In July 2021, Colombia launched the Unified Action Acceleration Plan (PAAU, in Spanish) to strengthen interinstitutional coordination and reinforce the State’s presence in some areas of the country, with the aim of bringing social investment, low-complexity public works, tools to improve coexistence in these areas, and security. Diálogo spoke with Colombian Vice Minister of Defense for Policies and International Affairs Sandra Álzate Cifuentes about this plan and its implications for the country.
Diálogo: What does the Unified Action Acceleration Plan consist of?
Colombian Vice Minister of Defense for Policies and International Affairs Sandra Álzate Cifuentes: It’s a plan that we have created at the Ministry of National Defense as an initiative to coordinate all civil and military action, working closely with key social entities at the national level. For me, it’s a dream come true. It’s an interinstitutional coordination to strengthen the State’s presence in the most vulnerable regions of the country. On the one hand, it facilitates coordination within the defense sector, with comprehensive action and police prevention, with the participation of the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, and the National Police, to which is added social intervention and investment of relevant institutions, such as the Colombian Civil Defense, the Department for Social Prosperity, the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF, in Spanish), the National Training Service, (SENA, in Spanish), and the Unit for Comprehensive Victim Support and Reparation, among others. All these institutions have joined this effort to bring a practical, real, and immediate presence, giving access to populations that the conflict has severely affected, both in rural and urban areas of our country, in order to regain the confidence of communities in their institutions, legitimize the State’s presence, bolster territorial governance, and strengthen the ties between communities and the public force, to favor development and well-being in the communities where we work.
Diálogo: How do the Colombian Military Forces, the National Police, and other State organizations coordinate the plan’s execution?
Vice Minister Álzate: We have total support from the participating institutions. We have permanent liaisons in each of the institutions involved that operate hand in hand with a work team in the office that I lead, which is responsible for conducting the logistics coordination that every interinstitutional event requires at the territorial level, as well as following up on the commitments that these visits generate.
We plan to conduct 33 events in 22 municipalities of 13 departments in the country. In these prioritized sites, we have been working since August 5 this year, and we have planned interventions through June 2022, when new priorities will emerge. This plan has had such an impact, due to the events we’ve held, production associations are looking to join this process, because they also want to provide some input, a contribution to provide their offer and support, with specific economic and social development actions for the participating communities
Diálogo: The plan organizes interinstitutional events. What are the results of the first event, held in Sardinata, Norte de Santander, on August 6, 2021?
Vice Minister Álzate: Sardinata is a municipality located in the Catatumbo region, one of the most complex regions in terms of public order, due to the presence of diverse illegal actors in this area. The town’s mayor, Dr. Hermides Moncada, was present at the event, and Norte de Santander’s secretary of Government also joined. We had 812 people in attendance, in an urban area with an estimated population of 9,264 inhabitants. The municipality had never had an event of this magnitude and nature, as we carried out recreational events, cultural and leisure activities, sports activities, peasant markets, and orchestras, as well as actions to bolster prevention, coexistence, and citizen security, among others.
For example, Civil Defense assisted 487 people with pre-hospital care, prevention training, first-aid training, airlift activities, and humanitarian aid delivery. The Group for Humanitarian Assistance to the Demobilized, for its part, contributed with prevention and awareness activities to help children and teenagers avoid forced recruitment, a very relevant action to prevent young people from falling into the networks of criminal organizations that are present in the area. The Fire Brigade held talks on the firefighter profession, presented the route of the fire engine, and conducted recreational and prevention activities. The ICBF delivered food with high nutritional value, provided psychosocial and nutritional support to 11 families, and carried out nutritional screening, together with nutritional diagnosis. SENA provided information about its comprehensive professional training programs.
Diálogo: What is your greatest challenge in leading this plan?
Vice Minister Álzate: The main challenge will be in focusing the plan. Preparation helped us predefine really complex territories. Just one week after the interinstitutional events began, I received requests from at least three areas that want us to come to their territory with this type of initiatives and interventions. Having to say “no” is going to be very complex, and for this reason we want to increase our network of partners, to be able to meet all the demands that we are going to receive.
Diálogo: What do you think your main contribution will be to the Colombian Military Forces?
Vice Minister Álzate: As a woman, I am proud to be part of this sector, which has always been very masculine, and to show that more and more women are leading the public force and have been able to take on roles and responsibilities in both the Military Forces and the National Police, which leaves a mark, a guarantee of a more comprehensive vision when adopting a national policy. President Iván Duque Márquez and our [Defense] Minister Diego Molano, for example, have been concerned about having a Gender Office in the various forces, and right at this moment, we are building the team that will carry out that process from the Ministry. Women are called to make our contribution, with our vision in defense and national security policies, as well as in their implementation.
On the other hand, I believe that if we work with conviction, national pride, and an understanding of our challenges, together we can change the country’s reality, because we have the ability to work with partners as important as [U.S.] Southern Command and the U.S. government, which have been our main partners in the region for many years.