In La Macarena, a program on “autopilot”

At the very end of April and beginning of May, a group from WOLA (The Washington Office on Latin America), CIP (Center for International Policy, Washington), Asociación MINGA(Bogotá), and the Institute for Development and Peace Studies (INDEPAZ, Bogotá) traveled to Vistahermosa and San Juan de Arama, in the department of Meta, about 125 miles south of Bogotá.

These two municipalities are part of the “La Macarena” zone, shorthand for a longtime FARC guerrilla stronghold that, since about 2006-07, has been the target of heavy military and social investment. Since then, the Colombian, U.S. and other donor governments have spent about a quarter of a billion dollars (450 billion Colombian pesos) on security, crop eradication, infrastructure, governance and development programs.


It is called the La Macarena Integrated Consolidation Program (Spanish initials PCIM). It is by far the most advanced example of the “Integrated Action” or “Consolidation” strategy that the Colombian government, with U.S. input, has developed for establishing a state presence in about fourteen ungoverned and violent zones. Consolidation is coordinated by a national body, the Center for Coordination of Integrated Action (CCAI) in the Colombian Presidency; the PCIM’s headquarters, or “Coordination Center,” is on a military base at the entrance to Vistahermosa’s town center.

The “Coordination Center” in Vistahermosa.

For much of our group, this was a second visit to Vistahermosa; a 2009 visit contributed to a CIP report (PDF) evaluating, and expressing concerns about, the Consolidation program so far. That report gives a lot of background on the La Macarena zone’s recent history, which won’t be repeated here. Suffice it to say, though, that despite its proximity to Bogotá, this area of jungle and savannah has been systematically neglected by Colombia’s government. The population has lived for generations among guerrillas and paramilitaries, and it has been a principal coca-growing zone. In 1998 the Colombian security forces vacated much of the area, meeting a FARC pre-condition for peace talks that took place in the zone until their failure in 2002.

This year, support from the Ford Foundation has made it possible for us to return and take another look. Our most recent visit took us only to two municipalities’ town centers, in addition to a series of meetings in Meta’s departmental capital, Villavicencio. Based on this, we are not yet ready to publish a formal evaluation of the La Macarena project. We will return to the PCIM zone later this year to speak with a larger, more diverse sample of the population, as we were able to do in Tumaco in April.

Two views of “Consolidation”

Tito Garzon has lived in Vistahermosa for 44 years, serving twice on the town council.
Islena Rey runs the Meta Civic Committee for Human Rights. She survived a FARC attack in the PCIM zone in late 2009.

Nonetheless, our meetings with officials in charge of the program, with civil-society representatives monitoring the program, and with community leaders in the two town centers are certainly enough to allow us to offer some preliminary observations. Keep in mind that these are preliminary: we have not yet been able to verify everything here to our satisfaction.

Also keep in mind that the entire Consolidation program is in a sort of “autopilot” state right now, as the 10-month-old government of President Juan Manuel Santos rethinks the entire strategy. This re-thinking, managed by 14 thematic working groups, should be more or less complete this month, when the government expects to unveil at least a “roadmap” (hoja de ruta) of where to go from here.

This may take place on Thursday the 16th, when officials in charge of Consolidation will be among the speakers at the launch of an evaluation of the program by the Fundación Ideas para la Paz, a prominent Bogotá think-tank. Among decisions the Santos government must make are the number of zones nation-wide where Consolidation will occur (a cutback is likely); the role of “Social Action,” the agency in the Colombian Presidency that manages the strategy (rather indifferently, some would say); and how to de-emphasize the military’s outsized role and speed the program’s “civilianization.”

The role of the military

What we heard leads us to conclude that the civilian handover isn’t happening. Colombian Army units within the Joint Task Force Omega, as well as some police, continue to be the PCIM’s most visible representatives, and by far its most visible face outside of the zone’s town centers. Soldiers continue to carry out public-works projects; we heard about an ambitious sewer project in Puerto Toledo, in Puerto Rico municipality, which isn’t functioning at the moment. With the exception of Social Action, getting civilian agencies to carry out infrastructure projects and other services in this sparsely populated zone continues to be a problem. And except for a few prosecutors, the justice system remains far off.

Soldiers are keeping a tight lock on security and playing basic policing roles. Roadblocks are frequent; we heard complaints about soldiers at roadblocks photographing riders’ ID cards, taking down numbers from their cellphones’ recent-calls lists, and limiting the number of people who can ride in a vehicle. This heavy-handed approach is in part a reaction to a security situation that, though better than four years ago, has grown more complicated in the past several months, as discussed below.

Titling has begun, slowly

When land changes hands and new landowners concentrate their holdings, they frequently plant crops like the young African oil palms seen from the highway in San Juan de Arama. A source of biofuels, they require little labor.

The lack of clear land titles was a big issue in 2009 and continues to be the first complaint we heard from producer associations. Late last year, a pilot titling program finally began; the goal is to title 1,250 plots of land in twelve hamlets (veredas). Many of these titles are now in their final phase of approval: revision by the Environmental and Agrarian division of the Inspector-General’s Office (Procuraduría). Officials say the goal is eventually to title 5,000 plots in this zone.

Farmers remain concerned, though, about the likelihood that they will either lose their claim to their land or be pressured to sell to agribusiness investors. Many noted that legal “protection measures” to prevent large-scale land grabs were quietly lifted sometime in 2010, and land sales (which do take place, through signed contracts, in the absence of clear title) have been accelerating. Even without titles, though, we heard agreement that campesino producer associations – which barely existed in the zone before the PCIM’s entry – have become stronger.


On April 20, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded a five-year, $115 million contract to Associates in Rural Development (ARD), a Vermont-based company that has executed a large portion of USAID’s alternative development programs in Colombia since 2005. With these funds, ARD will be supporting the “alternative livelihoods” side of Consolidation in La Macarena, as well as southern Tolima and parts of Valle del Cauca department. This will be the main non-military U.S. support to the PCIM.

A view of Meta’s plains, looking south from the departmental capital, Villavicencio.

The nature of USAID’s support changed significantly this year, as its Office of Transition Initiatives – which is designed to carry out short-term, quick-impact projects with minimal bureaucracy – ended its mission (PDF) in Colombia after four years. OTI’s field office in Meta closed down at the end of March.

The former head of the OTI office at the U.S. embassy has remained in country, and now holds the title of “Coordinator Of CSDI Implementation” in the USAID mission. Still, a Colombian government official with Consolidation responsibilities told us frankly that “regular” USAID had become noticeably slower and more bureaucratic with OTI’s exit from the scene.

