U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Cartagena next week to attend the historic peace accord signing between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The ceremony on September 26 will officially put an end to more than a half-century of conflict that has killed some 220,000 people and displaced another seven million.
Even more importantly, Kerry announced this week that the United States will increase its financial support for the nation’s post-conflict process by allocating $36 million USD to demining efforts. Speaking at the Global Demining Initiative for Colombia in New York, he discussed seeing the damage firsthand while meeting with disabled military veterans in Bogotá who had lost limbs and talking to rural farmers whose children had been killed by landmines.
Until these areas are made safe, said the secretary, potentially valuable lands in many parts of the country will remain effectively unusable. “Demining is going to allow Colombia’s campesinos to reclaim valuable farmland for productive uses as an alternative to cocoa leaf production — land which is now off limits because of the existence of the landmines,” said Kerry.
Kerry also encouraged other nations to contribute, and Norway, which is co-chairing this demining initiative alongside the United States, has committed $22 million USD to landmine removal. Canada has also allotted $12.5 million USD, of its overall $57 million USD in support, to demining, and the European Union will kick in at least 2.7 million euros.
“Demining is an essential part of rebuilding in the wake of what has been this longest-running war,” said Kerry. “And more than 20 countries and the EU have joined the initiative. So we’d like to see more, especially in places where the Colombian government and the FARC have decided to work together — which in itself is a remarkable statement.”
The country has increased its efforts in recent years to remove the thousands of landmines that were laid over the past five decades. But the peace agreement with FARC becoming official is expected to create a more collaborative climate that should improve the process, as tedious as it will inherently continue to be.
With even more help from the guerrilla group to disclose mine locations, President Juan Manuel Santos has said that he hopes Colombia can be totally free of landmines by 2021. There have been at least 700 military personnel dedicated to demining in the past, and an influx of experts could push the effort to more than 10,000 people by next year. The total price tag could run more than $350 million USD, per the Miami Herald.
At least 11,000 people — including more than 4,000 civilians — have been killed or injured by landmines in Colombia since 1990, according to The Halo Trust, a nonprofit group that has been essential to demining efforts in Colombia and across the globe. In 2014 alone, 286 of 3,678 global mine victims recorded by the organization came from Colombia, making it the second-most mine-affected country in the world after Afghanistan.
Kerry previously traveled to Colombia in 2013 just months after taking office as secretary of state under President Barack Obama. He returned in December 2014 to discuss bilateral relations, including the peace process with FARC.
Photo Credit: U.S. State Department