regarding U.S. policy toward Colombia. According to the latest U.N. reports, Colombia now contains the second highest number of internally displaced people in the world—more than Iraq, and second only to Sudan. As victims, they are tired of war and discouraged by the preferential treatment for some victimizers: For every dollar given by the U.S. to help a victim of internal displacement, $50 goes to help a demobilized paramilitary combatant.
Safety and a life without fear are still far off for these victims, but recent achievements in Congress represent steps in the right direction. Nods, smiles, and lively responses affirmed that they speak to our distant hope. From the latest Latin America Working Group e-mail newsletter:

We are delighted to tell you resolution 426 for displaced Colombians has passed the House of Representatives. The resolution, first introduced by Rep. Jim McGovern, brings renewed attention to the plight of the many Colombians violently displaced from their communities while also recommending an increase in humanitarian aid. Increasing aid in this way will give internally displaced persons a real opportunity to rebuild their lives in a dignified manner. However, the passage of this resolution is only one of many victories for peace and justice in Colombia in recent weeks.
After many years of advocating for change, we are thrilled to report the positive new approach to Colombia has recently been approved by the full House of Representatives. …
The foreign aid bill cuts military aid to Colombia by $30 million while greatly increasing aid for poor farmers and victims. For example, Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities will receive $15 million in development aid planned in consultation with these communities.
The aid package aims to strengthen respect for human rights by providing judicial institutions with the resources they need to investigate abuses and collaboration with paramilitaries. Human rights conditions will now apply to 40 percent, not just 25 percent, of military aid in the bill.

Given the failure of aerial spraying to curb coca cultivation by even a single hectare in seven years, the House has also sensibly reduced funding for spray planes used to fumigate farms and increased aid for small farmers. It’s not perfect—but it’s a huge step in the right direction!
Now, we must shift our efforts to securing a positive new direction for Colombia on the Senate side. Since the foreign aid bill will be coming before the full Senate soon, now is the perfect time to contact your senator and ask them to support this new approach in aid to Colombia. Encourage them to provide greater assistance to help Colombia’s victims of violence, to strengthen the justice system, and to provide real economic alternatives to small farmers. We are on a roll—let’s keep the pressure on!

Janna Hunter-Bowman works for Mennonite Central Committee in Bogotá, Colombia, as the coordinator of the Documentation and Advocacy Program for Justapaz, the peace and justice ministry of the Colombian Mennonite Church.

More from Beliefnet and our partners