While local leaders expressed gratitude to donor goverments, a frequent complaint surrounded the “operadores,” the contractors and subcontractors hired to carry out infrastructure and productive projects. They charge high operational “overhead” costs, the argument goes, which means that much aid money doesn’t actually reach the target communities. Costs that contractors claim to pay for items (construction materials, livestock) are higher than communities claim to be able to obtain for them on the open market. Operators’ timeframes for projects are short (often two or three years), and they are under pressure to spend down their money by the end date. What suffers are long-term planning and the flexibility needed to work in a very fluid environment.

Despite these concerns about “operators,’ however, the producer associations that have formed within the PCIM structure in both municipalities remained very dedicated to the program. We heard no accounts of increased coca planting; the reductions achieved since 2007 in the zone appear to be stable.

The security situation

Leaders in Vistahermosa also reminded us that it would have been impossible for them to come and meet with us in their town a few years ago. The FARC’s dominion over the town would have made that too risky for all of us.

from Semana magazine).

However, security appears to have improved only incrementally in the zone since 2009. In particular, the Consolidation program continues to face challenges in operating beyond the municipalities’ main town centers. In rural zones, armed groups remain fully able to intimidate the population.

In September of last year, a bombing raid in the PCIM zone, in the nearby municipality of La Uribe, killed the FARC’s top military commander, Víctor Julio Suárez alias “Mono Jojoy.” Contrary to what one might expect, the FARC has since been more active in Vistahermosa, San Juan de Arama, and much of the PCIM zone than it was in 2009.

This was the assessment of both military and civil-society leaders alike. The FARC leader assigned to replace Mono Jojoy, Jaime Alberto Parra alias “El Médico,” did not operate inside the same elaborate security cordon as his predecessor. This meant that the fighters assigned to Jojoy’s “security rings” – there may have been as many as 2,000 – have been freed up to go on the offensive. According to the Colombian daily El Tiempo, “Reports from demobilized guerrillas indicate that four key guerrilla fronts have increased in size.”

FARC fighters are operating in smaller groups, at times out of uniform, and carrying out more frequent attacks in the PCIM zone. These attacks are occasionally taking place in close proximity to town centers. In April, the FARC killed a police auxiliary and kidnapped two merchants in Mesetas, and killed a lieutenant and two soldiers in La Macarena. Just before that, about 10 miles outside the Vistahermosa town center, two guerrillas stopped and burned a passenger bus (the passengers were unharmed); it was the fourth such attack in six months.

Police at a roadblock handed this “wanted” leaflet, depicting a top FARC leader, to the 6-year-old son of someone we interviewed.

We heard that the FARC has reasserted control of some “pacified” towns in which police stations had not yet been established. Puerto Toledo, which we visited two years ago, is one of these.

“Several communities in the PCIM area, including communities recovered by the military as long as two years ago, have been subject to periodic, albeit brief, visits by uniformed members of the FARC,” reads USAID’s most recent report on the PCIM zone (PDF). “To address ongoing security concerns, the police will this year build permanent police stations in Santo Domingo, an important crossroads town in Vista Hermosa, and Jardin de Penas in Mesetas.”

The FARC have stepped up their targeting of civilians. This is one reason why nearly all attempts to return displaced populations, officials acknowledged, have been unsuccessful so far. Meanwhile the charging of vacunas – extortion payments, like US$15 per head of cattle – is way up, by all accounts. An official based in Villavicencio, Meta’s departmental capital, said that residents were complaining of vacunas in towns well outside the PCIM zone, such as Granada and San Martín, which had known no FARC presence for years.

We heard that the FARC are now prohibiting populations in remote parts of the PCIM zone from participating in social programs: not just the Consolidation programs, but conditional cash-transfer programs like “Families in Action,” which makes payments to parents who ensure that their children get medical checkups and go to school. Guerrillas, for instance, are prohibiting parents from traveling to town centers to collect subsidies.

We heard a few, sketchier reports that the FARC may be trying to compete with the PCIM by instituting its own social programs. A so-called “Plan Amigo,” possibly launched at the beginning of the year, purportedly includes some construction projects and an order that FARC fighters be more friendly toward, and avoid killing, civilians. (We note that Google yields no mention of any guerrilla “Plan Amigo”; we need to verify this.)

For their part, the “new” paramilitary groups active in Meta also suffered a blow late last year. In December, an elite Colombian police unit hunted down and killed Pedro Oliveiro Guerrero, alias Cuchillo (Knife), a former mid-level AUC commander whose so-called Popular Anticommunist Revolutionary Army (ERPAC) had been growing quickly – and trafficking tons of cocaine – between Meta and the Venezuelan border.

The ERPAC continues to exist, and apparently has remained strong enough to prevent other “new” paramilitary groups from entering western Meta. The group’s presence has been weaker in the PCIM zone, though, and its remnants appear to be cooperating with the FARC in the drug trade. Episodes of combat with the guerrillas have been very rare.

Next steps

Shortly, the Colombian government will complete its review of the Consolidation plan, and ARD, the contractor, will launch new projects in the PCIM zone.

We very much hope that this rethinking, and the new investment, will address the concerns we voiced about the program’s execution back in 2009. All of these remain relevant. The pace of the civilian handover remains very slow, in part because the security situation remains very complicated. Land titling still lags. Judicial personnel needed to combat impunity are absent. Consultation with communities about development needs is partial. So is coordination between illicit crop eradication and food-security and development aid. Coordination in general remains a big challenge, especially as many of the Consolidation program’s initial managers are now gone, either transferred elsewhere or out of government, and have been replaced by new officials who may not share the same vision.

Our organizations will continue to monitor events closely, and will return to the La Macarena zone soon for meetings and a workshop with leaders from several of its rural communities. Much of what we recount here needs further verification, more detail and a wider range of views, and we look forward to obtaining those before offering final conclusions and recommendations.

En la convulsionada Tumaco, pocos avances

Agradecemos mucho a Manuel Gómez de GTP y Amanda Romero de la Corporación Agencia Aforcolombiana Hileros, Proceso de Comunidades Negras, por hacer el esfuerzo de traducir este informe al castellano.

Durante la última semana de abril, un grupo conformado por la Oficina en Washington para Asuntos Latinoamericanos (WOLA–por su sigla en inglés), el Centro de Política Internacional (CIP–por su sigla en inglés), ambos con sede en Washington, y las ONG de Bogotá Asociación MINGA (Bogotá)e Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la Paz (INDEPAZ, Bogotá) viajó a Tumaco, municipio ubicado en la costa Pacífica colombiana, en el extremo suroeste del país, cerca a la frontera con Ecuador.

