Uribe coming to Washington June 29 Parsing today’s White House statement
Jun 102009

This is the final “Integrated Action” post for now. I know it’s a bit long for the blog format. If you haven’t been following these programs in detail, it may even seem a bit boring. But these posts are helping us to process our own ideas and to engage in more conversations as we try to figure out what to make of these programs. And since we’re really looking at what may be the future of U.S. aid to Colombia, it is important that we get this right. Thanks for your patience.

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

This post offers some initial conclusions and observations based on what we’ve seen and heard so far after a few months of documentary research and interviews, and a late April trip to the “Integrated Action” zone in Vistahermosa, Meta. We plan on traveling to another zone, carrying out more interviews, and publishing a fuller evaluation in September.

Again, these are preliminary conclusions. The caveats laid out in the first post in this series fully apply.

Our first conclusion is that, in its present form, Integrated Action is a mostly military endeavor.

The Colombian government’s new strategy is being billed as a “whole of government approach.” It is meant to have a civilian component from the very beginning, and it envisions the armed forces becoming almost a junior partner by its latter stages, when the state presence is “consolidated.”

So far, however, the armed forces are playing a dominant role. This is so even though the Center for the Coordination of Integrated Action (CCAI) is located within a civilian agency, the Colombian Presidency’s Agency for Social Action (Acción Social). In the regions where the strategy is being executed, a clear majority of personnel involved are Defense Ministry personnel: uniformed military and police.

There is ample evidence of the military’s predominance.

The security forces make up the bulk of management positions in the Center for the Coordination of Integrated Action (CCAI) structure.

As mentioned in the first post in this series, a March 2009 presidential directive (PDF) establishes a CCAI “Directive Council” (Consejo Directivo), sort of like a board of directors, to guide the effort. Four of this council’s six members come from one of the state security forces.

  • [x] Minister of Defense
  • [x] Commander-General of the Armed Forces
  • [x] Director-General of the Police
  • [x] Director of the Administrative Department for Security (DAS) in the Presidency
  • [ ] High Counselor of Social Action in the Presidency
  • [ ] Prosecutor-General [Fiscal General]

The military is performing duties that normally correspond to civilians, particularly development and humanitarian programs.

As Semana magazine noted in a recent article praising the model, “While the consolidation strategy is civilian, the military has a protagonistic role, from the engineer battalions that build highways, to the support for other Social Action tasks like the distribution of food and seeds.”

Military engineers are carrying out the bulk of construction projects in the CCAI zones. Juan Manuel Santos offered examples in early May, shortly before leaving his post as defense minister.

“Between 2009 and 2010, military engineers will spend the equivalent of more than 30 million dollars to build such important roads as the Montes de María Transversal [near the Caribbean coast, in the departments of Sucre and Bolívar] or road-paving in La Uribe [Meta] in the former demilitarized zone, a symbolic deed of greatest importance.”

The military’s role extends to heavy participation in, or even coordination of, meetings with communities to discuss development needs. “The military, including Southern Command, meets with communities, offering [productive] projects,” a community leader told me, as others nodded. “They’re involving the civilian population in a military dynamic.”

In fact, one of these programs’ key stated goals is to build communities’ relationships with the military, rather than having the military create the security conditions necessary to allow communities to relate to the civilian part of the government. “Since the last reporting period,” notes a 2008 field report from USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives, “target communities increasingly have been willing to accept assistance with their commitments from the military. This growing willingness demonstrates an increasing level of confidence in the military, and the cooperation this confidence generates is making these relationships even stronger.”

This high degree of military participation is probably not due to any military “power grab,” nor is it necessarily a result of the Uribe government’s evident predilection for military solutions.

First, the model originated with the military. As noted in the first post, the Integrated Action concept and the CCAI came from a series of discussions between Colombia’s Defense Ministry and U.S. Southern Command. This is naturally a recipe for a militaristic model. Beyond moving the model into the Social Action agency, it is not clear how much more has been done to “socialize” it among the civilian sectors of the government. Clearly, though, giving civilian agencies and ministries more of a leadership role than they have now would increase their sense of “buy-in.”

Second, due to security concerns, the military has to predominate during the plan’s earliest phases. If illegal armed groups are still present in large numbers, and killing people, in the zone, then it is hard to argue against a very strong role for the security forces.

