May 31

This is the second of (probably) three posts presenting initial impressions of Colombia’s “Integrated Action” strategy and programs. The first post is here. These programs are being billed as the model for much future U.S. assistance to Colombia.

This post describes a late April visit to southwestern Meta department, where I saw the “Fusion Center” in Vistahermosa and went to Puerto Toledo, a town in Puerto Rico municipality within the center’s zone of operations. Here, I talk mainly about what I saw and heard. A more analytical post with observations about the strategy will follow this one.

This map, from the Colombian government’s road-building institute, shows the Vistahermosa-La Macarena zone’s proximity to Bogotá.
The Serranía de La Macarena.
The Vistahermosa Fusion Center.
Puerto Toledo.
Puerto Toledo.
School project bearing the Acción Social logo in Puerto Toledo.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the La Macarena “Fusion Center” zone is how close it is to Bogotá. This area, which has long been considered wild and ungoverned, lies only about four hours’ drive from Colombia’s capital. Its proximity may be a key reason why the project has become something of a showcase.

It hasn’t always been this way. As recently as the early 1990s, it took 12 hours just to do the first third of the trip, from Bogotá to Villavicencio, the capital of Meta Department and a city of nearly 300,000 people. Villavicencio is the gateway to Colombia’s llanos, a vast stretch of savannah that incorporates much of Meta department – including the “Fusion Center” zone – as well as Guaviare, Casanare, Arauca, and Vichada departments.

Until the completion of a series of tunnels, bridges and highway improvements in the 1990s and early 2000s, the llanos were cut off from the rest of the country by the very difficult geography of Colombia’s eastern Andean mountain range. The area began to be settled in earnest during the middle of the 20th century, but its inaccessibility, and the central government’s absence, left it lawless and violent.

It now takes only two hours to get to Villavicencio, on a road that passes through Bogotá’s vast southern slums and then through the Sumapaz region, a páramo or high plain that spent decades under strong FARC influence. As little as seven years ago, those who traveled Sumapaz by road risked being kidnapped for ransom by the FARC’s 53rd Front, commanded by Henry Castellanos, alias “Romaña,” who helped pioneer the guerrilla practice of “pescas milagrosas,” or “miraculous fishing” for motorists who might be wealthy kidnap victims. While Romaña remains at large, the FARC presence in Sumapaz has been greatly reduced since a 2003 military offensive pushed them away from the main road and out of town centers. A FARC attempt to reposition itself in the zone was turned back in early March of this year.

South of Villavicencio, a very recently paved two-lane road speeds through towns whose names are synonymous with the violent 20th-century colonization of the llanos. During the “Violencia” of the 1950s, San Martín, Granada, and El Castillo were under the dominion of Liberal Party warlords like Dúmar Aljure and Guadalupe Salcedo. (This part of Colombia figures prominently in Alfredo Molano’s 1989 oral history Siguendo el Corte.) These roadside towns fell under strong FARC influence until the 1990s, when a campaign of paramilitary violence, mainly directed at civilians, largely cleared the FARC out of the area between Villavicencio and the Ariari River.

The paramilitaries who came to dominate the area between Villavicencio and Granada fought each other frequently. The first was Héctor Buitrago, alias “Martín Llanos,” who remains a fugitive today. Buitrago fought and lost a bloody 2003-2004 war with the “Centaurs Bloc” of Carlos Castaño and Salvatore Mancuso’s United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which at the time was supposedly engaged in a cease-fire and peace talks with the Uribe government.

Miguel Arroyave, the head of the Centaurs Bloc and a noted narcotrafficker, was strongly interested in expanding large-landholder agriculture in Meta. Arroyave owned vast cattle ranches and enthusiastically promoted the planting of African oil palms, a biofuel crop that many in Meta still associate with him. Both cattle and oil palms are very much in evidence along the main road.

Arroyave was killed by his own men in 2004. One of the assassins, Pedro Oliveiro Guerrero, alias “Cuchillo,” has since steadily expanded his power in much of Meta and Guaviare departments. He has done so in part by striking up alliances with other narcotraffickers, such as Daniel “El Loco” Barrera, and with the FARC, who are reputed to be one of Cuchillo’s frequent narco business associates. Cuchillo now has great influence, but generally low visibility, from Vichada to Guaviare into Villavicencio. Though President Uribe has ordered the security forces to capture the fugitive warlord, they have been unable to do so.

South and southwest of Granada, the paramilitary influence wanes. The road, paved within the past 3 years, remains excellent all the way to Vistahermosa. About 3 1/2 hours from Bogotá, a tall mountain range rises sharply from the llanos: the Serranía de la Macarena, an unusual geological formation that anchors the La Macarena National Park.

This area has been a FARC stronghold for a very long time. It falls within the borders of the “despeje” or clearance zone from which Colombia’s security forces pulled out between 1998 and 2002, giving the guerrillas uncontested dominion over five municipalities (counties), including Vistahermosa and La Macarena. On the western side of the La Macarena range is La Uribe municipality, the birthplace of FARC military boss Jorge Briceño (”El Mono Jojoy“), and the location of the FARC’s “Casa Verde” headquarters during a failed 1980s cease-fire and peace process.

The good road ends in Vistahermosa, county seat of the municipality of the same name. After that, weather permitting, the drive to La Macarena, the next county seat to the south, would take at least six hours on a poor dirt road.

For decades, including the 1998-2002 “despeje” period, the FARC ruled this town openly. Guerrillas walked the streets, settled disputes, enforced their own laws, levied taxes, and encouraged a thriving coca trade. As late as 2004-2005, the FARC’s control was reportedly so complete that people not only had guerrilla-issued ID cards, even their horses were required to have a carnet de caballo.

In 2004 and 2005, a large-scale, U.S.-supported military offensive in southern Colombia, known as “Plan Patriota,” swept through this zone. The offensive pushed the guerrillas out of the mostly small town centers of municipalities like Vistahermosa, leaving behind contingents of soldiers and police. Plan Patriota was not an example of “Integrated Action”: it was accompanied by almost no non-military effort.

The guerrilla reaction to Plan Patriota was to retreat, up to a point. The FARC left the town centers but remained in significant numbers in the countryside, amid the coca fields. The guerrillas continue to launch ambushes and attacks, including occasional attacks on civilian and military targets in the towns; to lay landmines; to forcibly recruit members, many of them children; and to make road travel dangerous.