Con una población de 180.000 habitantes y una superficie casi igual a la del Estado de Rhode Island (en los Estados Unidos), el casco urbano de Tumaco y su zona rural, constituyen uno de los territorios más conflictivos y violentos territories. Cada año, Tumaco está en la lista como el municipio número uno o dos (de los 1.100 municipios que tiene el país) con mayor área sembrada de coca, cultivo utilizado para la elaboración de la cocaína. Tumaco también cuenta con una de las tasas de homicidios más altas del país–más de 100 homicidios por cada 100.000 habitantes–y una fuerte presencia de grupos guerrilleros y paramilitares.

El viaje a Tumaco obedeció también a que es uno de los cerca de catorce sitios elegidos por el programa de ayuda militar y para el desarrollo apoyado por los Estados Unidos que es, en cierto modo, el sucesor del “Plan Colombia”. Conocido como de “Consolidación ” o “Acción Integral”, este programa a gran escala pretende establecer una presencia operativa del gobierno, en territorios olvidados por mucho tiempo.

Las cuatro organizaciones estamos llevando a cabo un proyecto conjunto con el fin de monitorear este programa. Aunque su diseño indica que ha habido aprendizajes desde la puesta en marcha del Plan Colombia en el año 2000, tenemos preocupaciones acerca de la ?Consolidación?, tanto por el papel de los militares, la coordinación entre órganos del gobierno, la consulta a las comunidades y los efectos sobre la tenencia de la tierra, entre muchos otros.

En cada una de las zonas elegidas, la estrategia de ?Consolidación? inicia con operaciones militares ofensivas para establecer “condiciones de seguridad.” Posteriormente, su objetivo es rápidamente dar cabida al resto del gobierno para ofrecer servicios básicos de forma gradual y coordinada. De acuerdo con los documentos del Programa de Consolidación, el estado final deseado es la retirada casi total de las fuerzas militares de la zona, dejando tras de sí un gobierno que funcione, una reducción notoria de la violencia, la ausencia de grupos armados ilegales y la eliminación de la producción de drogas.

A pesar de que estábamos analizando la Consolidación en Tumaco, se anota que los Estados Unidos han invertido más fuertemente en este programa en otras partes de Colombia desde el inicio del programa en su forma actual, en el año 2007. Un informe de diciembre del 2009 del CIP “Después del Plan Colombia,” da cuenta de la ?Consolidación? en dos de las zonas de mayor inversión: La Macarena, región al sur de Bogotá, y la región de Montes de María, cerca a la costa Caribe. Funcionarios de EE.UU. dicen que el programa está avanzando con el apoyo de Washington en la parte sur del departamento del Tolima, al oeste de Bogotá, pero aún no hemos visitado esa zona.

A pesar de que aparece en la lista de zonas de consolidación y es claramente una prioridad debido a la producción de drogas, no se había oído hablar mucho sobre el desarrollo del programa en Tumaco. Sin embargo, elegimos ir a esta ciudad por su estrecha relación con la política de los Estados Unidos: la crisis de violencia que afronta y el narcotráfico se deben, en parte, a las consecuencias indeseadas del Plan Colombia.

Aviones de fumigación comparten la pista de aterrizaje en el aeropuerto de Tumaco.

En el año 2000, un paquete de ayuda de los Estados Unidos por US$ 1,300 millones de dólares (el primer desembolso de fondos del Plan Colombia) permitió una dramática expansión de las fumigaciones aéreas con herbicidas en el departamento del Putumayo, a unos 500 kilómetros al este de Tumaco, en la frontera con el departamento de Nariño, del que Tumaco hace parte. En ese momento, Putumayo era el mayor productor de coca de Colombia, y el Plan Colombia extendió allí un enorme programa de fumigación aérea con herbicidas. Quienes desde los Estados Unidos lo planificaron, no acompañaron dicho programa de fumigación en cualquier caso con siquiera una ayuda ni asistencia suficientes para desarrollo alternativo dirigidos a los agricultores del Putumayo. De hecho, el Plan Colombia careció de cualquier intento real de establecer una presencia permanente del gobierno civil allí, y ésta continúa siendo débil en ese departamento.

Como resultado, muchos Putumayenses, cuyos cultivos fueron asperjados y se hallaron de pronto sin opciones económicas, emigraron a la costa Pacífica, en especial a Tumaco. El pueblo de Llorente, hacia el oriente del municipio de Tumaco, en ocasiones es llamado “Putumayito” debido a la gran cantidad de migrantes provenientes del Putumayo.

El desplazamiento de la coca, y de los cocaleros, desde el Putumayo alteraron el orden social en lo que entonces era uno de los rincones más olvidados de Colombia. La población de Tumaco, en su mayoría afrocolombiana, vive en un casi total aislamiento del resto del país, viviendo de la agricultura de subsistencia o de cultivos comerciales básicos como coco, cacao o plátano. A lo largo de los numerosos ríos que desembocan en el Pacífico están las comunidades establecidas por esclavos liberados y cimarrones, cuyos descendientes fueron excluidos y marginados de la vida nacional de Colombia.

En 1993, dos años después de que Colombia aprobara su nueva Constitución progresista, una nueva norma -la Ley 70- reconoció la tenencia de la tierra de estas y otras cientos de comunidades afrocolombianas en los apartados, no desarrollados y selváticos territorios bajos del Pacífico. Estos territorios, conocidos como Consejos Comunitarios, de propiedad común y titulados colectivamente, constituyen un porcentaje significativo de la superficie de Tumaco, aunque una porción pequeña, pero significativa, de la tierra está en manos de comunidades indígenas.

Por desgracia, este gran avance en el reconocimiento de sus derechos de propiedad llegó al mismo tiempo en que estas comunidades entraron en mayor contacto con el mundo exterior. En lugar de funcionarios estatales que brindaran seguridad, justicia y servicios básicos, este ?contacto” significó el encuentro con narcotraficantes y grandes terratenientes, que a menudo eran las mismas personas.

Estos narcotraficantes se sintieron atraídos por el valor estratégico de Tumaco. Sus ríos han demostrado ser corredores ideales para el envío de drogas hacia el Océano Pacífico -directamente o través del Ecuador- y de ahí a México, Centroamérica y los Estados Unidos. Sus densas selvas dan cobertura a los laboratorios para fabricar cocaína. Sus estuarios de manglares costeros proporcionan innumerables puntos para esconder barcos que transbordan drogas (también para esconder “semi-sumergibles,”” que son submarinos de fabricación casera, por lo general halados desde un barco, que transportan toneladas de cocaína a la vez y son difíciles de detectar). En la medida en que los cultivos de coca emigraron a Tumaco a principios de la década del 2000, el municipio se convirtió en un centro para el cultivo, producción, y el transbordo de cocaína. Es uno de los pocos territorios del país donde ocurren simultáneamente todas las fases del proceso de producción de esa sustancia.