Juan Manuel Santos had a point when he wrote in 2007,

“Finding the right balance between military and social effort remains difficult. Our experience has shown that without minimum security conditions, social efforts are fruitless. For that reason, the first advance is military. … [T]he military must establish the first strategy for consolidation which can be supported later by social activities.”

However, anyone who thinks that the main goal should be state-building and economic development may have trouble swallowing the rest of Santos’ argument: “Military criteria must continue to be the genesis of the consolidation. Selecting regions for consolidation must be based on a military strategy that will destabilize enemy plans and positions.”

Security concerns are helping to keep this a military-centered program. My strong impression from what I have seen so far is that the entire program is still in an incipient phase, with security conditions far from established outside of a few small town centers.

It is impressive that the effort has brought security to the town centers of the Vistahermosa / La Macarena zone, particularly the municipal “county seats.” These towns spent decades under uncontested FARC domination, and now they bear virtually no evidence of guerrilla presence.

But while efforts are ongoing to secure rural areas, this is proving to be very difficult. The security situation outside of the towns appears to be very precarious. The degree of FARC activity in rural zones was greater than I’d been led to believe by some of the triumphal rhetoric coming out of the Defense Ministry and the U.S. government. A few examples of that rhetoric:

  • Juan Manuel Santos, in May of this year: “[T]hese regions, which used to be refuges for terrorism and narcotrafficking, have been recovered for peace.”
  • And in February: “The people now reject the FARC in all of its manifestations, defend the state and support the security forces. They are seeing that after being submitted for so long to the FARC’s violence, now, hand-in-hand with the state, progress and development are arriving.”
  • USAID, in mid-2008: “Because of improvements in the security situation, which have come about much faster than anticipated, the consolidation effort is seeing opportunities in transition zones that are proving relatively secure but where a State presence is practically absent. Communities that were controlled by the FARC and dedicated to coca production 6 months ago now find that the Colombian military is providing security, and that coca production is no longer an option.”

To the contrary, the guerrillas were so active near Vistahermosa’s town center that, as discussed in this series’ second post, road travel was thoroughly discouraged. The Fusion Center territory’s rural zone was not what the development community calls a “permissive environment.”

U.S. documents quietly acknowledge that security remains a big issue. USAID recognized in a mid-2008 report, “Although the security situation is improving, it continues to complicate staff travel and program logistics.” That clearly remains the case. Reporting in October, the Government Accountability Office noted that security concerns in the rural zones are very real: “Security remains a primary concern for CCAI because it operates in areas where illegal armed groups are present. For example, CCAI representatives in La Macarena do not travel outside of a 5-kilometer radius of the city center due to security concerns.”

Among those with whom I spoke, there seemed to be a consensus that guerrilla activity in the area began to increase in March 2009. “The guerrillas are reactivating” was how one leader in Puerto Toledo put it. March 2009 was the one-year anniversary of the death of “Manuel Marulanda,” the guerrillas’ co-founder and longtime leader, and two other FARC secretariat members in unrelated incidents. As USAID put it: “The FARC called for a ‘Black March’ to commemorate the deaths and demonstrate its continued relevance after a year of setbacks. … There was an uptick in FARC activities throughout the country.”

In addition, a large-scale effort to capture or kill top-ranking FARC leader Jorge Briceño (a.k.a. “El Mono Jojoy”) has been ongoing on the western edge of the La Macarena zone. FARC activity may be increasing elsewhere in the zone because fronts have been pushed out of – or trying to draw troops away from – the area of heaviest combat.

Local leaders and human rights defenders told me of an increase in the guerrillas’ recruitment of children in the area. The local FARC fronts, they said, have lowered their recruiting age and are now taking away children as young as 9 years old. This, they said, is a reaction to blows the FARC have received from army. Also, the guerrillas consider children to be easier to control.” Guerrillas are “constantly present in schools” in the zone, and parents are pulling their children out of school in order to avoid their recruitment. (On the other hand, I was told of a heartbreakingly grim scenario: parents whose crops were fumigated and are going hungry will make the painful decision to hand their children over to the guerrillas or paramilitaries so that their kids may have enough food to eat. I got no sense of how common this is.)

It is impossible to determine with certainty whether the guerrilla presence in the Vistahermosa – La Macarena zone is a fading but lingering phenomenon, or whether the guerrillas are still the dominant force beyond the town centers. What is certain, though, is that the FARC’s influence has not been reduced to such an extent that the local population has been able to lose its fear of retribution for participating in “Integrated Action” program. The International Crisis Group, citing “local sources in Meta,” wrote in March that “some communities remain apprehensive about a FARC resurgence should the government fail to keep the CCAI promise of permanent presence.” In rural areas, where that presence does not reliably penetrate, the apprehension is even greater.

