Plan Colombia - National Consolidation

In January 2007, Colombian leaders presented a new strategy to consolidate gains under Plan Colombia, which eventually became known as the National Consolidation Plan (Plan Nacional de Consolidacion, or PNC). The new strategy, a civilian-led whole-of-government approach, builds upon successful Plan Colombia programs to establish state presence in traditionally ungoverned spaces. By improving access to social services--including justice, education, housing, and health--strengthening democracy, and supporting economic development through sustainable growth and trade, the Colombian Government seeks to permanently recover Colombia's historically marginalized rural areas from illegal armed groups and break the cycle of violence.

On 30 October 2009, the United States and Colombian governments signed the Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA). The DCA will facilitate effective bilateral cooperation on security matters in Colombia, including narcotics production and trafficking, terrorism, illicit smuggling of all types, and humanitarian and natural disasters. The DCA facilitates U.S. access for these purposes to three Colombian air force bases, located at Palanquero, Apiay, and Malambo. The agreement also permits access to two naval bases and two army installations, and other Colombian military facilities if mutually agreed. All these military installations are, and will remain, under Colombian control. Command and control, administration, and security will continue to be handled by the Colombian armed forces. All activities conducted at or from these Colombian bases by the United States will take place only with the express prior approval of the Colombian government. The presence of U.S. personnel at these facilities would be on an as needed, and as mutually agreed upon, basis.

By 2009 Plan Colombia had achieved significant advances. Its greatest accomplishment was the dramatic improvements in security in the country and the suppression of illegally armed groups, including the FARC, ELN, and paramilitary groups. Achieving widespread security is a vital step toward the success of CN policies. Another important accomplishment has been the reduction of opium poppy cultivation, meeting the Plan Colombia target of a 50% reduction. However, it has not met its goal for a similar reduction of coca cultivation and cocaine production.

Plan Colombia had localized successes in eliminating coca cultivation. The area of coca production during the first half of the current decade was reduced, However, since 2004 the area cultivated has partially rebounded although there has been a 24% reduction in the estimated production of cocaine over the period 2001-2007, according to USG estimates. Coca farmers have sought to mitigate the effects of spraying and interdiction by various means, including replanting and a shift to cultivating in smaller plots.

The cooperation of the USG allowed the GOC to modernize its security and justice systems, and to augment their alternative development and humanitarian assistance programs. The implementation of Plan Colombia required a major fiscal effort on the part of the GOC in the budget categories of Defense and Security, Justice, Alternative Development (AD) and Victims of Conflict. The GOC significantly increased its spending in these categories, representing the GOC's great political will to implement Plan Colombia. With U.S. assistance, Colombia was able to reduce the indices of crime nationally, augment the regional presence of the state, and repel illegally armed groups.

The role of state presence throughout Colombia is crucial for the success of CN efforts. The lack of strong government has been a leading cause of Colombia's difficulties because illegal activities flourish in areas outside state control. While overall security has improved greatly nationally, it nonetheless remains tenuous in many parts of the country, especially in rural areas. Unlike in the 1990's and early part of this decade, these areas are more and more isolated pockets, rather than contiguous swaths of territory; Nonetheless, they are still widespread.

Economic reforms achieved under Plan Colombia greatly improved the business climate, allowing the domestic economy to take advantage of the expansion of the global economy, increasing international commerce and attracting greater foreign investment. Nonetheless, the dramatic macroeconomic improvements have not been translated into significant reductions in the deep and persisting poverty of the rural areas or into reductions in substantial inequality. Plan Colombia has become increasingly better at promoting sustainable alternative development. Significant applied learning has occurred since the initial projects launched under Plan Colombia.

The inflexible application of the "zero illicit crops" policy of the Colombian government (no delivery of socio-economic benefits to a community where any coca is cultivated), is an obstacle to economic development in the coca-afflicted areas. Although the policy is designed to enforce a culture of legality, in practice it prevents Colombian government institutions and the USG from providing the necessary assistance for coca farmers to switch to and remain in legal livelihoods. There are exceptions to the policy's implementation. The Macarena case demonstrates the willingness of GOC agencies under some circumstances to suspend its application to facilitate securing a region militarily.