Por su parte, los grandes terratenientes vieron las grandes extensiones de tierra, con buen riego y sin desarrollo, como ideales para la agroindustria a gran escala e intensiva en capital. Esto incluye productos rentables como la palma aceitera africana y la ganadería. La palma de aceite -usada cada vez más en los biocombustibles- experimentó un auge a mediados de la década del 2000, junto con la compra masiva de tierras, hasta que una plaga destruyó la mayor parte de la cosecha de Tumaco.

En tanto que los terratenientes comenzaban a invadir los territorios de los Consejos Comunitarios, el rentable comercio de la coca resultó ser una tentación para muchos de los residentes de los Consejos. La Oficina de Naciones Unidas Contra la Droga y el Delito (ONUDD) ha encontrado (véase página 62 de su documento en PDF) que los cocaleros tienen un ingreso neto de unos US$ 10-12 por día, que es aproximadamente el doble del salario mínimo en la economía formal colombiana, y mejor que el que la mayoría de cultivos comerciales ofrece. Su producto, una pasta que es fácil de llevar y que los traficantes posteriormente refinan para obtener cocaína, es mucho más fácil de comercializar en los territorios sin vías de acceso.

Con el auge de la coca, sin embargo, sobrevino una presencia mucho mayor de los grupos armados ilegales, cuya presencia en Tumaco había sido sólo esporádica anteriormente. De hecho, mientras que esta economía atrajo a algunos a cultivar coca, muchos otros han sido obligados a sembrarla por grupos guerrilleros o por paramilitares que tienen influencia en sus territorios.

Los grupos guerrilleros FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) y ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional), comenzaron a recaudar fondos para la compra de armas cobrando impuesto a los cultivadores de coca, pero rápidamente pasaron a participar en la producción y el tráfico. Estos grupos construyeron su presencia en el municipio durante la década de 1990 y principios de la del 2000. Las guerrillas, especialmente el frente 29 de las FARC, comenzaron a matar a los líderes comunitarios que consideraban como amenaza a su dominio, a extorsionar a propietarios de negocios y a controlar los movimientos de las comunidades a lo largo de los ríos.

La guerrilla tenía poca competencia del Estado colombiano, que escasamente tenía presencia en Tumaco, más allá de unos pocos militares y puestos de policía y un gobierno municipal altamente corrupto. Los representantes del gobierno pasaban muy poco tiempo fuera de la cabecera municipal, dejando a las comunidades olvidadas en los ríos a merced de los grupos armados.

La riqueza del comercio de la droga atrajo entonces a un grupo armado ilegal de otra tendencia: la red paramilitar pro-gobiernista y financiada por el narcotráfico, conocido como Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, o AUC, a través del Bloque Libertadores del Sur, encabezado por Guillermo Pérez Alzate, conocido como “Pablo Sevillano”, se trasladó a la zona después del año 2000. Al igual que en otras zonas de influencia guerrillera, los grupos paramilitares recién llegados llevaron a cabo una brutal ola de cientos de ejecuciones extrajudiciales y masacres de los que creían colaboradores de la guerrilla. La violencia desplazó a decenas de miles de personas hacía el centro de la ciudad de Tumaco y a otras ciudades del país, mientras que miles más cruzaron la frontera hacia Ecuador. Por su parte, las Fuerzas se seguridad colombianas combatían a los hombres de ?Pablo Sevillano? sólo en raras ocasiones.

Después de desplazar la economía de la coca desde el Putumayo, el Plan Colombia persiguió los cultivos de coca en Tumaco. La respuesta inicial de los gobiernos estadounidense y colombiano a la crisis de violencia y narcotráfico que sufría Tumaco no fue la de fortalecer la presencia del Estado en este municipio. Más bien, el Plan Colombia inició un fuerte aumento en la fumigación aérea de herbicidas sobre los territorios colectivos de propiedad de los Consejos Comunitarios. Nariño, liderado por Tumaco, ha sido, por mucho, el más fumigado de los 32 departamentos de Colombia durante los últimos diez años.

Víctor Quiñones del Consejo Comunitario de Chagüí, cuyo territorio ha sufrido la fumigación repetida de su proyecto de desarrollo financiado por la USAID.

La fumigación vino con programas de desarrollo alternativo financiados por USAID y otros donantes. Sin embargo, estos cubrieron sólo a una pequeña parte de las comunidades afectadas y poco pudieron hacer en un contexto de ausencia estatal, falta de medios de transporte, incertidumbre en la tenencia de la tierra y violencia descontrolada. Peor aún, el programa de fumigación de la Policía Nacional de Colombia, respaldado por los EE.UU., ha insistido en asperjar cualquier planta de coca que se detecte, lo que ha significado que los proyectos de desarrollo alternativo financiados por la USAID hayan sido sistemáticamente fumigadas por su proximidad con dicho cultivo.

A pesar de la fumigación a gran escala, los cultivos de coca han demostrado ser difíciles de exterminar en Tumaco. Esto es en gran parte resultado de la ausencia del estado de la mayoría del territorio y la falta de otras alternativas económicas para los productores. Así que cuando los gobiernos de EE.UU. y Colombia comenzaron a buscar la ?Consolidación? -una estrategia que busca explícitamente la construcción de una presencia estatal en el terreno- Tumaco aparecía como un candidato ideal.

Sin importar lo anterior, nuestro intento de evaluar el desempeño de la ?Consolidación? en Tumaco fue más difícil de lo que esperábamos. El principal problema era que nadie en el pueblo parecía saber lo que hablábamos, a pesar de que la ?Consolidación? ha estado oficialmente presente y en funcionamiento en Tumaco desde el año 2008.

En otras partes del país, la ?Consolidación? es a menudo conocida como CCAI, por su nombre en la agencia de la Presidencia de la República (Centro para la Coordinación de la Acción Integral), que la administra. En Tumaco, sin embargo, cuando se preguntó a los líderes de la sociedad civil sobre el CCAI (pronunciado como “Cecai”), ellos respondieron, “?Qué clase de fruta es esa?” Un alto funcionario del gobierno municipal nos dijo haber recibido un correo electrónico sobre el programa y no haber escuchado nada al respecto después, hasta que el CCAI celebró una reunión a principios de abril.