For their part, USAID and its contractors face their own security challenge: the imperative that they not appear to be participants in an ongoing military operation. A 2007 USAID document recognized the need to maintain some separation from the Colombian military effort, but then went on to say, in as many words, that USAID is there to support the Colombian military.

“The program needs, for security reasons, to maintain a credible space between program field staff and the Colombian military—while at the same time publicly including the military in the process as a representative of the State at events ranging from municipal assemblies to public inaugurations. Coming to a joint understanding on this point has required time and tact, but the process has helped build a strong positive relationship between the program and the Colombian military.”

A church official working in the zone was not convinced that USAID has maintained a credible distance from the military effort. “For us, USAID and Southern Command are the same thing,” he said matter-of-factly.

Beyond the security situation, there is another compelling explanation for the overwhelmingly military nature of Integrated Action so far: the lack of civilian government presence in the region to play the roles that a civilian government must play, and provide the services that civilians are expected to provide.

Many of the non-military institutions that are supposed to be governing neglected rural areas are not stepping up quickly. “[T]he civilian component of the state response can be slow and inefficient,” USAID acknowledges.

“It is apparent that administrative rigidity is a factor hindering the GOC’s ability to respond rapidly to opportunities as they arise. Difficulties arising in the transition zones provide clear examples. This rigidity is the consequence of 1) the normal bureaucratic processes inherent in any democratic government; 2) a history of corruption that has spawned layers of processes to combat that corruption; and 3) a political culture that is accustomed to using administrative infractions to punish political opponents. This rigidity manifests as an institutional reluctance to try anything outside of the clearly defined administrative box. To address this inflexibility, a “comfort zone” needs to be established where GOC employees are allowed to take small chances and adapt procedures so that processes can move forward in the transition zones where rapid and flexible responses are required.”

Much of the problem is a simple lack of civilian capacity. Local governments, USAID argues, simply lack the experience and managerial know-how to “absorb” and carry out ambitious development programs. An additional challenge to working with mayors and governors – one which AID does not explicitly mention – is the possibility that they may face questions for past or ongoing relations with armed groups.

At the national level, capacities and even willingness to participate are uneven. Cabinet ministries and other civilian state entities whose presence would be needed have not all jumped aboard at the same rate.

It is too early in this study to grade civilian government agencies’ contributions in the Integrated Action zones, or to have taken into account all of the reasons for inability or reluctance to participate. But I note that I heard much praise for the National Park Service and the National Learning Service (SENA), and generalized concerns expressed about the Interior and Justice Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry. The latter is a particular concern because of its responsibility for land-titling, which has been proceeding with excruciating slowness.

The performance of the Presidency’s Social Action office – the civilian entity in charge of the CCAI – is more complicated, and we’re not yet ready to evaluate it. Some concerns I did hear about Acción Social include:

  • A sense that the handoff of control from the Defense Ministry is not yet consolidated, and that within the rest of the government, Defense continues to be a more energetic backer of the Integrated Action program than Acción Social, the nominal “owner” of the program.
  • A sense that Acción Social, as an entity with nationwide responsibilities centralized in the Presidency, is more inclined to devote resources to more populated areas where needs are more concentrated, such as the slums that surround Bogotá and other large cities.
  • A sense that Acción Social responds significantly to political criteria. Many of its programs, prominent among them “Families in Action” and “Forest-Warden Families,” are quite clientelistic, as they distribute cash subsidies to grateful poor people. Viewed through the lens of clientelism and seeking political support for the government in power, the sparsely populated Integrated Action zones would be a low priority. They have few voters.
  • This week the Presidency’s longtime high counselor for Social Action, Luis Alfonso Hoyos, announced that he is leaving his post to become Colombia’s ambassador to the OAS. Whether that is good news or bad news for the Integrated Action model is unclear at this point. Hoyos, however, was viewed by some of my interviewees as an official who still “needed convincing” about Integrated Action, which was one of many big-budget programs his office managed. If accurate, this could be a potential explanation for some of the civilian government’s past slowness to get fully involved.

