The Colombian Army’s Eleventh Brigade is participating in the initiative “Fridays of Colors,” a program that provides opportunities for health care, education, recreation, sports, and other activities to children and young people of Monteria, the capital of the Department of Cordoba.
The program launched May 28. On the first day of the program, Colombian soldiers reached out to 250 children from the Furatena neighborhood, in the southern part of Monteria.
A festive occasion
The opening day of the program was a festive occasion.
The Eleventh Brigade’s band played for the children and their parents. Soldiers engaged with children in fun and joyful activities. Some soldiers performed magic tricks, while others engaged in face painting with kids.
“This program seeks to provide opportunities for health care, education, recreation, sports, and other activities aimed at children and young people,” an Army press release said.
The Colombian Army is providing important services in remote and possibly dangerous regions which are difficult for other government agencies to work in, according to Carlos Mendoza Mora, director of Strategic Consulting Projects a private security company in Mexico City.
“The Army is involved in these programs because the rest of the government agencies have no guarantees for working in those territorial spaces, someone has to do it, this has clearly been understood by the Army,” Mendoza Mora said. “Under these circumstances, the Ministry of Defense has integrated a panel to give sustainability to these communities after armed intervention begins against terrorist groups operating in the area, which is a good seed initiative that then has to be followed by other government agencies.”
Laughing for Peace entertains civilians in remote areas
The Colombian Army has launched other programs to provide joy and fun to remote communities throughout the country.
One of those programs is the Colombia Circus, also known as Laughing for Peace. The main goal of the Colombia Circus, which is comprised of soldiers from the 13th Brigade assigned to the National Army’s Fifth Division, is to strengthen ties with civilian communities by entertaining them.
Laughing for Peace staged a show in mid-March, 2014, in Tibiritá, Cundinamarca, an area where the defunct Medellín Cartel used to operate in the 1980s and early 1990s. While the Medellín Cartel is gone, defeated by Colombian security forces, other organized crime groups, such as Los Urabenos and Los Rastrojos, have been operating in the region.
There are 17 soldiers in Laughing for Peace. The circus group, which was formed in 1996, performs in remote villages every week. The performances are free.
Initiatives like Fridays of Colors and Laughing for peace are innovative ways for the Army to reach out to the civilian population in a friendly and positive manner.
“Authorities are offering alternatives to the population so they start realizing that crime is not the best option, and to give cause to their lives and their communities,” Mendoza Mora said. “Medical, educational, recreational, sports and other activities undertaken by the Army are positive programs.”
Fighting the FARC by providing services and entertainment
By providing medical and educational services and entertainment, the Army is easing the pain caused to thousands of people who have been displaced because of fighting among street gangs and larger organized crime groups, such as the terrorist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army, Los Rastrojos and Los Urabenos.
Fighting among these groups is responsible for much of the displacement, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The Colombian government is engaged in ongoing peace talks in Havana with the FARC. Despite the efforts of government negotiators to find a peaceful resolution which would protect the civilian population, the FARC has continued to launch attacks on security forces and civilians throughout the country.
These clashes caused additional displacement in recent years.
Organized crime violence has led to the displacement of about 4.7 million people in Colombia.
Between January and June 2013, violence – primarily between organized crime groups – displaced 61 large groups of people (50 people or more) throughout Colombia, according to the UNHCR.
Army initiatives combat organized crime recruiting efforts
The positive programs provided by the Army help neutralize recruiting efforts by the FARC, the ELN, and other criminal organizations, Mendoza Mora said.
The Army initiatives are helping people who otherwise would not benefit from such programs. “More than 40,000 people (in targeted areas) throughout the country have directly benefitted from these programs,” Mendoza Mora said.
The Army efforts are working “quite positively,” the security analyst said.
Julieta Pelcastre contributed to this story.