The town center of Vistahermosa, however, today bears no sign of guerrillas. The military and police presence is heavy, with a very active joint base alongside the main road at the entrance to the town. Recent crop eradication offensives have weakened an economy that had become quite dependent on coca, and the town looks less prosperous, with quite a few storefronts shuttered.

The military base at the entrance to Vistahermosa is home to the Fusion Center, which since early 2009 coordinates the government agencies carrying out the stabilization and consolidation effort in Vistahermosa, La Macarena, and parts of eight other municipalities in Meta and Caquetá departments.

The center itself is an underwhelming site: a cluster of FEMA-style containers outfitted as offices. A plaque reads:

Integrated Fusion Center
Vistahermosa (Meta)
Built by the
Military Forces of Colombia
With the Support of the
Military Group of the Embassy of
The United States of America
December 2008

The center lies alongside the landing zone of the base, which was remarkably active on the day I visited, with police and army Blackhawks and Hueys constantly taking off and landing, loading and unloading dozens of soldiers outfitted for combat with packs and rifles at the ready. The deafening chopper noise made the base’s level of activity obvious to anyone living in the town of Vistahermosa, including students at the school across the road. It also made outdoor conversation at the Fusion Center impossible.

While the center bustled with personnel from all of Colombia’s military services, I only saw three civilian government representatives during my stop at the Fusion Center. Though that of course is indicative of nothing, the impression left was that of a military operation with a handful of civilians attached to it.

Our plan was to visit Puerto Toledo, about 35 miles to the east, more than two hours away by road. I would be traveling with two Colombian NGO colleagues and the National Parks Service official who appears in the brief video interview posted earlier this month. As it turned out, road travel was made impossible by high recent levels of guerrilla activity in the area. This was unexpected, given official rhetoric that “these regions, which used to be refuges for terrorism and narcotrafficking, have been recovered for peace.” During the time we were in Puerto Toledo, in fact, the soldiers on the edge of town told us that guerrillas had attacked some coca eradicators only two kilometers away. The precarious security situation in the countryside meant that we had to make the very short trip to Puerto Toledo in an Army helicopter.

The countryside we flew over was flat territory full of swamps and rivers. It appeared mostly uninhabited, with only a few tiny hamlets, the occasional house, and most land uncultivated. Much of the agricultural activity visible from the air was cattle ranching and African oil palm cultivation, most of it looking very recently planted.

The soldiers left us about a half-mile outside of town, and we walked the rest of the way unaccompanied. Puerto Toledo, perhaps ten blocks square along the Güéjar River, was a major coca market town when the FARC held uncontested dominion over the area. Now, one’s first impression while walking the town’s dusty streets is, “This place is empty.” Very few people are out on the streets and sidewalks, and very little is open for business.

Only a few years ago, I was told, Puerto Toledo had dozens of discos, bars and brothels open at all hours, where residents from throughout the area would gather to spend their easy coca profits. All of the discos are now closed. Today, it is hard to imagine the streets booming with salsa, vallenato and American pop music. Puerto Toledo is very quiet.

One of the former discos in the middle of town has been converted into the local office the National Park Service, which is carrying out an effort to move hundreds of coca-growing families out of the La Macarena park and fringe areas around the park, along with the eradication of their coca, in exchange for assistance with housing, land titles, productive projects and food-security assistance.

The Park Service project office is one of the only visible signs that Colombia’s civilian state has moved into Puerto Toledo. The town center is under solid military control (though the FARC set off a bomb in the town center a few months ago), but there is not even a police station yet. The main civilian projects I heard about were the repainting and refurbishment of the bridge over the Güéjar River, improvements to the town school, and some improvements to roads outside of town.

At the Park Service office, I met with leaders of AgroGüéjar, an organization of small-holding farmers from several veredas (hamlets) in Puerto Rico municipality. The organization represents 300 families, residents of seven veredas, who have agreed with the Park Service to relocate away from the transition zone around the La Macarena Park. In exchange, they are receiving land titles, houses, and technical assistance with productive projects.

Theirs is a very instructive story of what happens when a government tries to work with citizens who have simply never known life under a government. Residents of this area have lived alongside guerrillas for their entire lives, but still have a manifest desire to have the state present in their territory, and to feel connected to the rest of Colombia. But they also have a very deep distrust of a state that has always been absent, never honored its past commitments, and may prove unable to protect them.

“We didn’t come here for coca. We were displaced,” is how one leader introduced the group. Like nearly all farmers in southern Colombia’s “agricultural frontier” zones, the residents of Puerto Toledo and its environs had arrived within the past generation, pushed out from elsewhere by violence or drawn by economic opportunity – often illicit economic opportunity.

Many of the most recent arrivals, they said, had come from the municipality of Miraflores, in the neighboring department of Guaviare. At the time an area of heavy coca cultivation, Miraflores, discussed in this post from last year, was a principal zone of operations for the “Plan Patriota” military offensive in 2004-2005. The offensive and accompanying coca eradication caused a sharp depopulation – one estimate is from 20,000 to 10,000 people. But the Colombian government had no idea where the people who left Miraflores went. Many, apparently, went to Puerto Toledo.

The leaders of AgroGüéjar insisted that their organization’s farmers want to stop growing the illegal crop, and have said for years that they are willing to eradicate, if the government would make the investments in infrastructure and basic services necessary for a legal economy to exist.

They told a story rife with frustration. AgroGüéjar has its origins among participants in a self-financed organic produce cooperative that formed in 2004, in part because increased eradication after the 2002 end of the demilitarized zone was making coca harder to grow. The cooperative had its crops sprayed and lost its investment.

Its members protested to anti-narcotics authorities and arrived at an agreement stating that, in exchange for aid, they would voluntarily eradicate all coca in three veredas. The agreement included a three-month deadline to eradicate one-third of their coca, after which economic assistance would begin to arrive. An accord was signed, but fumigation planes flew over their communities the very day that it was to begin implementation. The cooperative’s members “decided to shut off all contact with state institutions.”

AgroGüéjar formed in 2006, after the Colombian government, backed by the United States, began a major campaign of manual eradication – and later, fumigation – in the La Macarena park. Arguing that “we are hungry,” it led a 29-day march to Bogotá to demand government investment.

