Corazón Verde: The Colombian National Police’s heartfelt commitment to its nation
By Dialogo May 01, 2014
In August 2012, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced the launch of Corazón Verde (Green Heart in Spanish), a revamped National Police strategy to confront the biggest crimes currently affecting the Colombian citizenry.
"Today we are introducing a new instrument to help us make our environments as safe and sound as we want them,” said President Santos that day, as he officially launched the strategy in Bogotá.
A few months earlier, in February 2012, he announced the launch of Sword of Honor, a strategic military war plan to aggressively counter the FARC and other illegal armed groups in order to cut the insurgency’s capacity in half in the following two years, thus limiting its ability to attack the state and its interests.
While Sword of Honor was built into the president’s National Security Policy on the military side, Green Heart was built into the Citizen Coexistence and Security Policy on the side of the police. But both, as complements to one another, were part of a greater vision to change the existing and independent strategies in place then in order to execute a stronger but joint front against crime, insecurity and terrorism from all angles.
During the launch of Green Heart, President Santos welcomed his fellow citizens to build a common front, a united offensive against criminals. “The Police cannot do it alone, the national government cannot do it alone. In order to improve our efforts and add to our successes, we must all work together hand in hand, with no exception.”
He then announced that the plan would focus on combating drug trafficking and terrorism, criminal gangs and illegal mining, including challenges like kidnapping, extortion, smuggling, cyber crime and crime perpetrated by those who oppose land restitution.
“It contemplates social prevention and environmental improvement strategies in the presence of police control and within a culture of legality, and it promotes a compromise with security from the part of the citizens because this policy must be a two-way street: from the citizens to the institutions and from the institutions to the citizens,” said President Santos.
In a country like Colombia, where –unlike other countries– its National Police (PNC) is subordinate to the Ministry of Defense, just like the military, this makes logical sense. The plan then, is a united front for all the country’s security forces to work side-by-side on the joint execution of a national goal to build a safe environment free of illegal armed groups and the illegal activities they perpetrate at all levels.
“[The government] is committed to fight against these [criminal] behaviors. That’s why we’re formalizing a new and transcendental step forward for the security of our fellow citizens in the cities as well as in the rural areas, in the country side,” emphasized the President.
In a recent presentation at the Brookings Institution, a private, U.S.-based nonprofit organization devoted to independent research and innovative policy solutions, Colombian Minister of National Defense Juan Carlos Pinzón, stated that after understanding that the country had largely ungoverned spaces throughout its national territory that were taken over by illegal players, they needed to “create a reasonable, sizable security force that allowed [the State] to make an increasing presence in the country… first militarily, to go fight [the illegal players] and shock the area, but more and more so to include the police.”
“In fact,” he added, “Colombia’s National Police is the institution that has shown the greatest growth in the past five years, because now they have to hold public order and contribute to establishing the rest of the State in those areas.”
Green Heart has the clear objective of creating a secure environment for civic coexistence by reducing high-impact crime throughout the population via a multi-pronged approach based on 16 structural, tactical and impact strategies designed to use intelligence operations to affect the criminal groups’ structures, according to an article in Colombian daily El País. In addition, it also has the aim of strengthening the defense sector’s institutionalism and wellbeing and moving forward by continuously improving and renovating the PNC.
Those strategies were to be accompanied by an increased police presence of up to 20,000 additional officers by 2014, in order to confront the most common crimes currently affecting Colombian citizens. Although these include more obvious crimes such as terrorism, drug trafficking, theft, kidnapping and extortion, there are also strategies to support land restitution, protect the general population, counter criminal gangs, cybercrime, smuggling and illegal mining. This, according to President Santos, falls under the framework of the government’s National Citizen Security and Coexistence Policy, which encompasses security in public spaces, such as parks, streets and neighborhoods.