Persistent problems with inter-agency coordination also explain some of the lack of civilian involvement. Though this is something that the CCAI and “fusion centers” are designed to overcome, it is not a trivial task to get agencies with little history of working together to do so in a part of the country where none of them have been present. This is “not something that’s rocket science, but it’s a very, very difficult thing to actually do,” Susan Reichle, the USAID mission chief in Colombia, told the Washington Post last month.

While poor coordination was a frequent complaint I heard, at this point I do not have a lot of specific examples to enumerate. I do have one, though: the National Parks relocation program discussed in the last Integrated Action post. If we were witnessing a situation of effective inter-agency coordination, we would not see a group of trained ecologists – however able and dedicated – finding themselves performing nearly all the planning and logistics for a mass relocation program, complete with community organization, housing construction, and administration of sophisticated productive development projects. While I admire the work they were doing, the lack of coordination that led them to be doing it virtually alone was troubling.

Another reason given for civilian agencies’ reluctance to plunge fully into the Integrated Action model is the lack of a legal framework to give the CCAI statutory authority and permanence. The CCAI is a presidential initiative, not a legally constituted entity of the Colombian government.

While the March 2009 decree addresses this deficiency somewhat, it may not be enough to convince key government ministries to devote a greater portion of their meager existing budgets to priority Integrated Action zones like Vistahermosa – La Macarena. Especially when the decree itself expires at the end of President Uribe’s term, about fourteen months from now.

As a result, while the CCAI headquarters in Bogotá is universally described as a small but efficient office staffed by dynamic young officials who believe in the joint mission, in some cases those officials are operating with little political and financial support from the ministries they represent.

Doubts about the program’s long-term sustainability are also a barrier to fuller civilian involvement. The March 2009 decree only “institutionalizes” the CCAI until August of 2010, when President Uribe leaves office (unless, of course, he doesn’t).

The sustainability of “Integrated Action” is also more immediately placed into question by the very recent exit from government of some of the doctrine’s main architects and advocates within the Colombian government.

Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos was a persistent backer of these programs, and even sought in March to re-brand them as part of a “Strategic Leap” (Salto Estratégico) to make the Colombian state’s presence more permanent in conflict zones. It seems odd to declare a “Strategic Leap” in March and leave your job in May. But that is what Santos did, leaving his post after nearly three years in order to clear the way for a possible presidential bid.

With him, as appears likely, may go Vice-Minister of Defense Sergio Jaramillo, who has been the most active proponent of the Integrated Action model within the government. Jaramillo, according to several accounts, is the official who has done most to cajole and convince recalcitrant government counterparts – both military and civilian – to back CCAI efforts. If Jaramillo leaves the government, it is not clear who will play the active salesman/manager role that had been his.

For all of these reasons, I have to conclude that at this point in its development, the Integrated Action programs are predominantly military. However, it would be unfair to accuse the military of being “unable to let go.” The security situation is more precarious than official statements indicate, and civilian agencies have been very slow to fulfill their proper roles.

While Integrated Action is “predominantly military,” it could just as fittingly be called “insufficiently civilian.”

A second conclusion is that important human rights concerns require attention. I heard troubling human rights complaints during my visit to the Vistahermosa-La Macarena zone. At this stage in our research, I have not been able to verify claims or make specific denunciations of abuses. But it is important to note some trends.

The main problem I heard about in the zone was forced displacement.

The emptiness of towns like Puerto Toledo and (I was told) some of the countryside owed in some part to the collapse of the coca economy. Many who grew or profited from coca in the zone have simply moved elsewhere.

But economics are not the only – and may not even be the main – reason why, as a Puerto Toledo community leader put it, “Many people have had to leave.” The zone has seen frequent combat since 2002, when the last peace process ended and the military re-took the FARC demilitarized zone. Then, in 2004 through 2006, it was a principal theater of operations for the large-scale “Plan Patriota” military offensive. Displacement occurred as people were forced out by fighting, or pressured by the FARC to leave.

While the Integrated Action effort seeks to win the population’s “hearts and minds” with a softer touch, people with whom I spoke said that many local residents, particularly community leaders, had left in order to avoid being detained as suspected FARC supporters. I was surprised to hear fear of the Prosecutor-General’s office (Fiscalía), which has been brought into the zone to investigate and prosecute suspected guerrilla supporters, cited as a reason for displacement.

I heard reports that the paramilitary presence was increasing as the military chipped away at the guerrillas’ once uncontested dominion over the zone.