“The only government agency that responded to us,” I was told, “was the National Park Service.” The first response was a very modest food-security project, which AgroGüéjar, intensely distrustful, limited to 50 families. The Park Service complied with its commitments, however, and the organization quickly agreed to expand participation to 300 families.

The Park Service received a large grant for the relocation project from the Colombian Presidency’s Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, which together with funds from the Meta governor’s office (flush with oil revenues), USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives and the government of the Netherlands, has added up to about US$5 million. (See page 9 of this 2007 report [PDF].) The families are to receive titled plots of land, with prefabricated houses. The Park Service is also offering technical assistance with several productive projects, forming cooperatives to produce and market several products that the communities have selected. A beekeeping project, which is getting technical support from Colombia’s National University, may be the most advanced.

The AgroGüéjar representatives had kind words for the demonstration projects that had been completed in and around Puerto Toledo, such as the refurbished bridge, the construction of a new school classroom, and minor road improvements. Quick projects like these seek to make a high-profile display of the government’s presence when, in USAID’s words, “the potential for political impact is the greatest.”

While these programs are welcome, the local leaders said, “Our biggest concern is the income of our families.” Larger projects, like paving farm-to-market roads or building bridges, electricity grids, clean water or communication networks, appear to be far off. In fact, the poor state of the region’s roads and bridges has complicated things for the Park Service. Efforts to deliver construction materials for promised houses have been stymied by delivery trucks’ inability to cross rivers on the narrow, rickety bridges that exist in the area.

Another type of demonstration project has been offered but declined: the Colombian Army’s “health brigades” in which doctors, and sometimes veterinarians, visit an area offering free checkups and medical care. These brigades feature free haircuts and food, along with clowns handing out toys to the children. Puerto Toledo has turned down an Army health brigade visit because of “who comes after”: guerrillas angered by the community’s perceived welcoming of the security forces.

The AgroGüéjar leaders told of some frustrating experiences with the Fusion Center and its predecessor, the Macarena Integrated Consolidation Plan (PCIM). During a seven or eight month period in 2007 and 2008, they said, the communities were subject to constant forced manual eradication of their coca, but received no other assistance, not even basic food-security aid. As a result, they said, “the eradicators had to keep eradicating plots that they had already eradicated before.” Even when commitments for aid had been made, its arrival was slow. “By the time the corn seeds arrived, we could have had ears of corn already.”

Similar delay has also been widely denounced in the case of land titling, which so far has been an exceedingly slow and unresponsive process here and elsewhere in the Fusion Center zone. The lag time for aid, titling, and similar efforts appears to be the result of bureaucracy, lack of coordination and civilian agencies’ inaction – the very problems that the “Fusion” and “Integrated Action” strategies are purportedly designed to address.

A particularly frustrating experience began in August 2008, when 280 campesino leaders from the area gathered in Puerto Toledo to formulate a proposal for voluntary eradication and development assistance to present to the PCIM. They came to a consensus on the proposal and presented it formally in October.

For the Colombian government, this overture should have been regarded as an important opportunity to achieve a “consolidation” goal. Representatives of thousands of people who had lived their entire lives with the FARC were asking the Colombian state to play a greater role and to help them.

The PCIM responded by furnishing the leaders with an application form laying out an agreement for assistance. But the form had some troubling wording, which required several back-and-forth exchanges. The initial version of the form required the communities to affirm that they were “asking for the security forces to be present” in the area. Obviously, if the FARC were to learn that they had signed such a document, the leaders’ lives would be in grave danger. They demanded that the document be altered.

In January of this year, the leaders sent the PCIM a counter-proposal. They received an e-mail reply in March communicating to them that their document was acceptable, but that the PCIM  no longer had resources in its budget to carry out the agreement.

The communities’ remarkable approach to the government had effectively been rebuffed, at least for now. As a result, one leader put it, “We lost seven months, while eradication continues, and there are still no roads.”

Despite these frustrations, the balance of the National Parks-AgroGüéjar experience so far remains positive. The communities participating in the project have eradicated 2,000 hectares of coca, an amount equal to (if the new UNODC figures are correct) about one-fortieth of all coca grown in Colombia. This is the largest example of voluntary coca eradication I have ever heard of in Colombia.

In addition, communities in a longtime guerrilla and narco stronghold are now looking to the state for assistance, associating themselves with a state agency (National Parks), and want the state – at least through this project – to increase its presence beyond the seven veredas of Puerto Rico municipality that are involved to date. (Puerto Rico has 22 veredas.)

Even without the added element of a guerrilla insurgency, overcoming distrust is one of the most difficult challenges faced when establishing a government presence where none has existed. It requires keeping your word. It requires listening to critiques and consulting frequently with the population.

It is remarkable that the Vistahermosa-La Macarena region’s town centers have no overt FARC presence. It is remarkable that groups like Agrogüéjar, though still intensely suspicious, are showing themselves open to working with their government. But this is just a first step, and it will be easily reversed if the non-military component falls through. Hopes are being raised here. The Colombian government cannot afford to disappoint.

May 26

This is the first of what will be a series of at least three posts presenting some initial impressions of Colombia’s “Integrated Action” doctrine and programs. These programs are important: they represent the Uribe government’s view – or at least the view of key officials in the Uribe government – of what the country’s future military and counternarcotics strategies should look like. They also appear to be the template for future U.S. assistance to Colombia, as aid packages become smaller and less military over the next several years.

Just a few quick disclaimers before diving in.

  • The following analysis is based on documentary research, many interviews, and travel to one of the zones where this new model is being carried out. But we’re not done yet. One reason this is appearing on our blog and not in a published report is that we’re not done with our research phase yet. We plan to have a proper report out in September.
  • For now, our research is nowhere near complete. The program we are analyzing is still quite incipient, and the situation is fluid. Different sources are telling us often wildly different things. As a result, between now and September, we may end up rescinding or strongly altering some of the observations that appear below. We present them here for discussion, and in the hope that they will open more doors to dialogue with analysts, officials and practitioners.
  • We should make clear that despite strong concerns, we do not oppose this model outright, as we did with Plan Colombia. The 2000 and subsequent aid packages – with their mostly military approach, their neglect of governance, and their reliance on eradication without development aid – never made sense to us. The new “Integrated Action” model, at least as a concept, does more to reflect basic realities and incorporate many strategies that we have been advocating for years.
  • However, we do not know enough yet to say we support the model. While the concept and intent appear sound, both could be badly undermined by poor execution. Militarization, poor coordination, politicization or human-rights abuse are just four of many examples of issues that could cause these complex efforts to go disastrously wrong.
  • Our goals, then, are to (1) Learn as much as we can about what is being done, especially what is being done with U.S. support; (2) Evaluate what is working and what isn’t; (3) Warn about problems with the programs’ execution that could do grave damage if not corrected; (4) Praise and support the components of the program that are doing innovative and promising work; and (5) Make recommendations for how the model and its execution should be altered, and how U.S. support should change, to achieve a good outcome and avoid doing damage. At this point, we not at all prepared to begin point (5).