Centro de Coordinación del CCAI en Tumaco.

Hicimos una visita a la sede del CCAI de Tumaco: es una sala con mesas de trabajo, computadores y mapas, ubicada en un complejo hotelero junto a la playa, muy utilizado por la policía y los contratistas involucrados en las misiones de erradicación de la coca. La oficina tiene por objeto coordinar las actividades de todos los organismos gubernamentales para establecer su presencia en la zona; el “Centro de Coordinación” de Tumaco, sin embargo, parecía tener sólo un puñado de personas y una carga administrativa muy pequeña.

A diferencia de la Macarena -una zona donde Estados Unidos ha ayudado financieramente con cientos de millones de dólares en ofensivas militares y proyectos de desarrollo-, en Tumaco se ha visto muy poca inversión en el marco de la ?Consolidación?. En cambio, las actividades que realmente los Estados Unidos están financiando en Tumaco se parecen más a los mismos programas del Plan Colombia de hace una década.

Al igual que el Putumayo alrededor del año 2002, la fumigación es masiva mientras que los proyectos de desarrollo alternativo quedan relegados a zonas inseguras y sin presencia estatal. La construcción de una presencia civil e institucional del Estado en el terreno sigue siendo un objetivo lejano frente al cual es notorio el poco progreso, incluso en la cabecera municipal.

Cuando la fumigación elimina los cultivos legales o cultivos de alimentos de los campesinos, no hay acceso casi a apoyos para la seguridad alimentaria. Trabajadores locales de derechos humanos y para el desarrollo afirman que una parte importante de la población afrocolombiana de Tumaco que se desplaza hoy, lo hace huyendo de las reiteradas fumigaciones.

?Por qué la “Consolidación” tropezó cuando apenas iniciaba en Tumaco? La razón principal son los recursos. Su dispersión geografía, hace de Tumaco un lugar muy difícil de gobernar, y sus altos índices de pobreza e indigencia significan que las necesidades allí son muy grandes. Un programa de consolidación adecuado en Tumaco requeriría una enorme cantidad de fondos, un múltiplo elevado de lo que la USAID, otros donantes y el Ministerio de Hacienda colombiano actualmente proveen. Los Estados Unidos no tienen previsto invertir dichos recursos en Tumaco -una verdadera lástima si se considera la cantidad que han invertido en la erradicación forzosa- y además, el gobierno colombiano ha hecho poco para llenar el vacío.

Líderes de la comunidad de Las Varas, quienes muestran optimismo por su proyecto.

Hasta la fecha, la única excepción significativa parece ser un programa iniciado por la Gobernación de Nariño (en manos de un partido de oposición de izquierda, bajo la dirección del Gobernador Navarro Wolff, un antiguo líder de la desmovilizada guerrilla del M-19). El llamado “Sí Se Puede”, es un pequeño programa que cuenta con poco dinero y tiene grandes deudas. Sin embargo, el programa “Sí Se Puede” respondió positivamente a una solicitud de financiación para el desarrollo hecha por los líderes afro-colombianos de un consejo comunitario de Tumaco: la comunidad de Rescate-Las Varas.

Aquí, a cambio de la voluntad de la comunidad para erradicar la coca que tenían sembrada, el gobierno está ofreciendo asistencia con el apoyo de USAID. Los agricultores están recibiendo ayuda para la seguridad alimentaria, puesto que pueden cambiar los cultivos ilegales por cultivos comerciales legales como el cacao, el coco, silvicultura, la piscicultura, entre otros. El éxito en la erradicación de la mayor parte de la coca sembrada en Las Varas está haciendo que los funcionarios locales consideren a esta comunidad como un modelo. Los coordinadores locales del CCAI en Tumaco dicen que planean trabajar con la comunidad de Las Varas para garantizar una mayor inversión y ampliar el modelo a otras partes del municipio.

Esta expectativa de proporcionar apoyo en el futuro, fue el mejor ejemplo concreto que escuchamos sobre la actividad del programa de Consolidación en Tumaco. Como el Gobernador Navarro (y probablemente su partido) dejarán el cargo a finales de este año, la sostenibilidad del compromiso del gobierno con la comunidad de Las Varas está en duda. El programa de consolidación tendría que recoger lo que el programa “Sí Se Puede” dejó.

Esto puede ser mucho más difícil de lo que parece. La confianza de la comunidad en el gobierno sigue siendo frágil, y las relaciones forjadas con la Gobernación pueden no ser fácilmente transferibles a una nueva entidad. Mientras tanto, la comunidad de Las Varas enfrenta fricciones con otros Consejos Comunitario, incómodos por su estrecha relación con del Estado o insatisfechos porque ellos no están recibiendo inversión similar.

El Programa de Consolidación continúa con incertidumbre, dadas las condiciones de Tumaco, que siguen estando entre las menos seguras del país. De hecho, la comunidad de Las Varas ha sufrido la muerte de seis o siete líderes comunitarios (dependiendo de si algunas fueron muerte accidental u homicidios), como resultado de su decisión de dejar la siembra de coca y de trabajar con el Estado. La guerrilla de las FARC sigue siendo muy activa en Tumaco y en los municipios vecinos, participando en el tráfico de drogas, amenazando a líderes locales (en particular a los dirigentes indígenas), atacando a puestos y unidades militares y de policía, y haciendo difíciles los viajes en las pocas vías terciarias y secundarias existentes.

Dos fuentes anónimas indican en un mapa las condiciones de seguridad en Tumaco.

Más adelante río abajo, y a lo largo del litoral, se encuentran los herederos del grupo paramilitar AUC, que se desmovilizaron oficialmente en 2006 (Pablo Sevillano, el jefe de las AUC Libertadores del Bloque Sur, se encuentra ahora en una prisión de EE.UU. cumpliendo una condena por tráfico de drogas). En la actualidad, los antiguos mandos medios de las AUC controlan pequeños grupos que funcionan principalmente para el tráfico de drogas, pero aún amenazan con regularidad a líderes locales y participan en el despojo de tierras. Las denominadas ?Bandas criminales emergentes” están surgiendo en todo el país. Muchas, según distintas fuentes, tienen poco que temer a la policía y al ejército, aunque ello es generalmente producto de la corrupción y no de alianzas. Algunas, de hecho, negocian las drogas con la guerrilla de las FARC y con frecuencia luchan entre sí por el territorio.

