Colombian National Army Aids Development in Arauca

Colombian National Army Aids Development in Arauca

By Dialogo
November 05, 2015

These civic actions by the military should be increased after the conflict to gain acceptance from the civilian population I hope the FARC rats are put to build all the houses they razed with bombs…

Colombia's National Army is conducting a series of initiatives under the Sword of Honor campaign to promote development in the department of Arauca, a region that has been significantly impacted by armed conflict between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), and gangs.

Since 2012, the Quirón Task Force, under the Army's Eighth Division, has supported development in various municipalities in Arauca and in Cubará, a municipality in the department of Boyacá, with building, maintaining, and repairing crucial infrastructure components of the mission. In April, for instance, the Engineering Battalion finished paving 17.5 kilometers of a roadway from Saravena, in Arauca, to Cubará. The thoroughfare is crucial for the region because it connects the departments of Santander and Norte de Santander, expanding opportunities for trade and commerce.

“Thanks to the Army’s public works projects, we now have a much more pleasant urban area,” said Edgar Ortiz, government secretary in Tame, Arauca. “The Senior Citizen Center, the paved streets connecting the high school to a major road, the arena with its recreational area… it’s all part of an infrastructure that is vital for us.”

Revitalizing regions impacted by illegal activity

The infrastructure projects supported by the Army are promoting development in regions where the economy has been harmed by FARC and ELN violence.

Beginning in the early 1970s, illegal armed groups began operating in earnest in Arauca, a sparsely populated rural region that has 9.74 residents per square kilometer, well below the national average of 37. The groups targeted the region's petroleum industry, stealing oil from pipelines to finance their illicit enterprises.

Over the years, the FARC, ELN, and gangs engaged in activities that harmed the region's economy, such as extortion, kidnapping for ransom, drug trafficking, and the destruction of oil pipelines and power grids. They've also assassinated majors, judges, Soldiers, police officers, and journalists, while FARC and ELN violence has displaced thousands of residents.

But Colombia's Armed Forces have made significant progress against the FARC, ELN, and other illegal groups in recent years, as successful Military initiatives have bolstered security in regions impacted by terrorist and criminal groups. For instance, in 2012, an Army air strike destroyed a FARC camp near the village of Puerto Jordán in Arauca, forcing FARC operatives to retreat and enabling security forces to regain control of the area.

Consequently, the improvement in public safety has opened the way for development projects. Villagers are grateful for the public safety improvements and the development projects that Army Troops are bringing to the region.

“I have lived here for 15 years and this is the first time that I have seen any progress in this town,” said Carlos Martínez, chair of the Araguaney Community Action Board in Puerto Jordán, a village in the Colombian municipality of Tame. “Since the Military came to build these public works, we feel like new people, and we have the opportunity to express ourselves differently.”

Puerto Jordán has come back to life as a result of authorities investing almost 4 billion pesos ($1.371 million) in public works since 2012. The area is home to 10,000 residents and has a 1,300-student high school outfitted with modern equipment, according to Brigadier General Luis Danilo Murcia, commanding officer of the Quirón Task Force. The Army also built a stadium, a playground, and a home for the elderly.

A diagnostic study

Many of the Army's development efforts began in 2011 within the framework of the Ministry of Defense’s Strategic Renovation and Innovation Committee (CREI) when it engaged in a series of interviews and surveys to determine what initiatives and projects could help Arauca and its residents.

Using the data in the report, the Army diagnosed issues that impacted towns such as La Paz, El Oasis, El Botalón, and Santo Domingo – places where the government had never established a presence due to an extraordinary lack of security, according to Brig. Gen. Murcia.

“In these small villages, people’s living conditions were very precarious. The only government presence was in the form of Soldiers passing through the area on a Military mission to control the territory. (The region) was notorious for the deterioration of the buildings and for a lack of roads.

Accordingly, the Army designed a strategy to support projects, such as the constructing and repairing of roads, bridges, homes, health centers, and schools. Traditionally, Arauca has produced a significant amount of agricultural products; Arauca's Chamber of Commerce reported the department is the primary producer of plantains nationwide, at 61.97 percent, which is why the Army's plan is focused on supporting agricultural production projects.

“For example, in the village of El Botalón, in Tame, we are investing 10 billion pesos [approximately $3.43 million) to bolster plantain cultivation,” Brig. Gen. Murcia explained. “We are also providing support for the construction, expansion, and improvements to the Agricultural Promotion Institute in Puerto Jordán, at a cost of 909 million pesos [approximately $312,000]. We began the process for all of these works in 2012, and even though they have not been completed, they are coming along nicely.”

Similarly, in 2014, the Army began working on the construction of a dairy transformation plant – for products such as cheese and yogurt – in the municipality of Arauquita. The investment of 10 billion pesos will enable the plant to begin production in mid-2016 and benefit about 45 countries.

“Araucans are hard-working people, and they enjoy tilling the land and raising livestock. In the survey, they expressed their desire to receive support to boost their agricultural activities and end their dependence on the oil industry," Brig. Gen. Murcia added. "They also asked us to build and improve roadways so they could sell their products outside the area. Furthermore, they asked us to build schools and multi-sports centers to educate their children.”

In 2012, the extraction of petroleum and gas accounted for 53 percent of the department's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while agriculture, livestock, hunting, forestry, and fishing industries collectively accounted for 20 percent of the department's GDP, according to the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE). About 61 percent of the department's population lived in poverty, based on the Multidimensional Poverty Index (IPM) for Arauca, which relied on figures provided by the 2005 General Census in Colombia.

Until security forces improved public safety in the region, the conflict in Arauca impeded the development of technological and production capabilities for the agricultural sector. Over 84,000 cases of forced displacement were reported from 2000 to 2014, according to the Sole Registry of Victims.

A coordinated effort

To facilitate planning for project requests from the Araucan community, the Army established the Office of Client Services and Indigenous Affairs.

Once a request is prepared, authorities enter it into an Army database in Bogotá, where the necessary resources and support are managed by the municipality’s administration, the state government, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Transportation, or the corresponding entity. This way, the efforts from different government or non-governmental agencies are brought together to resolve the problems expressed directly by citizens.

Some projects help the community without providing a direct economic benefit. For example, the Army built a sports facility for 1,000 students at Pablo VI High School in Cubará at a cost of 600 million pesos (about $206,000).

“These works are very important because Cubará has very limited resources, and this affects the municipality’s progress,” said Vivián García, a student at the high school.