The rest of this first post tries to lay out the basics of exactly what it is we’re analyzing here: the “Integrated Action” model of counter-insurgency – or, as others seek to define it, of state-building and governance in long-neglected areas. In subsequent posts, I will share a bit of what I saw during a late April visit to one of the main “Integrated Action” zones, and then offer a few preliminary observations, critiques, warnings, and the occasional kind word.

What is “Integrated Action?”

It is a set of new Colombian government programs that have gone under many names in the past few years. These include Plan Colombia 2, Plan Colombia Consolidation Phase, Social Recovery of Territory (or Social Control of Territory), the National Consolidation Plan, the Center for the Coordination of Integrated Action (CCAI), or the “Strategic Leap.”

Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s defense minister until last week, offered this definition: “It means state institutions’ entry or return to zones affected by violence to satisfy the population’s basic needs, like health, education and public services, as well as justice, culture, recreation and infrastructure projects.”

The underlying idea is that Colombia’s historically neglected rural areas will only be taken back from illegal armed groups if the entire government is involved in “recovering” or “consolidating” its presence in these territories. While the military and police must handle security, the doctrine contends that the rest of the government must be brought into these zones in a quick, coordinated way.

This is a response to many past frustrations. Even as they saw their size nearly double and budget nearly triple during the 2000s, Colombia’s security forces found that they could chase guerrillas out of territory – often with large, costly military offensives – but they could not keep the guerrillas from returning after they deployed elsewhere. Similarly, drug eradication programs sprayed tens of thousands of campesinos’ crops, increasing anger at the government in guerrilla-controlled zones. In a vacuum of governance, however, coca replanting easily kept up with the increased eradication.

In response to these frustrations, the “Integrated Action” doctrine began emerging around 2004 and rose to prominence by 2006. The new rhetoric appeared to incorporate many of the arguments and suggestions of Plan Colombia’s critics: that the effort shouldn’t be entirely military; that social services are important; that forced eradication without aid will do harm; that populations should be consulted.

“Integrated Action” also dovetails with rapidly evolving U.S. counter-insurgency theories, as embodied by Gen. David Petraeus’s new Army Counter-Insurgency Field Manual [PDF] or the work of scholars and advisors like David Kilcullen, who recommends [PDF] “A comprehensive approach that closely integrates civil and military efforts,” “timeliness and reliability in delivering on development promises,” and “careful cueing of security operations to support development and governance activities, and vice versa.”

The doctrine originated in the U.S. Southern Command and Colombia’s Defense Ministry. Together, they developed an entity called the Center for Coordination of Integrated Action (CCAI), a sort of coordination body that is now within the Colombian Presidency’s Social Action office. (Social Action, which does not operate out of a cabinet ministry, is a large, well-funded presidential initiative that manages several direct subsidy, humanitarian aid, and alternative development programs. Its critics charge that much of its aid is short-term handouts that verge on clientelism.)

The CCAI seeks to coordinate the entry of fourteen state institutions, including the military, the judiciary, and cabinet departments, into parts of Colombia considered to have been “recovered” from armed groups’ control.

A recent paper from the U.S. Army War College [PDF] contends that the CCAI structure came from a U.S. military proposal.

Following a suggestion from U.S. Southern Command, President Alfonso [sic.] Uribe created the Coordinating Center for Integrated Action (CCAI) and made it his vehicle to achieve the required unity of effort to defeat the insurgency.

… [T]he Civil Affairs section of the SOUTHCOM operations directorate proposed an initiative to establish a Colombian interagency organization “capable of synchronizing national level efforts to reestablish governance” in areas that had been under FARC, ELN, or AUI control. Civil Affairs officers attached to the MILGP [U.S. Embassy Military Group] in Colombia presented the concept to the Minister of Defense who liked it and made it the basis for his proposal to President Uribe in February 2004.

… CCAI’s first major planning activity was a senior leader seminar and planning session held from May 8-10, 2004, which developed an  economic, social development, and security plan to reestablish long-term governance in southern Colombia.

… Implementation of this plan was sufficiently successful that planning was expanded to address a full seven conflictive zones throughout the country. This plan was addressed at an off-site planning session in Washington at the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies from March 28-31, 2005.

In thirteen presumably “recovered” zones throughout the country, the CCAI follows a sequenced and phased strategy that, on paper at least, begins with military operations, moves into quick social and economic-assistance efforts to win the population’s support, and is to end up with the presence of a functioning civilian government and the withdrawal of most military forces. “The process begins with the provision of security and is followed by voluntary and forced coca eradication, the establishment of police posts, and the provision of civilian government social services, including a judiciary,” explains a late 2008 USAID report.

The CCAI considers different territories to be in different phases of “consolidation,” and thus requiring different combinations of military and non-military investment. The schematic looks something like this:

Source: Colombian Ministry of Defense [PDF].

  1. Territorial Control phase: areas with active presence of illegal armed groups. Intense military effort to expel the armed groups.
  2. Territorial Stabilization phase: areas under control, but in process of institutional recovery. Intense military and police effort to keep order while seeking to attract other state institutions to the zone.
  3. Territorial Consolidation phase: areas stabilized. Intense political and social effort to establish state institutions and public services.

Most CCAI-managed projects so far appear to be oriented toward the Stabilization (yellow) phase, where some civilian activity is going on alongside the security forces’  large-scale security and coca-eradication effort. Communities are gathered at assemblies, where they choose income-generating projects. Local government officials are getting technical assistance. Judicial and prosecutorial authorities are entering zones, though their initial focus often seems to be prosecuting suspected guerrillas and collaborators. Infrastructure-building or repair activities, many of them quick demonstration projects, are proceeding significantly, mainly in the safer town centers. The goal is to win local communities’ trust and support – though of course forced eradication, human rights abuse or prosecutorial zeal risk increasing communities’ suspicion.