En Tumaco, el “nuevo” grupo paramilitar que parece haber arrebatado el control de los demás se llama ?Los Rastrojos? (cuyo nombre alude a lo que queda después de la cosecha), que es uno de los más poderosos entre los nuevos grupos de todo el país. ?Los Rastrojos? ahora controlan la mayor parte del tráfico fluvial en la costa de Tumaco, especialmente los cargamentos de cocaína que siguen saliendo de la zona. Las FARC, sin embargo, mantienen el control de algunos ríos y corredores, y se han detectado cargamentos conjuntos de droga de la guerrilla y los paramilitares.

La situación de seguridad en Tumaco sigue siendo grave. La mayoría de las personas con las que hablamos, independientemente del sector social al que pertenecen, se mostraron renuentes a hablar con confianza sobre los perpetradores de la violencia y el narcotráfico en la zona. Algunas autoridades, sin embargo, dijeron que el número de asesinatos y otros delitos violentos han disminuido desde mediados del año pasado, lo que, sospechan, puede ser el resultado de la victoria de los Rastrojos sobre otros grupos paramilitares rivales y la obtención de un mayor control territorial. Las rutas de tráfico de Tumaco puede estar siendo menos disputadas que antes y las FARC -con la excepción de algunos intentos recientes de secuestros extorsivos en el casco urbano- se encuentran en gran medida obligadas a operar ríos arriba, más lejos de la costa.

La respuesta del gobierno a ?los Rastrojos? sigue siendo poco clara. Al igual que en otras partes del país, las fuerzas armadas tienden a considerar a este grupo como responsabilidad principalmente de la policía. La policía colombiana, sin embargo, tiene la finalidad de operar en las zonas urbanas (con la excepción de pequeñas unidades especializadas como los Carabineros o los Junglas). Cuando ?Los Rastrojos? operan en las zonas rurales, como normalmente lo hacen, terminan en un círculo vicioso de responsabilidad de las fuerzas de seguridad del Estado, puesto que allí se encuentran en la jurisdicción de unidades del ejército y la marina que los consideran principalmente responsabilidad de la policía. Esta situación se complica por la falta crónica de coordinación entre las fuerzas armadas y la policía.

En medio de este panorama de violencia y narcotráfico, la ?Consolidación? o esfuerzo de Acción Integrada apenas comienza. Los desafíos particulares de Tumaco hacen que sea difícil determinar por dónde empezar, sobre todo cuando los fondos de EE.UU. y del gobierno colombiano no han sido generosos.

El gobierno colombiano está evaluando o repensando su estrategia de consolidación en el ámbito nacional. Cuando el gobierno anuncie los resultados de este replanteamiento -probablemente en junio- los mismos incluirán una reducción en el número de zonas de “Consolidación” de las actuales catorce en existencia. Varias zonas verán las oficinas del CCAI cerrarse y las promesas de presencia estatal e inversión sin cumplir. El resto de zonas, sin embargo, probablemente verán una inversión mucha más grande que antes.

Es probable que Tumaco permanezca en el esquema de consolidación nacional. Si es así, tal vez en uno o dos años a partir de ahora, los líderes locales de Tumaco habrán escuchado y visto lo suficiente de la ?Consolidación? como para poder evaluar el programa y el impacto en sus comunidades, que hasta la fecha ha sido casi nulo

Esta es una “primera entrega” de nuestro viaje a Tumaco, escrita por Adam Isacson (Asociado de WOLA ). Pronto se publicarán las observaciones de otros participantes de esta visita, así como las de una realizada a la zona de Consolidación de La Macarena. Estaremos visitando La Macarena y otros Zonas de ?Consolidación? en unos meses, y publicando informes conjuntos sobre cada una de ellas.

In troubled Tumaco, little progress

During the last week of April a group from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA, Washington), the Center for International Policy (CIP, Washington), Asociación MINGA (Bogotá), and the Institute for Development and Peace Studies (INDEPAZ, Bogotá) traveled to Tumaco, on the Pacific coast of Colombia’s far southwest, near the border with Ecuador.

With a population of 180,000 and a land area about equal to Rhode Island, the city and surrounding municipality (county) of Tumaco make up one of Colombia’s most troubled and violent territories. Every year, Tumaco is listed as Colombia’s number-one or number-two municipality for the cultivation of coca, the crop used to make cocaine (the country has 1,100 municipalities). It also has one of the country’s highest murder rates — well over 100 homicides per 100,000 residents — and a strong guerrilla and paramilitary-group presence.

We traveled to Tumaco because it is also one of about fourteen sites chosen for a U.S.-supported military and development aid program that is, in a way, the successor to “Plan Colombia.” Known as “Consolidation” or “Integrated Action,” this large-scale program purports to introduce a functioning government in long–neglected territories.

Our four organizations are carrying out a joint project to monitor this program. Though its design indicates that learning has taken place since Plan Colombia’s launch in 2000, we have concerns about Consolidation: the role of the military, coordination between government bodies, consultation with communities, effects on land tenure, and several others.

In each of the chosen zones, the Consolidation strategy begins with offensive military operations to establish “security conditions.” Then, it aims quickly to bring in the rest of the government to provide basic services in a phased, coordinated way. According to the Consolidation program’s documents, the desired end state is the military’s near-total pullout from the zone, leaving behind a functioning government, greatly reduced violence, the absence of armed groups, and the elimination of drug production.

Though we were looking at it in Tumaco, the United States has invested most heavily in Consolidation elsewhere in Colombia since the program began, in its current form, in 2007. A December 2009 report by the Center for international Policy, “After Plan Colombia,” looks at Consolidation in two of those zones of greater investment: the La Macarena region south of Bogotá, and the Montes de María region near the Caribbean coast. U.S. officials tell us that the program is advancing with Washington’s support in the southern part of Tolima department, west of Bogotá, but we have not yet visited that zone.

Though it appears in the list of consolidation zones and is clearly a priority because of drug production, we hadn’t heard as much about how the program was proceeding in Tumaco. We chose to visit the city, though, because of a close tie to U.S. policy: its crisis of violence and drug-trafficking owes in part to Plan Colombia’s unintended consequences.

Fumigation planes share the tarmac at Tumaco's airport.

In 2000, a US$1.3 billion aid package from the United States, the first outlay of funds for Plan Colombia, allowed a dramatic expansion of aerial herbicide fumigation in the department of Putumayo, about 250 miles east of Tumaco, bordering Tumaco’s home department of Nariño. At the time, Putumayo was Colombia’s largest producer of coca. Plan Colombia extended into Putumayo a huge aerial herbicide fumigation program. U.S. planners did not accompany this spraying program with anywhere near enough alternative development assistance for Putumayo’s farmers. In fact, Plan Colombia lacked any real attempt to establish a permanent civilian government presence there; it continues to be weak in Putumayo.