Included as part of the strategies, Green Heart contains five missionary pillars that combine the coexistence among citizens with rural and road security, in order to guarantee protection for minors, adolescents and vulnerable populations, a PNC role specifically established by Colombia’s constitution. “It’s a plan with different components, that attacks different types of crime, but is integrated in a single approach,” summarized President Santos.
According to Lieutenant Colonel Gustavo Franco, director of Strategic Communications at the National Police, communication is a “basic and determining” factor to implementing Green Heart. “The PNC is an institution with 172,000 men and women who are present in every single municipality and town in the country,” he said during an interview with Diálogo in November 2013. To stress the reach the institution has, he highlighted the fact that Colombia’s National Police has 34 national broadcast networks in place and currently has the third highest world-wide following on Social Media, after the FBI and the Spanish Civil Police. “We have developed the capability of building proper channels to disseminate information… we understand the social dynamics [Social Media] of the new era and that’s why we are part of it.”
“My role as Director of Strategic Communications is not only to properly manage the institution’s information, but to strengthen and humanize the image of the PNC in the face of the public, thus generating a culture of citizen solidarity, trust, and credibility. Lt. Col. Franco added that in addition to carrying out the mission –as in the case of executing Green Heart, for example– his division’s role includes creating a relationship and interacting with every citizen, but specifically including public opinion makers and leaders among those in order to be a part of social development.
“From the Strategic Communications stand point, we first implemented the concept of Green Heart internally, so that each of our officers understood it and adopted it as their own in order to later apply it in all levels of our service to society… We can attain solidarity from the citizenry and that solidarity will allow us to involve citizens in our ultimate goal of achieving coexistence.”
During his presidential address to propose the 2014 budget to the Colombian Congress early in 2014, Santos proved that Green Heart has already yielded positive results. He said that since the initiative’s launch, 18,000 police men and women had been deployed throughout 760 municipalities around the country as part of a national surveillance plan, producing the lowest homicide and kidnapping rates in the last decades as a result. “Colombia is no longer the number one producer of cocaine or coca leaves. Those percentages fell by 25 percent in 2013, and the large cartels with their capos ceased to exist,” he announced.
Some of the initiative’s other successes, according to the presidential speech, include the following numbers: there are 448 municipalities in Colombia that have not suffered a single homicide, representing 41 percent of the national total. Ninety-six percent of the country’s municipalities have not had a single kidnapping case. In addition, while Colombia registered the lowest rates of home and automobile robberies in the last 11 years, bank robberies have decreased by 6.7 percent since 2010.
With respect to countering drug micro trafficking and criminality, Santos said the PNC has dismantled 25 drug sales centers, and with it directly affected criminal organizations.
The list concluded by highlighting that for the first time, Colombia has a Policy of Coexistence and Citizen Security in place and that a new National Police and Coexistence Bill is under consideration in Congress.
President Santos announced that 15,000 more police officers will be added to the 10,000 new officers already incorporated into the PNC, completely equipped and concentrated in the areas with greater incidence of crime.
Other initiatives are in place to cover the 16 strategies defined early on. While it will take time to see the measurable effects of these, it is clear that working together is putting the country in the right path to meet its goals.
In that respect, General Alejandro Navas Ramos, former commander of the Colombian Armed Forces, said that teamwork represents the single concept to have marked the difference between success and failure in each of humanity’s actions. He compared the Colombian government’s approach to executing complementary military (Sword of Honor) and police strategies (Green Heart) to the Roman Legion in Ancient Rome and quoted Alexandre Dumas’ famous words: “one for all and all for one” to explain the importance of working in unison to achieve a common goal. “Understanding that one was a part of a bigger system, the success and proper operation of which depended on the efficiency of each of its members, made the Roman Legion mythical in its time. Working together and not individually was what paved the way for the creation of a great empire,” he said.
In the simple words of President Santos that initial afternoon in August 2012, “[the Colombian government’s] dream and objective, with Green Heart, is to allow [Colombian] citizens to enjoy their cities and their country side without fear.”
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