The CCAI is conceived as an inter-agency body. But because it originated in the Defense Ministry, and because the “Territorial Control” and “Territorial Stabilization” phases call for a large military role, the CCAI in fact includes heavy military participation and is under significant military leadership. A March 2009 Defense Ministry directive [PDF] places the CCAI under the leadership of a Consejo Directivo (Directive Council) whose members come almost entirely from the state security forces.

The CCAI Directive Council will be made up of the Ministry of National Defense, the Commander-General of the Armed Forces, the Director-General of the National Police, the High Counselor of the Presidential Agency for Social Action and International Cooperation, the Director of the DAS [Administrative Security Department, or presidential intelligence and secret police], and the Prosecutor-General of the Nation. [Of this list, only Social Action and the Prosecutor-General are not security officials.]

Other, non-military, government bodies belong to a CCAI Comité Ejecutivo (Executive Committee), which does not play the same leadership role. This committee includes the civilian ministries of Agriculture, Social Protecction, Interior and Justice, Education, Mines and Energy, Transportation and Environment, Housing and Development, as well as the presidential planning department, the family welfare institute, the national technical training service, the sports agency and the civil registry. The CCAI also includes local civilian officials, particularly governors and mayors, in its zones of operation. But the military role appears to be paramount.

The “Integrated Action” model built momentum in 2006, as Álvaro Uribe began his second term and Juan Manuel Santos became his defense minister. Santos and a key vice-minister, Sergio Jaramillo, sought to attract resources and political support to the model they helped to develop. In March 2009, only two months before leaving office, Santos sought to brand the CCAI and the Integrated Action framework as part of a “Strategic Leap” (Salto Estratégico) toward, in his view, bringing Colombia’s conflict to a definitive end.

Earlier this year, with U.S. support, Colombia’s defense ministry established two “Fusion Centers.” The first is in and around the La Macarena National Park in Meta department, about 150 miles due south of Bogotá in what, between 1998 and 2002, was part of the zone temporarily ceded to the FARC for talks with the guerrillas. The other is in the Montes de María region southwest of Cartagena on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

These facilities’ purpose, explained Santos [PDF], is “to replicate at the local level the interagency coordination effort that occurs at the national level in bodies like the CCAI.” The Fusion Center is an office in the “consolidation” zone with “a military coordinator, a police coordinator and a civilian manager. This manager, who reports to the CCAI, is charged with administrating and supervising the implementation of plans in coordination with local and regional authorities.”

La Macarena is the first Fusion Center, and the one I visited in April (and will discuss in later posts). A zone that has been under solid FARC control for decades, it has been a principal focus of “Integrated Action” since 2007, when the Defense Ministry instituted a special “Consolidation Plan for La Macarena” (PCIM) to coordinate activities in the zone.

Here is a sampling of what some generally supportive outside voices have been saying about the La Macarena project.

  • Friday’s Washington Post: “Under the Integrated Consolidation Plan for the Macarena, named after a national park west of here, the military first drove out guerrillas and other armed groups. In quick sequence, engineers and work crews, technicians, prosecutors, social workers and policy types arrived, working in concert to transform a lawless backwater into something resembling a functioning part of Colombia.”
  • Colombia’s Semana magazine, current issue: “In three years, 191 billion pesos [about US$80 million] have been invested in infrastructure projects, especially highways like the paving that will connect the towns of San Juan de Arama and La Uribe, and several tertiary roads.”
  • U.S. General Accounting Office, October 2008 report: “If successful, the approach in La Macarena is intended to serve as a model for similar CCAI efforts in 10 other regions of the country. It represents a key test of the government’s enhanced state presence strategy and a potential indicator of the long-term prospects for reducing Colombia’s drug trade by systematically re-establishing government control throughout the country.”

The U.S. Agency for International Development has generously supported the La Macarena program since March 2007. The main funding channels have been USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), which carries out rapid, short-term projects in crisis situations and plans to leave Colombia in 2010, and the Defense Department’s so-called “Section 1207″ authority (named for the section of the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act, which created it), which allows the Pentagon to transfer some of its budget to the State Department for development projects. The Dutch government supports a food-security and rural development program in the same area.

My best estimate (which could be off) of funding directly through OTI, including 2009, is about $6 million. Section 1207 has likely provided another $14-19 million. It is not clear how much more has come from other sources, such as USAID’s “regular” Colombia budget, Southern Command’s operational funds, or the Defense Department’s counter-narcotics programs.

USAID-OTI manages an “Initial Governance Response Program” whose mission is to “work with CCAI to deliver quick-impact activities in the short term to build trust between the government and vulnerable communities and to establish a foundation for longer term socioeconomic recovery and growth.” While OTI supports training programs, planning processes, technical support and publicity strategies, the “quick-impact” projects are the most visible aspect of U.S. aid in the CCAI-PCIM-Fusion Center in La Macarena. Many of these projects – soccer fields, playgrounds, renovations and repainting of existing infrastructure – appear to do more to build confidence in the Colombian state’s incipient presence than meet residents’ basic socioeconomic needs.

This program’s supporters are increasingly touting it as a model of state-building and counterinsurgency that will guide the future of U.S. aid to Colombia and could be replicated elsewhere. “Colombia’s government may have found a remedy palatable to a Democratic-led U.S. Congress not only interested in emphasizing social development over military aid for this country but also looking for solutions to consider in Afghanistan,” writes Juan Forero in last Friday’s Washington Post. Adds USAID:

The consolidation plan is now widely seen in Colombia as the model for creating the conditions necessary for sustained establishment of a state presence in formerly ungoverned parts of the country. The GOC is basing its still-to-be-finalized national consolidation strategy on the unified consolidation plan that OTI has supported. Similarly, lessons learned during plan implementation are being used to help shape the U.S. Embassy’s new embassy-wide strategy as well as the USAID Mission’s revised strategy.

Colombia’s now-former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, even thinks that the “Integrated Action” model should be pursued in Afghanistan, and said so at a joint press conference earlier this year in Bogotá with Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

This concept applied in Afghanistan is something that could really help. And we have particular experiences, like crop eradication, like the integrated fight against trafficking whereby we go after every link in the chain. In Afghanistan there are some jobs that are more important or less important than those that we have here, but the concept is applicable there. It is in this way that we think our experience could contribute in some way to solving the problem in Afghanistan or the problem in Iraq.