As a result, many Putumayans whose crops were sprayed and found themselves with no economic options migrated to the Pacific coast, particularly Tumaco. The town of Llorente, in the eastern part of Tumaco municipality, is occasionally called “Putumayito” because of the large number of Putumayan migrants.

The displacement of coca, and coca growers, to Putumayo upset the social order in what was then one of Colombia’s most forgotten corners. Tumaco’s mostly Afro-Colombian population lives in near-total isolation from the rest of the country, engaging in subsistence agriculture or growing basic cash crops like coconuts, cacao, or plantains. Lining the many rivers flowing into the Pacific are communities settled by freed and escaped slaves, whose descendants were excluded and held apart from Colombia’s national life.

In 1993, two years after Colombia approved a progressive new constitution, a new law — Law 70 — recognized the landholdings of these and hundreds of other Afro-Colombian communities in the country’s isolated, undeveloped, densely jungled Pacific lowlands. These landholdings, known as Community Councils, are held in common. Titled collectively, they make up a significant percentage of Tumaco’s land area. A smaller but significant amount of land is in the hands of indigenous communities.

This major advance in recognition of their property rights, unfortunately, came at the same time that these communities entered into greater contact with the outside world. Instead of government officials offering security, justice and basic services, though, “contact” meant encounters with narcotraffickers and large landowners, who were often the same people.

The narcotraffickers were attracted by Tumaco’s strategic value. Its rivers have proven to be ideal corridors for taking shipments of drugs to the Pacific Ocean — directly or through Ecuador — and on to Mexico, Central America, and the United States. Its dense jungles provide cover for laboratories to make cocaine. Its coastal mangrove estuaries provide innumerable hiding spots for boats transshipping drugs. (They also hide “semi-submersibles:” homemade submarines, usually pulled behind a boat, that carry tons of cocaine at a time and are difficult to detect.) As coca cultivation migrated to Tumaco during the early 2000s, the municipality became a center of cocaine cultivation, production, and transshipment -– one of few territories where all phases of the cocaine production process take place simultaneously.

For their part, large landowners saw vast expanses of well-watered, undeveloped land ideal for large-scale, capital-intensive agribusiness. These include profitable products like African oil palm and cattle ranching. The oil palm — used increasingly in biofuels — experienced a boom during the mid-2000s, along with massive land purchases, until a blight destroyed most of Tumaco’s crop.

While landowners began encroaching on the Community Councils’ territories, the profitable coca trade proved to be a temptation to many of the Councils’ residents. UNODC has found (PDF page 62) coca-growers earning a net income of perhaps US$10-12 per day — about double the minimum wage in Colombia’s formal economy, and better than most cash crops offer. Its product, a highly portable paste that traffickers later refine into cocaine, is far easier to market in roadless territories.

With the coca boom, however, came a far greater presence of illegal armed groups whose presence in Tumaco had been only sporadic before. In fact, while economics enticed some to grow coca, many others have been forced to plant the crop by the guerrillas or paramilitaries who held sway in their territories.

The FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and ELN (National Liberation Army) guerrilla groups started out raising funds to buy guns by taxing coca growers, but soon went on to participate in production and trafficking. They built up their presence in the municipality during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Guerrillas, especially the FARC’s 29th front, began killing community leaders whom they viewed as threats to their dominion, extorted funds from business owners, and controlled communities’ movements along the rivers.

The guerrillas had little competition from Colombia’s state, which was barely present in Tumaco beyond a few military and police posts and a badly corrupt municipal government. Government representatives spent very little time outside the county seat, leaving the forgotten communities along the rivers at the armed groups’ mercy.

The drug trade’s wealth then attracted an illegal armed group from the other side: the pro-government, drug funded paramilitary network known as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC. The AUC’s so-called Liberators of the South Bloc, headed by Guillermo Pérez Alzate, who went by the name “Pablo Sevillano,” moved into the zone after 2000. As in other zones of guerrilla influence, the newly arrived paramilitaries carried out a brutal wave of hundreds of extrajudicial killings and massacres of those they believed to be guerrilla collaborators. The violence displaced tens of thousands of people to Tumaco’s town center and to cities elsewhere in the country, while thousands more crossed the border into Ecuador. For their part, Colombia’s security forces combated “Pablo Sevillano’s” men only on the rarest of occasions.

After pushing the coca economy from Putumayo, Plan Colombia followed the coca crops to Tumaco. The U.S. and Colombian governments’ initial response to Tumaco’s drug and violence crisis was not to strengthen the state’s presence in the municipality. Instead, Plan Colombia offered a sharp increase in aerial herbicide fumigation over the Community Councils’ collectively held lands. Nariño, led by Tumaco, has been by far the most fumigated of Colombia’s 32 departments during the past ten years.

Víctor Quiñones of the Chagüí Community Council, whose USAID-funded development project was repeatedly fumigated.

The fumigation came with alternative development programs, financed by USAID and other donors. These covered only a small portion of the affected communities, though, and could do little in a context of statelessness, lack of transportation, uncertain land tenure, and out-of-control violence. Worse, the U.S.–backed Colombian National Police fumigation program has insisted on spraying any coca plants it detects, meaning that alternative development projects funded by USAID have routinely been sprayed merely because of the proximity of coca plants.

Despite large-scale fumigation, coca growing has proved stubborn in Tumaco. This is largely a result of the state’s absence from most of the territory and the lack of other economic alternatives for growers. So when the U.S. and Colombian governments begin pursuing Consolidation — a strategy that explicitly seeks to build up the government’s on-the-ground presence — Tumaco appeared to be a prime candidate.

Despite that, our attempt to evaluate Consolidation’s performance in Tumaco was more challenging than we expected. The main problem was that nobody in the municipality seemed to know what we were talking about, even though Consolidation had officially been functioning and present in Tumaco since 2008.

In other parts of the country, Consolidation is also often known as CCAI, after the name of the agency in the Colombian Presidency (Center for the Coordination of Integrated Action) that manages it. In Tumaco, however, when we asked civil society leaders about the CCAI (pronounced “Say-Kigh”), they responded, “What kind of fruit is that?” A top municipal government official told us of having received e-mail about the program and hearing nothing since, until the CCAI held a meeting in early April.

The CCAI "Coordination Center" in Tumaco.

We paid a visit to the CCAI headquarters for Tumaco: it is a room with desks, computer equipment and maps at a beachside hotel complex heavily used by police and contractors involved with coca-eradication missions. The office is meant to coordinate all government agencies’ activities to establish a presence in the zone; the Tumaco “coordination center,” however, appeared to have only a handful of staff and a very small administrative footprint.

