Despite some analysts claiming it has lost its middle power status and foreign policy relevance, Canada has been at the forefront of significant international peacemaking efforts in recent decades. Canada’s sustained efforts to support peace in Colombia—though not as glamourized as efforts made by the U.S., the Organization of American States (OAS), or other countries and organizations—are significant.
With Canada reaching its 70th year of formal diplomatic relations with Colombia, it is important to recognize its quiet contributions to the Andean country’s long peace and justice process. As stated in a public memo from Global Affairs Canada, Canada’s foreign policy goals in Colombia mainly relate to its security and political future, all strengthened through international assistance and commercial diplomacy. Canada’s efforts toward peace, justice, and democracy in Colombia have not changed. The country has provided direct and indirect foreign assistance to Colombia over the last five decades, hoping that such efforts, as put by former Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion said in a 2016 meeting in Cartagena, will “make peace stick.”
Canada has aimed to promote “growing mobility between [the] two countries,” through increasing bilateral ties since the start of Colombia’s civil conflict in the mid-1960s. Under Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau—who governed from 1968 to 1979 and from 1980 to 1984—Canada’s focus on diplomatic engagement contrasted with that of its U.S. counterparts. While the United States supported anti-communist activities, paramilitary groups, and governments against democratic regimes hostile to American commercial interests, Trudeau engaged with actors across the political-ideological spectrum. He created the Latin American Task Force, founded the Bureau of Western-Hemispheric Affairs, and joined the Organization of American States (OAS) as a permanent observer in 1972.
Beginning in 2004, the Canadian government, under both Prime Ministers Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau, mirrored former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s diplomatic approach to managing relations with Colombia. This was done through the organization of several official trips, the creation of bureaucratic structures, and the establishment of communication channels to support peace, justice, and engagement with Colombia. These institutions helped promote dialogue and diplomatic engagement with Colombia, advancing Canada’s role in the 2016 Peace Accords with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Another central objective was the cooperation on regional and multilateral issues, including within institutions and gatherings that facilitated cooperation and dialogue with partners.
As part of this effort, Canada became one of the main financiers, along with the United States, of the Organization of American States Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia (MAPP/OAS). The MAPP/OAS is tasked with “[fostering] peaceful coexistence, recognizing victims’ rights, and creating spaces conducive to reconciliation.” Additionally, Canada has provided various grants to MAPP/OAS, as well as to the United Nations (UN) Verification Mission in Colombia, and organized visits to their offices in Bogota. The MAPP/OAS and UN Verification Mission are essential to promoting multilateral dialogue within Colombia and to building lasting peace that includes all relevant actors and sectors of society. Relatedly, Canada’s Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program (ACCBP) provides financial support to these two institutions, reaching up to USD 4.4 million annually.
Canada has been actively working towards including human rights in Colombia’s peace process by raising the issue in every phase of the negotiation and reintegration process, including business, security, and political capacity-building. One example of that is Canada’s engagement with the non-governmental sector to work toward peace and justice and “creating economic opportunities for vulnerable populations” and “responding to humanitarian needs.” Canadian NGOs like Oxfam Québec, SOCODEVI, and Cuso International are working with the government to support civil society initiatives in conflict-affected regions of Colombia. Desjardins Bank has also granted loans to small business owners in conflict-affected areas of Colombia to promote economic growth.
The Canadian government, working with the Colombian Mine Action Authority (DAICMA), has cleared out over 57,000m² of minefields, provided 26 cleared minefields to local communities, and helped with the identification and mapping of another 21 minefields. With Colombia as the second most-affected country by anti-personnel mines, at least 27,000 people have directly benefitted from the mine clearance, and another 60,000 are looking to be re-integrated into their communities after the demining is completed.
Another foreign policy goal of Canada in Colombia is built around promoting gender equality and integration within the peace process. Women are a key part of the structure of many criminal armed groups in Colombia, most particularly the FARC. In partnership with ProFamilia, a Colombian NGO, the Canadian government has provided services for 9,069 girls and their families who were victims of gender-based violence. Colombia was also put as a “priority country” within Canada’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. This fits within Canada’s stated desire to pursue peace through civil society engagement, as well as “advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.”
Finally, Canada has looked to advance the peace process to foster democracy in Colombia by supporting peacebuilding efforts. To combat disenfranchisement, Canada has rhetorically and financially supported free and fair politics in Colombia. To do so, the Canadian government sent electoral observers in partnership with the OAS to Colombia and provide grants for public diplomacy and peacebuilding organizations through Global Affairs Canada. Additionally, Canada provided grants to NGOs, media organizations, academic institutions, and small businesses in Colombia. Moreover, Canada has built a Peace and Stabilization Operations Program (PSOP) that, since 2006, has “provided $40 million in funding to support peacebuilding efforts, with a focus on supporting the implementation of the 2016 Peace Agreement with the FARC.” The program is specifically focused on implementing the promises of the deal, including transitional justice and fighter reintegration. As a result of these efforts, Colombians have felt more included in the democratic process, and the demobilization of criminal armed forces became less costly and more efficient.
In conclusion, Canada has pursued an effective approach to peace and justice in Colombia, centered on advancing mutual security, as well as diplomatic, political, humanitarian, and commercial goals. Governments across the region should abandon power politics in Colombia in favor of government re-integration and mediation efforts. To help guarantee a successful transition to peace and a delivery of justice to millions of Colombians, the Canadian model in Colombia should be emulated by neighbors and partners, while efforts from the Canadian government continue to shape the peaceful relations between the two countries.
Joseph Bouchard is a journalist and analyst covering geopolitics, crime, and energy in Latin America. His articles have appeared in The Diplomat, The Brazilian Report, Mongabay, and London Politica. He is an MIA candidate at Carleton University in Ottawa.