Colombian Air Force Brings Aid to Northeastern Part of the Country
By Yolima Dussán/Diálogo November 03, 2017When children from the town of El Cocuy see members of the Colombian Air Force (FAC, per its Spanish acronym) arrive, they excitedly come out to greet them. They know quite well who they are and why they have come. FAC spreads happiness with smiles, gifts, music, toys, food, and medicines they bring—a time for celebration. The Development Assistance Campaign held on August 28th 2017 was no different for the residents of one of the rural parts of the department of Meta in northeastern Colombia. “FAC is always looking after us, especially our children. They inquire about our needs and then bring us solutions,” Jacinto Ojeda Soto, president of the Cocuy Community Action Council, told Diálogo. “They brought in a large team of health professionals. That was the priority, together with an extensive recreation program that kept the children who attended happy. Their relations with the community are quite good, and bound to get even better.” The 2nd Combat Air Command (CACOM2, per its Spanish acronym) treated close to 1,650 people from El Cocuy. During two days, dozens of residents from neighboring areas, such as Barcelona, Apiay, and Bella Suiza, also benefited. Educational programs Free medical services, which consisted of general medicine, pediatrics, respiratory therapy, physical therapy, psychology, gynecology, optometry, and dental procedures, served 1,085 people. Children particularly enjoyed participating in activities under the direction of a professional recreational team, such as competitions, choreography, and playing with an inflatable toy resembling an A-29 Super Tucano military plane, which was used for the first time. CACOM2 is considered FAC’s most operational unit. Its area of responsibility is approximately 269,981 square kilometers, amounting to 24 percent of the nation’s territory. “El Cocuy has 2,600 residents. We moved these activities forward precisely in order to serve this community,” said Colombian Air Force Major Manuel Felipe Calixto Rodríguez, head of the CACOM2’s Comprehensive Action Department and in charge of activities. “Here, the problems are of all varieties. Healthcare is a big one, but the greater need is education.” Guerrilla zone Development Assistance Campaigns are increasingly relevant throughout Colombia, but in some regions the need is greater. The area around El Cocuy is a case in point, as 60 to 65 percent of the members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) lived in the departments of Meta and Guaviare. “One of the conclusions following the peacekeeping accords was to concentrate the government’s efforts with armed forces having a presence and tightening the bonds with the community. In this jurisdiction, the effort is ongoing,” Maj. Rodríguez said. “Before, in this area there were daily operations with evacuations and close air support. Such situations have dropped by 95 percent, but the problems with drug trafficking and illegal crops remain and are deeply rooted. We’re working on solving that situation.” “The people of this area want to feel safe. There is fear over dissident actions. The assistance FAC provides us is acknowledged by everyone,” Ojeda added. “Due to our closeness with CACOM2, we don’t have any larger problems, but there are many districts and neighboring towns that are in urgent need of greater assistance.” Extended comprehensive action The Development Assistance Campaigns are held every other month, but the goal is to increase the frequency to monthly, in order to level the population in all assistance areas and track results with more details. In addition to these activities, CACOM2 is developing another strategy to service the populations who need the most help. The residents of the municipalities of San Juanito and El Calvario,—the only two in the department of Meta located in the eastern mountain range—are such people. They not only endured the presence of guerillas but suffered direct attacks from them. “They were quite bruised by the conflict. We are going right into those municipalities,” Maj. Rodríguez said. “It’s not about waiting until the next scheduled Development Assistance Campaign. It’s about being present every day.” Productive projects “Comprehensive Action” is a military term used by the Colombian Military Forces to define the scope of actions that benefit communities. The assistance campaigns fall into that category, but their significance also carries a deeper and more strategic meaning. “We are aiming to use development as a weapon to counter unstable and criminal forces that threaten areas of the country that the guerrilla factions have left,” Major Andrea Carolina Archila Álvarez, assistant director of the FAC’s Comprehensive Action Department, explained to Diálogo. “We need structural changes, employment opportunities, education, and access to all government services.” Through these productive projects, as well as the training, infrastructure, and development efforts led by the military, the Colombian government looks for genuine rapid-response solutions and alternatives for people to stop engaging in illegal activities. “Take the case of an indigenous community in the department of Amazonas. They lived in Araracuara, where they were initially displaced by FARC,” Maj. Rodríguez said. “Pushed off their land, they headed to Bogotá. But it was no place for them. Now they are in our jurisdiction, in the municipality of Restrepo, where, after hearing their story, we helped them create a productive project for a poultry farm, which has developed quite nicely. And that is their new source of income.” Every day, the FAC’s Comprehensive Action Department receives or generates new initiatives to develop productive projects. They are progressively put into operation. Meanwhile, with the Development Assistance Campaign FAC reaffirms its bond and commitment to the community.