Unlike La Macarena — a zone where the United States has helped finance hundreds of millions of dollars in military offensives and development projects — Tumaco has seen very little investment in the Consolidation framework. Instead, the activities the United States is actually paying for in Tumaco look more like the same Plan Colombia programs of a decade ago.

As in Putumayo circa 2002, fumigation is massive, while alternative development projects lag behind in stateless, insecure areas. Building up a civilian, institutional state presence on the ground is still a faraway goal toward which little progress is notable, even in the town center.

When fumigation eliminates growers’ legal crops or food crops, food security assistance is rarely available. Local human rights and development workers affirmed that a significant portion of those who displace from Tumaco’s Afro Colombian communities today are fleeing repeated fumigation.

Why has “Consolidation” stumbled at the starting gate in Tumaco? The main reason is resources. Its far-flung geography makes Tumaco very hard to govern, and its high poverty and indigence rates mean that needs are greater. A proper Consolidation program in Tumaco would require an immense amount of funding, a large multiple of what USAID, other donors and the Colombian treasury are currently providing. The United States has not planned to invest such resources in Tumaco — a great shame considering the amount that the United States has invested in forced eradication — and Colombia’s government has done little to fill the gap.

Leaders of the Las Varas community exude optimism.

To date, the significant exception appears to be a program begun by the Nariño governor’s office called “Si Se Puede” (Yes We Can). This is a small program –- the governor’s office, in the hands of a leftist opposition party under Governor Antonio Navarro Wolff, a former leader of the disbanded M-19 guerrillas –- is strapped for cash and heavily indebted. Nonetheless, the Si Se Puede program did answer positively to a request for development financing from the leaders of one Afro-Colombian Community Council in Tumaco: the community of Rescate-Las Varas.

Here, in exchange for the community’s willingness to eradicate their own coca, the government is offering assistance with USAID support. Farmers are getting food-security aid as they switch to legal cash craps like cacao, coconuts, managed forestry, fish farming and others. The successful eradication of most coca in Las Varas is leading local officials to consider the community a model. Local coordinators of the CCAI in Tumaco say they plan to work with the Las Varas community to guarantee further investment and to extend the model elsewhere in Tumaco.

This expectation to provide future support was the main concrete example we heard of the Consolidation program’s activity in Tumaco. As Governor Navarro (and likely his party) leave office at the end of this year, the sustainability of the government’s commitment to Las Varas is in question. Consolidation may have to pick up where “S? Se Puede” left off.

This may be far more difficult than it sounds. The community’s trust in the government remains fragile, and relationships forged with the governor’s office may not be easily transferrable to a new entity. Meanwhile the Las Varas community faces friction with other Community Councils uncomfortable with its embrace of the state or unhappy that they are not receiving similar investment.

The Consolidation program is proceeding haltingly in conditions that continue to be among the least secure in the country. Indeed, the Las Varas community has suffered the death of six or seven village leaders (depending on whether or not some were accidents or homicides) as a result of their choice to abandon coca and work with the state. The FARC guerrillas remain very active in Tumaco and neighboring municipalities, participating in the drug trade, targeting local leaders, particularly indigenous leaders, attacking military and police targets, and making travel difficult on the few existing secondary and tertiary roads.

Two anonymous sources, indicating points on a map, talk about security conditions in Tumaco.

Further downriver and along the coast itself, one finds the heirs of the AUC paramilitary group, which disbanded officially in 2006. (Pablo Sevillano, the head of the AUC’s Liberators of the South Bloc, is now in a U.S. prison serving time for drug trafficking.) Former mid-level AUC commanders now control smaller groups that exist mainly for the drug trade, but still regularly threaten local leaders and engage in land theft. These so-called “emerging criminal groups” are popping up all over the country. Many reportedly have little to fear from the police and military, though this is usually a result of corruption, not alliance. Some in fact do drug business with the FARC guerrillas, and often fight each other for territory.

In Tumaco, the “new” paramilitary group that appears to have wrested control from the others is called Los Rastrojos (the word refers to what is left behind after a harvest), which is one of the most powerful of the new groups nationwide. The Rastrojos now control most riverine traffic in coastal Tumaco, especially the boatloads of cocaine that continue to leave the zone. The FARC, however, do continue to control some rivers and corridors, and joint guerrilla-paramilitary drug shipments have been detected.

The security situation in Tumaco remains dire. Most people we talked to, regardless of their social sector, were reluctant to talk at length about the perpetrators of the zone’s violence and narcotrafficking. Some authorities, however, said that the number of incidents of murder and other violent crime had dropped since the middle of last year; this, they suspect, may be a result of the Rastrojos’ defeat of their paramilitary rivals and assumption of greater territorial control. Tumaco’s trafficking routes may be somewhat less contested than before, and the FARC — with the exception of some recent kidnapping-for-ransom attempts in the city center — are largely forced to operate upriver, further from the coast.

The government response to the Rastrojos remains unclear. As in other parts of the country, the armed forces tend to consider them primarily to be a police responsibility. Colombia’s police forces, however, are meant to operate in urban areas (with the exception of small, specialized units like Carabineros or Junglas). When they operate in rural zones, as they usually do, the Rastrojos end up in a “doughnut hole” of security-force responsibility: they are in the jurisdiction of army and marine units who consider them primarily to be a police issue. This is compounded by a chronic lack of coordination between the armed forces and police.

Amid this panorama of violence and narcotrafficking, the Consolidation or Integrated Action effort has barely begun. Tumaco’s challenges make it difficult to determine where to start, especially when U.S. and Colombian government funding hasn’t been generous.

The Colombian government is currently evaluating or rethinking the national Consolidation effort. When the government announces the results of this rethinking — probably in June — these will include a reduction in the number of “Consolidation” zones from the current fourteen. Several zones will see their CCAI offices close, and promises of state presence and investment will go unfulfilled. The remaining zones, however, will presumably see far greater investment than before.

It is likely that Tumaco will remain in the national Consolidation scheme. If so, perhaps a year or two from now Tumaco’s local leaders will have heard and seen enough of Consolidation to be able to evaluate the program and gauge its impact on their communities — which to date has been nearly zero.

This is a “first take” on our trip to Tumaco written by WOLA Senior Associate Adam Isacson. We’ll soon post observations from other participants in this visit and one we took to the La Macarena Consolidation zone. We’ll be visiting La Macarena and other Consolidation sites again in a few months, and publishing joint reports about each.