(Photo: Army participates in an education program for the “Consolidation” effort, Cartagena del Chairá, Caquetá, Colombia.)
It’s about expectations
Last Friday I put out a report, based on months of work looking at Colombia’s “National Territorial Consolidation Plan,” a large U.S.-backed program that has sought to bring government into vast, dangerous areas of the country that had never really had a government before. It’s a complicated story, but at the moment it’s not an encouraging story: where governance has improved at all, “Consolidation” has mainly meant “military occupation,” and now the program is floundering for lack of political support.
The reason I think this matters lies in the “Consolidation” zones themselves, where tens of thousands of people have had their expectations raised. To disappoint them now is to risk another generation of violence, illegality, and injustice to much of Colombia’s land area. This will have repercussions for security throughout the Andes and beyond.
Ultimately, it’s about expectations: raising them and meeting them. Since 2007 or so, government officials — often talented people who believed what they were saying — told people in zones like La Macarena, explicitly or implicitly:
- The state is coming. We will not abandon you to the guerrillas and the narcotraffickers again. Join with us and you’ll be protected. (Some agreements expressly required farmers, upon getting aid, to sign a statement saying they’d work with the armed forces — a dangerous thing to sign in a guerrilla-controlled zone.)
- The state is coming with lots of resources. Your region will be economically viable.
- You will be able to abandon the coca economy (the force that often brought people to these zones in the first place) and make a living as small farmers.
- You will have title to your land, access to credit, and help with productive projects and marketing.
- You will be hooked up to the rest of the country. There will be farm-to-market roads and other ways to sell your goods beyond your current 25-mile radius.
In the “Consolidation” zones, a large segment of the population has believed these promises, at least enough to go along, warily, with the program. And most of them continue to do so today, even as it becomes evident that instead of a “government” they have one office in the Presidency, dozens of contractors, and the military. They are getting small infrastructure projects, lots of workshops, and very few land titles.
Hopefully things will speed up, efforts will be redoubled, and populations’ expectations will be met with more urgency and by more of the government, after peace talks with the FARC conclude (if indeed that happens). If not — if expectations are dashed again — “Consolidation” risks leaving a legacy of increased distrust in Colombia’s government, and thus fertile ground for illegal armed groups, in the country’s volatile jungles, plains, agricultural frontier and borderlands.