Interagency cooperation in the Colombian Armed Forces
By Dialogo October 06, 2014
In the middle of the warm tropical rain forest in northwestern Antioquia, in the town of Mutatá, a small indigenous village suddenly emerges from the mist. It is home to 84 “tambos,” or homes and other modern buildings for the good of the community, which the inhabitants call “the place where life flourishes with the perfume of flowers” (Jaikerazabi in the language of the Emberá, an ancient tribe indigenous to the area). From the air, the village – laid out according to the indigenous people’s world view – looks like a large board game with gigantic pieces in an extensive clearing in the jungle.
The reality is a specific response to a collective dream in which the Armed Forces have participated since 2011, when an inter-institutional alliance was formed to construct, at the base of the wild Serranía de Abibe, a modern and permanent settlement for the Emberá-Katío, many of whom were displaced victims of violence, in order to aid their survival and development without harming their culture.
Today Jaikarazabi, like the other nine, similar indigenous towns in that area of the country, is home to native peoples in an environment that includes a school, a playground, health clinic, a community center for meetings, a multipurpose athletics field, a center for the shaman, or traditional doctor, and walking paths.
Jaikerazabi, which some have called "a refuge from the First World," is the result of efforts undertaken in conjunction with the indigenous peoples, the Ministry of Defense, the Department of Social Prosperity (DPS), the Government of Antioquia, the department’s Bureau of Indigenous Affairs, the Corbanacol Social Foundation, the town of Mutatá, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), among others. It is successful evidence of interagency cooperation in action.
In the last few years, the Seventh Division of the Army, with the support of a unit of Military Engineers, has been the driving force behind the idea of constructing nine indigenous towns in the departments of Antioquia and Córdoba, along a mountain chain that has been particularly affected by outlawed armed groups.
The project has been a model of interagency management that has benefitted the indigenous reserves of El Pando (Caucasia), Vegas de Segovia (Zaragoza), Ciacoro (Apartadó), Nakirazabi (Dabeiba), San Andrés de Sotavento (Tuchín), Dokerazabi (Turbo), El Volao and Caimán Nuevo (Necoclí), which belong to the Zenú, Emberá and Tule peoples.
The Ministries of Defense and Agriculture, as well as the Government of Antioquia, originally appropriated significant funding to the project, to which more funds were gradually added by other groups, such as the National Learning Service (SENA), indigenous councils, city halls of the relevant towns, and the Comprehensive Plan for Urabá, among others.
The National Army, for its part, has left an indelible mark on the region. The indigenous towns refer to the then-Commander of the Seventh Division, General Hernán Giraldo, as the “godfather” of the movement, for making his flagship project the idea of creating modern living areas for native peoples. The Tule – in a moving rite of baptism – even granted him the distinction of becoming one of their children.
This community, which received support from the government through the purchase of the land and grants of title to it, today has the happy opportunity to build a peaceful, planned territory, after learning in 2009 of a similar experience enjoyed by the Arahuacos of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
A long history and a new direction
Interagency cooperation, as a management tool of the government in socially vulnerable territories, has a long history in Colombia. This sort of cooperation among government institutions to aid regions affected by violence began during the administration of liberal politician Alberto Lleras Camargo (1958-1962), when the government operated the Multipurpose Groups, which brought together specialists whose mission was to travel to regions impacted by partisan violence and attend to their most pressing needs.
These experiences continued with relative success, and found renewed expression in the National Rehabilitation Plan and its Regional Committees during the administration of President Virgilio Barco Vargas (1986-1990), when in addition to promoting social advancement in the regions that received aid, the government also worked towards getting those regions more involved in the national economy.
Later, after several enriching experiences in this area, interagency cooperation found a new path through the formation in 2004 of the President of the Republic’s Coordination Center for Comprehensive Action, midway through the first term of President Álvaro Uribe Vélez. The military, the police and all ministries were now included in this effort, which would also encompass oversight and international cooperation agencies, among others, with the goal of strengthening the government’s presence in territories under the influence of outlawed armed groups.
In mid-October 2013, the idea of interagency cooperation received a strong push from the Strategic Renovation and Innovation Committee, CREI-3, under the “Sword of Honor” War Plan, which included the most important action items within the Armed Forces for the country’s current circumstances.
While developing the CREI-3’s suggestion, the Commander’s Advisory Group, GAC, of the Ministry of National Defense – one of the driving forces behind the War Plan – advanced the formation of an Interagency Policy to manage agency consolidation in order to specify the government capabilities that could contribute to the National Policy on Consolidation and Rebuilding of the National Territory (PNCRT), in strategic, critical and grey areas.
To carry out this policy, the GAC proposed integrating institutional technical capabilities (Comprehensive Action) with the government, the private sector, and international cooperation; to generate interagency actions (projects) at all levels, pursuant to government strategies and policies; and to formalize jointly responsible relationships among the actors involved in carrying out the policy
While its role as an interagency coordination team is being formalized, the GAC is moving forward by working jointly with institutions such as the Administrative Department for Social Prosperity, the Special Administrative Unit for Territorial Consolidation, the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare, the National Police, the Office of the Prosecutor General of the Nation and, last but not least, the petroleum industry.
Maybe s/he described something that already happened. Telling us how everything is planned, but leaving us a little short regarding what is next, what is being planned to equal or improve upon what was done in Jaikerazabi.