The paramilitaries in question appear to be those at the command of Pedro Oliveiro Guerrero, alias “Cuchillo,” who now has influence in much of Meta, Guaviare, Casanare and Vichada. I also heard the name of Víctor Carranza, a Boyacá-based emerald magnate who has long been accused of sponsoring paramilitary groups.

Paramilitaries are showing up in town centers, occasionally uniformed but often in civilian dress. In some cases, they claim to be there “with the state’s permission,” and they often encourage or even obligate the population to grow coca. Cuchillo appears to be interested principally in narcotrafficking, rather than massacring suspected guerrilla collaborators. His men have reportedly won over populations by promising to be “less violent” than the guerrillas.

A significant number of paramilitaries, I was told, had taken over a former guerrilla encampment between the hamlet of Pi̱alito Рwhere a police station was recently inaugurated Рand Vistahermosa.

In general, local leaders characterized the military as being on generally good behavior, making an effort not to mistreat the civilian population. However, there were some serious complaints, none of which I have been able to verify. These included:

  • One case of a “false positive” during the second half of 2008, which I was told is already in Bogotá-based groups’ databases.
  • Military and paramilitary personnel patrolling together without insignias on their uniforms.
  • Four indiscriminate bombings so far this year, with no casualties.
  • Blocking trucks carrying food aid to populations, and stealing some of it for themselves. (Local human rights advocates reported raising this issue directly with the commander of the 12th Mobile Brigade.)
  • Obligating civilians to “demobilize,” even though they were not FARC members, using language like “either you demobilize, or we’ll arrest you.”
  • Aggressive behavior or harassment of civilians, including unfounded accusations of being guerrillas.
  • A perceived lack of will to confront paramilitary groups.

A third conclusion is that the military’s relations with the population have been strained by a belief or subtext that anybody who lives in the Vistahermosa-La Macarena zone is somehow a guerrilla supporter. This, at least, was a concern that local leaders expressed repeatedly. While the local population is distrustful of the state, it is interesting to note that they are also concerned that the state doesn’t trust them.

Vistahermosa – La Macarena is part of a zone that was ceded to the FARC for more than three years. Local leaders said they felt that anyone who remained during the entire “despeje” period is treated with suspicion by the newly arrived state authorities. “Of course people had to be with the guerrillas” during the time that the state vacated the zone, one leader said. “Should you accuse people of being guerrilla auxiliaries, then? You could do that with everyone here.”

I heard many complaints about the most aggressive manifestation of this mistrust: mass arrests. Local leaders said that security forces, accompanied by officials from the prosecutor-general’s office, were showing up in towns and rounding up citizens, usually local leaders, who had been fingered as likely guerrilla supporters. A representative of a humanitarian organization told me of arriving in one town in a white 4-wheel-drive vehicle, and finding the entire place empty. After a few minutes, townspeople emerged from their hiding places. “We thought you were the Fiscalía,” they said.

Overcoming distrust is a huge challenge in a region that has been FARC territory for decades, where much of the population was born into, and has never known anything but, living under guerrilla control.

Most of the population appears to be open to having the state protect them and provide basic services. But a small handful of the population is indeed working with the FARC. That is impossible to deny. If you are a representative of the state, this handful of people may help get you killed.

The Colombian government is still trying to figure out how to separate the hardened FARC cadres from the general population in which they are mixed, without alienating that general population. Clearly careful intelligence work and winning the population’s trust are key to this effort. But massively detaining social leaders seems counter-productive, due to the reaction it inspires among the people whom they led.

A fourth conclusion is that forced eradication continues to contribute to distrust. When coca eradication – whether fumigation or manual – is not accompanied by immediate food security and other economic aid, the result may be positive from a counter-narcotics standpoint (there is less coca, momentarily), but disastrous from a counter-insurgency or state-building standpoint.

When small-scale coca growers see their illegal crop destroyed, but are left with no short-term possibility of staying fed, they will react in a number of ways. One apparently common result is that they simply replant coca, or move elsewhere and replant coca. Their resentment of the Colombian government may increase, causing them to align more closely with the FARC or paramilitaries.

The Vistahermosa – La Macarena “Fusion Center” recognizes this dynamic, and has made a priority of following up eradication with quick delivery of food security and development assistance. However, I heard complaints about months-long lags between eradication and the first delivery of promised aid. Indeed, a USAID document notes that the Fusion Center staff are grappling “with the lack of a GOC [Government of Colombia] post-eradication program.” It is remarkable that no such program exists.