Non-governmental critics of the model have expressed strong concerns about the military’s dominant role and the likelihood – or reality – of human rights abuses. The Colombian human rights group MINGA is an example [PDF]:

The main risk of this strategy is that it is being developed in zones with high levels of confrontation and armed-group presence, where the civilian population is viewed as being at the service of the armed forces (with the risk implied by tying civilian non-combatants to any of the armed groups), in which civilian subordination to military power is in evidence. … It can be said that, in this model, mayors and council members don’t work mainly for the civilian population, but instead respond to military coordination in the main issues of local governance. Among these are the distribution of food, emergency assistance, health and vaccination services, school recreation activities and training courses given by military personnel.

Adds Garry Leech of the Colombia Journal website:

The PCIM’s strategy appears to be as much about counterinsurgency as it is about counternarcotics and social and economic development. Furthermore, the counterinsurgency component of the PCIM has been linked to human rights violations. Local peasants and human rights defenders claim that the Colombian army has worked in collusion with right-wing paramilitaries in its effort to consolidate control over the region.

This rather confusing and often vague picture is, by and large, what we know so far about the “Integrated Action” doctrine and the strategies it has implemented. We need to know more in order to evaluate it properly. To do so, CIP staff is visiting at least two sites where Fusion Centers or CCAI programs exist, including the two that the United States has most generously funded: La Macarena and Montes de María.

We paid a visit to the La Macarena zone a month ago, spending a day in Vistahermosa – site of the “Fusion Center” – and the nearby village of Puerto Toledo. That visit will be the subject of the next post.

May 20

The House has passed, and the full Senate has begun to take up, a bill appropriating new money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and by extension, Pakistan), among other priorities. Congress expects to send the bill to the White House before the end of the week, when it goes into a weeklong recess for the Memorial Day holiday.

  • The House bill is H.R. 2346.
  • The Senate bill is S. 1054.
  • The Obama administration’s April 9 request is here (PDF).

The two chambers’ bills would also give significant new aid to Mexico this year. However, each bill’s Mexico provisions are wildly different. Here is a comparison.


  • The Obama administration had requested $66 million in additional 2009 assistance to Mexico through the State Department’s International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement program (INCLE), which funds both military and economic aid efforts.
  • The bill passed by the House of Representatives goes well beyond this request. It would provide Mexico with $470 million: $160 million in INCLE funding and $310 million in military and police aid through Foreign Military Financing (FMF), the main non-drug military aid program in the foreign aid budget. If the House version of the bill is approved, Mexico would surpass Colombia as the Western Hemisphere’s number-one recipient of U.S. military and police aid in 2009.

The House Appropriations Committee’s report describes how this additional money would be spent:

In order to facilitate and sustain the difficult task undertaken by the Mexican government, the Committee is accelerating the provision of Merida program funding. In addition to the $66,000,000 requested for the purchase of three UH-60 `Black Hawk’ transport helicopters for the Secretariat of Public Security (SSP), the Committee is providing an additional $94,000,000 in INCLE funding and $310,000,000 in FMF funding. The additional INCLE funding for Mexico is intended for such items as forensics and nonintrusive inspection equipment, computers, training and fixed and rotary wing aircraft.

… [FMF] funds are available to expand aviation support for Mexico. In support of a continued cooperative partnership with Mexico, the Committee recommendation provides funding for the final three surveillance planes (CASA 235) and for medium lift maritime transport helicopters (HH-60). The Committee notes that the provision of such additional equipment in an expedited fashion will greatly assist the Mexican government by enhancing the air transport ability and maritime aerial surveillance of the Mexican Navy (SEMAR) to conduct counternarcotics, and counterterrorism operations.

  • The bill passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee provides exactly what the Obama administration asked for: $66 million in INCLE funds for Mexico.

Human rights conditionality

In February, Congress passed the bill governing the regular foreign aid budget for 2009. Aid to Mexico’s security forces in that bill includes human rights safeguards. Section 7045(e) holds up 15 percent of this aid pending a State Department certification that Mexico’s human rights performance is improving according to four criteria. The Obama administration’s request makes no recommendation about whether these conditions should also apply to the supplemental 2009 aid.

  • The House bill, however, contains specific language exempting the $470 million in aid to Mexico from the human rights conditions. The committee report language argues that the human rights language must be lifted in order “to ensure the expeditious delivery of this equipment to Mexico.” This would set a very troubling precedent for aid to Colombia and elsewhere, where human rights conditions have been an important tool to exercise leverage against impunity for abusers.
  • The Senate bill, by contrast, makes no mention of the conditions, and would leave them in place.

Border security fund

  • The administration’s request and the House version of the supplemental bill both include a provision allowing the Defense Department to spend $350 million “for counternarcotics and other activities including assistance to other Federal agencies, on the United States border with Mexico.” The language would allow the Pentagon to transfer the money to other agencies. It is not clear whether the confusingly worded language would also allow the Defense Department, through its regular counter-narcotics aid authority, to give some of these funds to Mexico. We have been told that the intent of this fund is to support possible National Guard deployments to the U.S. side of the border, and to assist unaccompanied minors among the migrants apprehended crossing into Mexico.
  • The Senate bill does not include this border funds provision. It does, however, provide funding to the Justice and Homeland Security departments to beef up domestic border security.

Restrictions on Mexico’s use of aid

  • The Senate bill would prohibit the use of U.S. funds to provide fuel or logistical support for aircraft Mexico has purchased with its own money. It would require that communications equipment provided to Mexico be compatible with equipment used by U.S. agencies. And it would require the State Department to submit a report on actions Mexico has taken “to investigate and prosecute violations of internationally recognized human rights by members of the Mexican Federal police and military forces, and to support a thorough, independent, and credible investigation of the murder of American citizen Bradley Roland Will.” Will, an independent journalist, was shot and killed while covering a crackdown on protests in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006.
  • The administration request and the House bill do not contain similar provisions.

