Panamá de Arauca: an interagency consolidation project

Continual guerrilla attacks on oil infrastructure and civilians have led a group of agencies to take action on the matter. Social inclusion initiatives have been added to security projects in order to restore peaceful community life in the region.
Major General José Rafael González Villamil (Ret.), Army of Colombia | 12 November 2014

Transnational Threats

Dairy processing. [Photo: Colombian Army]

Panamá de Arauca is a town in the municipality of Arauquita, in the department of Arauca in eastern Colombia, on the border with neighboring Venezuela.

Delivery of school supplies.  [Photo: Colombian Army]

This town has traditionally been a vital economic center for Orinoco regional development (as this area of the country is known) because its vast plains hide large oil fields that have contributed significantly to Colombia’s economy.

Unfortunately, it is not only the government and major national and international companies that have established a presence in this strategically and economically important area of Colombia. In addition, the underground riches have attracted guerrillas and terrorist groups, who intend to stem the growth of the region, one way or another.

Interestingly, the riches of this area have led outlaw groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) to establish criminal alliances in order to intimidate civilians and companies interested in developing the region. This threatens to jeopardize the government’s institutions and absolute control over the area.

In 2012 and 2013, the Panamá de Arauca region faced kidnappings, extortion, and attacks on vehicles and employees in the public and private sectors. The criminal alliances worked to turn this area into a strategic corridor in their plan to weaken the Colombian government.

The government and companies were acting independently to address their separate concerns over maintaining state institutions and concerns over the defense of corporate resources. This has cost both valuable time, which in turn has benefited the criminal groups.

However, after looking at how the growing problem has not only caused economic losses but the deaths of dozens of farmers, employees, soldiers and police, government institutions decided to take action on the issue and draft the Strategic Recovery and Consolidation Plan for Panamá de Arauca.

The Plan consists of four phases to integrate entities of the Colombian state oil company Ecopetrol, the National Defense Ministry’s Advisory Campaign Group (GAC), the Armed Forces General Command, the National Army, the Office of the Prosecutor General, the Administrative Unit for Territorial Consolidation (UACT), the municipal government of Arauca, the municipal government of Arauquita, and private enterprises. The participants realized that an interagency commitment would be essential to resolve the crisis.

The four phases, still in development, aim to improve community life and mobility in the area, as well as increase the visibility of projects and activities in the region to promote the institutions involved in the consolidation plan. Similarly, and no less importantly, the goal is for the community ultimately to assume responsibility for peaceful communities as the engine of social and economic progress.

Phase 0 and/or the preliminary phase – one of the most difficult – required pairing institutions to work together, and engaging them in the economy and in society. This phase started in 2013. They created an action plan to build a stronger police presence and enact a permanent budget for development in the area.

Thanks to the willingness of the community and the organizations involved, the consolidation project gradually began to bear fruit, and the objectives were fully realized within months.

Panama Arauca town center.  [Photo: Colombian Army]

Phase 1 began immediately thereafter. The community would be the main beneficiary of this phase’s main goals of school improvements, health brigades, and free school supplies, in addition to new studies on the feasibility of community-based foundations and enterprises.

This was an important step because the community began to recognize the project and participants. They also began to feel the benefits from the program. For example, the Pedro Nel Jiménez school was remodeled to serve not only the students, but the community as well. The school will be used to hold meetings and healthcare-related activities.

As a region consisting primarily of plains, Panamá de Arauca boasts livestock and dairy activities. This provided the participants with an opportunity for community support by providing equipment and improving livestock facilities, an important source of income for thousands of people in Arauquita.

One of the most urgent needs in the region is a dairy processing center. An analysis was conducted in this phase to determine what was required to make the center viable and affordable for the community.

The new closeness with the community in addition to the Defense Ministry’s faithful commitment to safety, have achieved strategic results from the production and transport of crude oil. Incidents and attacks on convoys have been reduced by 65%, and the community began to report attacks. Such reports in the past were minimal to non-existent.

The National Police have begun to take better control of registering people and vehicles. They have also initiated a communications strategy for the project.

Currently, the two final phases to consolidate the state’s presence and operations in Panamá de Arauca are being implemented. The National Learning Service (SENA), the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare (ICBF) and the Colombian Institute of Sports (Coldeportes) have joined the institutions already involved.

Once the goals of these last two phases have been fully met, the families of Panamá de Arauca should notice an evident increase in their resources, and incidents against the economy will surely be reduced nearly to zero.

Although only half of the project has been completed, the most important part has been getting started and engaging institutions, which is already a reality. As shown by the steady results from the initial phases, the success of the consolidation plan is guaranteed.

The logo promoting the consolidation plan has butterfly wings in the colors of the institutions involved, and represents the butterfly effect that a small town in Colombia is beginning to have on the world.

In short, this consolidation plan is a great example of how a well-led project allows the government, law enforcement, private enterprise and the community to reclaim their legitimacy in a territory that should never have been at the mercy of criminals.

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