A report from Just the Facts assesses the achievements of the Colombian government’s “consolidation” regions. These areas are centers of crime, with high rates of homicides, kidnappings and extortion, and often have a strong presence of guerrillas or other criminal organizations. The government has been pursuing an integrated strategy to improve security and increase state presence in these troubled zones. The report finds that, despite the successes of this plan, the government should strengthen other institutions aside from the security forces in order to consolidate the security and economic gains in these areas.
From the report’s introduction:
Colombia, the world’s largest producer of cocaine, has been embroiled in an internal armed conflict and humanitarian emergency since the mid-1960s, and since 2000 has been by far the number-one recipient of U.S. military and police assistance beyond the Middle East. About four years ago, faced with stubborn drug production and the difficulty of governing territory under illegal armed groups’ influence, the U.S. and Colombian governments underwent an important shift in strategy.
The model now being pursued in Colombia is called “Integrated Action” or “Consolidation.” Several small, historically ungoverned regions of the country have been chosen as targets for a phased, coordinated “hold and build” effort. A new agency in Colombia’s central government, the Center for Coordination of Integrated Action (CCAI), coordinates military efforts to establish security conditions in these territories, and then civilian efforts to introduce the rest of the government and the services it provides. The desired end state is that violent, lawless zones become integrated into national civic and economic life, with their inhabitants becoming full citizens, supporting the state and abandoning illegal activity.
In some zones, the Consolidation experience has operated long enough to make evaluation possible. Some aspects of this experience appear to be working well: drug production is reduced, and security, particularly in town centers, has improved. Other aspects, however, pose risks that threaten the success of the entire Consolidation effort. These issues include “militarization,” lack of civilian agencies’ coordination and participation, local corruption, human rights abuse, and land tenure, among others.
The United States, and other donor states, are facing similar stability, development and peace building challenges elsewhere, particularly Afghanistan. In our view, Colombia offers not a model to be copied exactly, but a series of lessons for policymakers and practitioners working in other parts of the world.