The next steps for the bill are:

  • Passage by the full Senate, which as of Tuesday evening has begun to debate the bill.
  • Drafting of a compromise bill by a House-Senate conference committee, which will have to work out the sharp differences between both chambers’ Mexico provisions.
  • Approval of the conference committee’s compromise version by votes in the House and Senate. This could happen before the weekend.
  • Signature by the president.
May 18

As had been expected, Juan Manuel Santos, Colomba’s minister of defense since July 2006, turned in his resignation today. A longtime heavyweight in Colombian politics, Santos is considering a run for president in 2010, unless – as appears likely right now – President Álvaro Uribe changes Colombia’s constitution to run for a third term. According to Colombian law, cabinet ministers with presidential aspirations must leave office a year before the presidential election. That deadline is imminent.

Santos’ tenure was marked by successes against the FARC guerrillas, including the death of two Secretariat members and the killing or capture of dozens of commanders, as well as the bloodless July 2008 rescue of fifteen hostages. Along with technocratic vice-ministers Juan Carlos Pinzón and Sergio Jaramillo, Santos made “consolidation” the key word of his strategy. Instead of simply launching bruising large-scale military offensives, he sought to apply counterinsurgency doctrine more comprehensively than his predecessors. He directed more resources to intelligence, encouragement of guerrilla desertion, and programs to bring non-military government presence into stateless areas. He also enacted a series of human rights directives [PDF] that had no precedent in the history of Colombia’s security forces.

However, two and a half years is not enough to bring about deep cultural change, as the “false positives” scandal made clear. And particularly where human rights are concerned, Santos was a tepid reformer at best. He denied the severity of the “false positives” allegations, even attacking non-governmental investigators’ credibility as late as September 2008 and January 2009. In public statements, he has falsely sought to tie opposition politicians and journalists to the guerrillas.

Who will President Uribe name to replace Santos as the fifth defense minister of his administration’s first seven years? The list of most likely replacements includes the following, notes an analysis piece in El Tiempo:

  • Gen. Freddy Padilla de León, the current head of the armed forces, who would retire from the military before assuming this post, which has been held by a civilian since 1991.
  • Juan Carlos Pinzón, a young official currently serving as one of Santos’ vice-ministers of defense.
  • Rodrigo Rivera, a former Liberal Party senator and presidential primary candidate who has become a vocal Uribe supporter.
  • Luis Carlos Villegas, head of Colombia’s National Association of Industrialists (ANDI).
May 13

The Obama White House announced yesterday that it is nominating Arturo Valenzuela to be the next assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Valenzuela will succeed Thomas Shannon, who has held the position since 2005. The Senate must approve Valenzuela’s nomination.

Valenzuela, a professor at Georgetown University, was the director of Western Hemisphere Affairs in the National Security Council in Bill Clinton’s White House. There, he was a principal proponent of increased military assistance to Colombia under the 2000 Plan Colombia appropriation.

Valenzuela is the third Obama appointee with responsibility for U.S. policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean. The others are Dan Restrepo, a former legislative staffer and lawyer who is the director of Western Hemisphere Affairs in the National Security Council; and Frank Mora, a professor at the National War College who is now deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

May 10

  • In addition to the information about the Obama administration’s 2010 aid request detailed in the last post, we also know the following:
    • Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said, “It is a small reduction that perhaps isn’t a reduction because it goes to a sort of fund or ‘basket’ to which we will have access. The thing is, we’re competing with other countries like Afghanistan and Iraq.” Santos added that Colombia is advancing in plans to send demining and engineer units to support NATO efforts in Afghanistan.
    • If it had its way, the Obama administration would delete the human rights conditions on military aid to Colombia, just like its predecessor wanted to do. See page 883 of the PDF here. On page 895, the White House Office of Management and Budget similarly “brackets out” human rights conditions imposed on aid to Mexico and Central America under the “Mérida Initiative.”
    • We now have the name of at least one facility in Colombia that will replace the U.S. “Forward Operating Location” or “Cooperative Security Location” leaving Manta, Ecuador before November. That facility is the Palanquero airbase in Puerto Salgar, Cundinamarca. While Manta’s main purpose was to monitor suspect narcotrafficking activity in the Pacific Ocean, Palanquero sits on the other side of the Andes from the Pacific. A major hat-tip to the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s John Lindsay-Poland for finding this eye-popping sentence in a Defense Department budget presentation document released last week (PDF, see page 2-30): “The FY 2010 Base budget includes $46 million for a cooperative security location at Palanquero Air Base in Colombia.
  • In what can perhaps be interpreted as a revolt of Bogotá’s progressive elites, Semana, Colombia’s most-circulated newsweekly, runs a simple message on its cover this weekend: “NO To Re-Election.” The magazine makes clear its opposition to President Álvaro Uribe’s ever-more-apparent desire to change Colombia’s constitution this year to run for a third term next year. The cover story lays out the argument, and a companion story quotes several longtime Uribe supporters who oppose the idea of the president running again.
  • Semana has also posted, for now at least, the 140-page PowerPoint document detailing the findings of Invamer-Gallup’s latest poll of Colombians with telephones in the country’s four largest cities. Álvaro Uribe’s approval rating is still high at 71 percent and his favorability rating is at 68 percent, though both are on the low end of where he has tended to be during his nearly seven years in office. 61 percent think Uribe should be allowed to run for president again. For the first time since early 2003, more of those polled believe that things in Colombia are getting worse than those who see things getting better. The economic downturn is mainly to blame.
  • A week ago, Semana also published a lengthy investigation into the “Office of Envigado,” the powerful narco-mafia network that controls much criminality in Medellín, and which is behind a recent rise in violence in Colombia’s second-largest city. “While the mayor’s office has spent millions on reinsertion [of former paramilitaries], trying to help more than 4,000 demobilized return to society, the mid-level commanders remained on the outside, in the profitable world of crime. The ‘Office of Envigado’ sabotagd the city’s pacification process.”
  • A new report from Human Rights Watch details 17 recent cases of military human rights abuse in Mexico, all of which went to the military justice system. “Not one of the military investigations into these crimes has led to a conviction for even a single soldier on human rights violations. The only civilian investigation into any of these cases led to the conviction of four soldiers.”
  • A long list of Mexican human-rights groups has sent a letter (PDF) to the U.S. Congress asking that it not approve any aid to Mexico’s armed forces.
  • Chile announced that it will purchase 18 used U.S.-built F-16 fighter planes from the Netherlands, a sale that will total US$450 million. Experts in Peru expressed concern, while Peru’s defense minister asked the Congress for a US$123 million increase in the military budget.
  • If you missed the important May 3 60 Minutes segment on Chevron and oil pollution in Ecuador, the video is viewable here.
May 07

The Obama administration’s State Department has released a “Summary and Highlights” document for its 2010 foreign assistance request, which offers some significant clues about where future aid is headed.