In addition, I heard complaints that the manual eradicators themselves are not always the Colombian state’s most diplomatic representatives when they interact with the population. “People fear the eradicators, they are abusive,” one leader told me, citing coarse language and theft of food and other goods.

Fifth and finally, another frequently cited suspicion of government motives is the belief that the Integrated Action policy will lead to a “land grab,” displacing peasant farmers in favor of large landowners.

Some of the more conspiratorial residents note that forced eradication, mass arrests, the arrival of paramilitaries, and displacement are happening at the same time that large oil palm plantations spring up in significant numbers right outside the zone. They then conclude that large landowners want the existing population out of the picture so that they can more easily appropriate their land. For those who harbor these suspicions which are easily spread by rumors – news that land values in the region are rising is a reason for alarm, not celebration.

To counter these rumors, it is important that projects be small scale, including the formation of cooperatives, and accompanied by rapid delivery of clear land titles, in order to disabuse people of the widely held “land grab” notion.

Despite these often critical problems, the “Integrated Action” effort has done enough in the Vistahermosa – La Macarena area to raise people’s expectations a great deal. There is a real desire to live in an area governed by a proper state, to feel secure, to have title to land, and to participate in a community planning process.

My initial impression is that it would do more harm than good to abandon or cease to support Integrated Action. But the model could go badly awry, with grave consequences, if it continues without a number of significant adjustments. These would include – but not be limited to – the following. (We expect our recommendations to be far more specific, detailed and comprehensive as our research advances.)

  • Increase the participation of civilian agencies and institutions. Give them a much greater decision-making and management role in the CCAI in order to encourage their “buy-in.”
  • Give more explicit high-level political backing to this more civilian CCAI, to decrease foot-dragging and make it a higher priority for the state agencies being asked to participate. Ensure that Acción Social provides sufficient funding for, and more active management of, the civilian side of Integrated Action projects, and that it does more to encourage other government agencies to establish their own presence in the priority zones as soon as minimal security conditions permit.
  • Use these added civilian resources to move beyond short-term demonstration projects and commit to larger-scale efforts, especially infrastructure and basic services.
  • Get the military out of non-security roles as soon as it is safe to do so.
  • Continue making improvements in coordination between state agencies, so that ecologists no longer have to oversee housing construction projects or help organize agricultural cooperatives on their own.
  • Ensure that development efforts are chosen by the communities themselves through a transparent process, so that the frequent criticism that programs were “designed at a desk in Bogotá” cannot stick.
  • Speed up land titling to reassure populations that they will not be victims of a “land grab.”
  • Quickly and transparently punish any examples of human rights abuse, so that impunity for abusers does not undermine trust in the state and intimidate citizens who should be participating in community planning processes.
  • Minimize harm to community relations by halting overzealous mass arrests of civilians suspected of guerrilla collaboration.
  • Aggressively confront any signs of paramilitary presence.
  • Eradicate coca only when immediate delivery of food-security and development assistance can be assured. Place a priority on programs in which eradication is voluntary.
  • Focus more on the sustainability of the effort. Integrated Action will not be credible to key constituencies – including civilian government agencies called on to take part in it – if it is in danger of ending in August 2010.

I would add a final, more conceptual, observation. Colombia and the United States have to decide whether Integrated Action is going to prioritize counter-insurgency, counter-narcotics, or state-building.

Defenders of the current program might argue that its brilliance lies in the manner in which it hybridizes these three strategies. Either they would prioritize counter-insurgency, or they would argue that all three are equal components that reinforce each other.

That is often untrue, however. Counter-insurgency undermines state-building when government representatives alienate community leaders whom they suspect of guerrilla ties. Counter-narcotics undermines both counter-insurgency and state building when forced eradication leaves peasants hungry and angry at the government.

In our view, state-building goals should be given priority over counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency. We will develop this more in our final report. But the success of Integrated Action will not be measured by the number of guerrilla attacks or the number of hectares of coca eradicated. It will depend on the extent to which these strategies build a functioning, mostly civilian state in vast areas of Colombia that have never had one. If Integrated Action focuses on meeting that good governance standard, it will leave behind territories that are infertile ground for armed groups, narcotrafficking or organized crime. Govern well – with a full state presence and low impunity – and the guerrilla and narcotrafficking problems will fade.

If Integrated Action can do away with statelessness and impunity in lawless regions of Colombia, it would offer the world a promising model. It isn’t there yet. But nor is a disastrous outcome assured. With important adjustments and corrections, and close monitoring of the programs’ execution, what has been started in Vistahermosa – La Macarena could turn out well.

