The United States-Colombia Action Plan is one of the farthest-reaching programs the United States promotes, with the support of Colombia.
The United States-Colombia Action Plan (USCAP) for Regional Security is a cooperation agreement Colombia and the United States signed during former U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to the April 2012 Summit of the Americas, in Cartagena, Colombia. President Obama and then Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos agreed to work together to provide assistance to partner nations and strengthen the fight against the global drug problem and transnational crime. The plan included strengthening military and police capabilities through exchanging and fostering experiences, techniques, tactics, and procedures that would enable all countries to confront the insecurity that threatens regional stability.
In 2013, following the USCAP’s creation, an agreement was reached to provide cooperation to Panama, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. In 2014, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic were added. To date, Colombia has trained over 4,000 members of the public and armed forces of member countries; they project this figure will increase in the next few years with the inclusion of more partner nations.
Colombia, a regional example
For Colombia, training and supporting the work of strengthening the security and legitimacy of other hemispheric countries is positive. The country is not only considered the United States’ main regional ally, but it also has the opportunity to export the knowledge and skills its armed forces have acquired over decades of training and capacity building.
For Colombia’s Military Forces, it is vitally important to support the fight against transnational threats by transferring knowledge to participating USCAP partner nations. “The differential capabilities the Colombian Military Forces have acquired over more than 50 years of uninterrupted fighting against terrorism and narcotrafficking allow us to share this experience; we strengthen our bonds of cooperation and mutual trust under the concept of cooperative security. At the same time we help USCAP beneficiary countries reach interoperability levels in the fight against emerging threats,” said Colonel Juan Carlos Mazo, director of the Office of International Relations for the Colombian Military Forces’ General Command.
It’s important to highlight the considerable effort the United States made over the last few decades to increase regional stability; as a result, Colombia represents the most successful case study for this purpose. “The professionalism and capabilities of the Colombian Military Forces earn not only the respect of Colombian people, but also the respect and admiration of other regional partner nations. The United States knows that supporting Colombia in exporting its experience logically represents the next step in sharing our joint objective of providing increased regional stability,” said Kevin Staley, chief of the U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) Security Cooperation Division, which oversees the USCAP.
According to Staley, SOUTHCOM will bring other partner nations into the program. “We want Colombia and the United States to mature this export effort to synchronize security efforts in the Americas. In addition, we are coordinating with Colombia’s Ministry of Defense to modify the program’s approach to one that’s more strategic than operational. Even though we will continue to provide training at the tactical level, we want to provide a balance among the three levels to satisfy the needs of USCAP countries.”
During the USCAP’s last planning conference, in December 2018 in Guatemala City, Guatemala, Honduran Army Lieutenant Colonel César Rodríguez said, “The training Colombia has provided under the USCAP contributes to increasing the seizures of cocaine shipments headed to the United States that use Honduras as a transit route.”
Between 2013, when training began, and 2018, Honduran Armed Forces seized 33 tons of narcotics, equivalent to almost $600 million. This figure, added to the other participating countries’ results, shows that joint and coordinated efforts contribute to the operational success every nation seeks, after they receive training such as that the USCAP offers.
USCAP towards the future
The medium- and long-term purpose of the USCAP is to continue providing training at the three levels – strategic, operational, and tactical – for member countries, as well as to strengthen the train-the-trainer methodology, which allows the knowledge acquired to multiply through the generation of new training capabilities. The expectation is that nations facing security threats similar to those of current members will be able to join the plan in the coming years.