The document tells us how the Obama administration is asking Congress to allocate aid money to Colombia across four key programs:

  • International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE). This program is the largest source of aid to Colombia, and combines both military/police and economic/social aid. It is administered by the State Department’s Bureau for International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement Affairs. For the past several years, the Bush Administration used the term “Andean Counter-Drug Initiative (ACI)” as a separate category for aid to Colombia and its neighbors through INCLE. This account pays mainly for the aerial herbicide fumigation program, drug interdiction programs, maintenance of Colombian police and military aircraft, and several rule-of-law programs.

    The Obama administration would cut this program deeply, by about $50 million. Unfortunately, the “Summary and Highlights” document does not break down how much of the INCLE outlay for Colombia is military/police aid, and how much is economic/social aid. In 2009, however, we know that $40 million of the INCLE total is non-military, as required by Congress. The 2008 figure was similar. If we assume the 2010 outlay will also be $40 million non-military, then INCLE would appear as follows, in thousands of U.S. dollars:

    International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) 2008 2009 2010
    Military and Police Aid (est.) 249,005 247,500 197,760
    Economic and Social Aid (est.) 40,000 40,000 40,000
    Total INCLE 289,005 287,500 237,760
  • Foreign Military Financing (FMF). This is the main non-drug military and police aid program in the foreign aid budget. It has been used in the past to support programs like oil pipeline protection, intelligence equipment, and support for military offensives. The Democratic-majority Congress cut this account significantly since 2007. The Obama administration would restore it slightly, however, adding about $13.6 million over 2009 levels. In thousands of U.S. dollars:
    Foreign Military Financing (FMF)
    2008 2009 2010
    Military and Police Aid 52,570 53,000 66,590
  • International Military Education and Training (IMET). The main non-drug military training program in the foreign aid budget. The Obama administration would increase this relatively small program. In thousands of U.S. dollars:
    International Military Education and Training (IMET) 2008 2009 2010
    Military and Police Aid 1,421 1,400 1,695
  • Economic Support Funds (ESF). The source of most economic and social assistance to Colombia, ESF pays for alternative development programs, assistance to displaced communities, judicial reform programs, demobilization and reintegration, and human rights programs, among others. The Obama administration would increase it slightly. In thousands of U.S. dollars:
    Economic Support Funds (ESF) 2008 2009 2010
    Economic and Social Aid 194,412 196,500 200,660

Add the figures up for these four programs, and the trend looks like this, in thousands of U.S. dollars:

2008 2009 2010
Military and Police Aid (est.) 305,004 303,909 268,055
Economic and Social Aid (est.) 234,412 236,500 240,660
Total, 4 programs
539,416 540,409 508,715

From this preliminary information, we can conclude the following:

  • The Obama administration plans to provide Colombia with less aid, even though its worldwide 2010 aid request is increasing over 2008 and 2009 levels. For these four programs, the aid amount would be reduced about $31.6 million from 2009 to 2010, or nearly 6 percent.
  • Aid cuts would come from military/police aid programs, leading to greater parity between military and economic assistance. The cuts would be most likely to come from aerial fumigation and aviation maintenance programs, while non-drug military aid might actually increase. For these four programs, we estimate the military/police share of the request at only about 53 percent. There is more military aid in the Defense budget, however, so this is still a decidedly majority-military aid package.
  • Mexico is quickly eclipsing Colombia as an aid destination. Congress is currently considering a supplemental appropriation for 2009 that, in the House version (PDF), would increase military and police aid to Mexico by a whopping $470 million. Compare that amount – which is just additional aid to Mexico for this year – to the $268 million in military/police aid in the Obama administration’s request for Colombia. It is possible that Colombia could soon cease to be the hemisphere’s number-one recipient of military-police aid, for the first time since it surged ahead of El Salvador at the beginning of the 1990s.

Significant amounts of aid go through programs not listed here, such as the Defense budget ($112 million in military/police aid in 2007), Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism, Demining and Related Programs (NADR, $4.1 million in 2008), and USAID “Transition Initiatives” programs ($2 million in 2008). To see the entire aid picture, incorporating these programs – not updated to reflect the numbers in this post – visit the Colombia page of our “Just the Facts” database.

May 04

Here is an interview recorded April 24 with Rodrigo Botero, the director for the Amazon and Orinoco regions at Colombia’s National Parks Service.

Colombia’s government, with U.S. support, is trying to implement a “consolidation” strategy to establish state presence and services in the vast areas of the country that have historically been completely ungoverned. One of the priority zones, and one which has received significant U.S. investment, are the municipalities in and around the La Macarena National Park.

A FARC stronghold for decades, the La Macarena park was situated completely within the demilitarized zone ceded to the guerrillas during the failed 1998-2002 peace process. During the 2000s, this zone of primary forest saw a sharp increase in coca cultivation, as farmers moved into the zone, with guerrilla encouragement, to grow the crop. Since 2006, the Colombian and U.S. governments have responded by sending manual eradicators, then fumigation aircraft, into the park.

Mr. Botero is wrestling with one of the thorniest questions that the state-building effort faces: what to in areas where people simply shouldn’t be living? In zones that, because they are parkland, wilderness, or simply too far from the rest of the population, cannot expect to be properly served by the government?

His solution has been an ambitious program to move people out of the park with promises of housing, productive projects and food-security assistance in exchange for voluntary eradication of coca. His efforts – by far the largest voluntary eradication project in the country – have so far brought the permanent disappearance of 2,000 hectares of coca from in and around the park.

Though he is an ecologist by training, Mr. Botero and his team have had to learn a lot very quickly about rural development, housing construction, community organizing and political negotiation. Though the Park Service is purportedly part of an inter-agency effort to bring the Colombian state into the area surrounding La Macarena, it – and the communities with which it is working – have seen little assistance or accompaniment from most other government agencies.

Here are 5 minutes of footage of a conversation with Mr. Botero, with English subtitles. He describes the model that he has constructed, together with the leaders of several communities outside the park.

Interview with Rodrigo Botero from Adam Isacson on Vimeo.

(Yes, by the way, I’m aware my Spanish accent is atrocious.)