4 Responses to “Initial observations about “Integrated Action” in Colombia”

  1. David Says:

    Very thorough and in-depth work. However, in some official reports, the whole Integrated Action strategy is seen as one of the corollaries of the Democratic Security policy, distinguishing it from Plan Colombia.
    My question is : Are the fusion centers described in your posts concrete realizations of Plan Colombia?
    Is there a concrete document showing how the funds under Obama will be spent?


  2. Camilo Wilson Says:

    This excellent post cites the “triumphal rhetoric” of Colombia’s Defense Ministry and of the U.S. Government. Nothing new about that. Counterinsurgency and counternarcotics pronouncements have long brimmed with such rhetoric as regards Colombia. Bureaucrats have blustered out the merits of policies and programs with dismal regularity, and the bovine pay heed in legions. One must breach the enticements of rhetoric and sophistic argument to see things as they are.
    Two themes thread through the post: the need for State-building and the current role of the armed forces as security guarantors. What the reader may not see so clearly is the security dimension inherent in State-building, a dimension that has little to do with armed force.

    Colombia is a land at war with itself. There is no way that its armed forces can guarantee over a sprawling country even temporary security that might enable any significant level of sustained development to take hold. And local citizens know that—know it viscerally. The insurgency is far from over, not to mention paramilitaries and criminal bands. Poverty and social exclusion will continue to feed all of the armed groups. Marauding will be a way of life. Rebel forces alone will shift and feint, disappearing and reappearing to attack in classical guerrilla style.

    State-building has never happened in Colombia. The exclusion of peoples and regions has been the norm. This exclusion goes far to explain both insurgency and narcotics trafficking. Pablo Escobar tried to shoot (and buy) his way into the Establishment, whereas the FARC aim to shoot down the Establishment and replace it with something more just and inclusive.

    A critical missing piece in the analysis here of “integrated action” is a serious peace process, one that will engage the insurgency. Such a process must include State-building, or State reform. That reform must address poverty and social exclusion, which is an important—but not the only—dimension of State-building. State-building is a multi-dimensional process, but its axis is citizen participation—participation that transcends voting. What is most troubling about Colombia is that its country’s political and economic elite are unwilling to make the sacrifice that must form the basis of such building or reform. The failed peace process under Andrés Pastrana—the period of greatest paramilitary growth—was largely about this unwillingness.

    Any peace process cum reform will have to involve the United States. But that involvement must push Colombia’s Establishment toward much-needed reforms rather than supply it with arms to maintain a status quo that is inviable over the long term. “Integrated Action” cannot substitute for those reforms. Let’s be clear: the Uribe Government is clearly allied with paramilitary interests and aims to maintain that status quo. It wants a military solution to a dirty and bloody conflict.

  3. Randy Says:

    Thanks Adam – a valuable summary of the local problems in the area. Two issues stand out:

    1. The failed state nature of the area. Limited or non-existent local govt., roads, schools, health care, justice systems, agriculture and business development, etc. Also, the consistent lack of security – first FARC control and now growing paramilitary control – inhibits any effective longterm development, as your notes on human rights violations attest.

    I wonder about the relationship between the historical corruption in the area and control by large land owners and the lack of state development: from what I have read and heard, corruption diverted public funds to a small number of wealthy families; and local landowners have limited state development to enable their continuing control of the territory and population.

    Under these failed state conditions, it is amazing to see that farmers have been able to carve out a living in the area, and seek to do so legally if given some support.

    2. Lack of coordination with civilian agencies and effective development. Even with security concerns, I find it problematic that other govt agencies are not more active in the area. All the ministries have made statements about expanding services to the most needy populations (e.g. Defensoria del Pueblo and Ministry of Education), but seem to be mostly non-existent. I think more pressure should be placed on these ministries and agencies to perform the work that they are tasked to do by mandate and law.

    Further, the lack of military-civilian coordination is striking regarding fumigation efforts. Even after significant local agreements are signed, fumigation actions still take place in areas that should be no-fly fumigation zones. Given the large Colombian military and US embassy involvement in fumigation efforts, one would think these actions would be better coordinated.

  4. Plan Colombia and Beyond » Friday Links (Saturday edition) Says:

    [...] program in La Macarena, Meta – the subject of three rather long entries to this weblog in May and June. The CSIS report, which also recommends that the program place a [...]

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