Increasing each one of the individual CN programs - interdiction, eradication, and alternative development - would reduce coca production. However, the greatest reduction occurs if all programs are increased cumulatively, showing that an integrated program creates synergies that contribute to controlling illegal crops. The positive effect of these synergies is lost when the focus is on a single program. with the implementation of a strategy that includes all of the different programs, the area devoted to coca could shrink by more than 80 percent.

Potential cocaleros are willing to engage in livelihoods with more modest incomes, provided that there is greater security, adequate technical support for alternative crops, and access to financial services. Many coca farmers are eager to abandon coca cultivation: they desire to escape the insecurity that coca brings, such as the attraction of brutal armed groups and criminal organizations. They face significantly negative economic repercussions due to aerial and manual eradication.

Colombian actors charged with implementing alternative livelihoods policies believe that their programs reach less than 10% of families cultivating coca. This percentage is even smaller if one includes the numbers of families vulnerable to coca cultivation because of the insecurity of the area where they live and their attendant difficulties in cultivating and selling legal crops. This extremely limited coverage of the in-need population is a function of the zero-coca policy of the Colombian government (no delivery of socio-economic benefits to a community where any coca is cultivated), the limited amount of resources available through USG and GOC, and the need for enhanced security to precede alternative development programs.

Provision of basic public goods and services also continues to be lacking in vast areas of the country. The state has been slow to supplement the advances in security with comparable investments in the social and economic spheres. The lack of resources and the slow delivery of essential socioeconomic development have plagued even designated high priority areas. The civilian follow-up to military clearing and holding operations is frequently slow, uncoordinated, lacking resources, and suffers from a lack of commitment and ownership at the highest levels of the Colombian government. Furthermore, corruption at the local levels among local government bodies and within the security apparatus appears to be relatively more pervasive and difficult to control.

In the future, a strategy based on a more comprehensive, coordinated, and mutually supportive set of programs could eventually reduce coca cultivation in Colombia to the much smaller scale of the 1980's. However, a persistent increase of global demand without regional coordination of policies and programs could still make coca producing countries vulnerable to rebounds in production. Eventually, this could reverse the spreading that resulted from the initial successes of Peru and Bolivia, but with unwanted consequences such as social and economic destabilization in those two countries.

Rural development can and has played a significant role in helping at least one country reduce and eventually eliminate opium production and marketing. Thailand successfully transitioned its entire hill tribe population out of poppy production, primarily through a 30-year process involving investments in roads, communications, health, education, and improvement of social services. This ultimately made the hill tribe population an integral part of Thai society. Over a much larger geographic area, Colombia must engage in a comparable process of comprehensive investment in rural areas if it wishes to emulate Thailand's success.

On April 15, 2010 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates offered high praise to Colombia today as an "exporter of security" that, by sharing lessons learned in its crackdown against a leftist insurgency and drug-trafficking cartels, provides a model for the region. Gates offered congratulations to President Alvaro Uribe and Defense Minister Gabriel Silva LujŠn during his meetings with them, calling their leadership in Colombia's offensive against the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, known as FARC, and other paramilitary groups "heroic." "In just a few years, Colombia has achieved a remarkable, indeed historic, transformation in the security arena that few would have thought possible," Gates said during a joint news conference with Silva, during which Uribe offered opening remarks. Gates praised progress in taking Colombia "from a nation under siege from drug trafficking organizations and military groups to a country quickly becoming a lynchpin of security and prosperity in South America." He also recognized the skill and bravery Colombia's military and security forces have demonstrated in this effort.

But Colombia (and the U.S) still has much work to do. Military forces have succeeded in "clearing" much of the insurgent-held regions but have been less successful at "holding" these areas and have been unable to guarantee the safety of civilians in the effort to "build" institutions and infrastructure. The whole of government approach lacks focus and support. While the murder rate has dropped, it is still very high. Yes, leftist groups are on the decline but rightist paramilitary groups are on the rise in much of the country-so much so that several urban areas have seen a noticeable increase in the murder rate in the last eighteen months. Government credibility has been hurt by corruption and proven ties of rightist paramilitary groups to various government officials. Lastly, while Colombia has experienced a drop in poverty rates in recent years, it is the only major nation in Latin America that has actually seen an increase in the gulf between rich and poor.

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