Over the past few years, the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have been working with the Colombian government on a new security and development strategy. At times called “Integrated Action,” the Colombian government refers to it as the National Consolidation Plan–PCN for its acronym in Spanish.
This strategy was designed to be a phased, coordinated process of bringing a functioning government into zones throughout the country that have never known one. As described in the Center for International Policy’s recent publication, After Plan Colombia, the plan begins with the military entering a zone, scattering illegal armed groups and creating a security perimeter. Once this perimeter is established, the rest of the government enters, including police, justice, land-titlers, road-builders, health, education and productive projects. Similar to what the United States is attempting in Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan, the idea is that the population will support the new government presence and the illegal armed groups that were pushed out will not have the support or influence needed to return.
The United States has been supporting this plan over the past three years in two main zones–the Montes de María zone near the Caribbean coast since 2009, and the La Macarena zone in southern Colombia since 2007. It has tentatively expanded support for the concept in the southwestern port city of Tumaco and the mountains of central Tolima department.
The Center for International Policy’s evaluation of this project so far has been mixed. While it recognizes that learning has occurred since “Plan Colombia,” the “After Plan Colombia” report notes that armed groups have been resilient, civilian aid has been slow to arrive, and the military is playing a host of non-military roles in the chosen zones.
Now, the United States plans to expand its support into three additional areas, calling the new framework the Colombia Security and Development Initiative (CSDI). These five zones (or corridors) are: 1) Montes de Maria; 2) Nariño/Putumayo (Southern Band); 3) a Central Band (from La Macarena in Meta west through southern Tolima and Valle del Cauca to Buenaventura on the Pacific); 4) a corridor from Bajo Cauca to Catatumbo (Northern Band); and 5) Uraba and Chocó (Pacific Band). The first three corridors mentioned are the current priorities of U.S. aid.
On June 30th, USAID issued its request for proposals (RFP) for a contractor to carry out the next phase of the CSDI. This phase is much larger–both in funds and time frame–than USAID’s previous support of the program. This new request will result in a 5-year, $95-115 million contract for the part of CSDI they are calling the “Consolidation and Enhanced Livelihood Initiative-Central Region” or CELI-Central. This will be one of the largest single USAID contracts in Colombia since “Plan Colombia” began in 2000.
This new program, therefore, focuses on the Central Band that stretches across Colombia from La Macarena in Meta west through southern Tolima and Valle del Cauca to Buenaventura. This new, much larger phase will build on the previously existing program in the La Macarena zone, and coincides with the departure at the end of this fiscal year of USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (USAID-OTI), a part of USAID that usually stays in a country for a few years carrying out rapid, short-term projects. The new project, however, is much more ambitious, as it covers a very large and diverse area of Colombia and aims to achieve “consolidation” in five years.
According to USAID, this proposed contract will work alongside the Government of Colombia to carry out its National Consolidation Plan. The work the contractor carries out will depend on the level of security in the different zones. The RFP reads:
In transition zones where the GOC has only recently established minimum security, the contractor will emphasize immediate, short-term activities to meet urgent economic and social needs with the goal of demonstrating presence of the state and to help the target areas recover quickly from the effects of the conflict and eradication. Small, quick-impact projects will help to create confidence in the GOC, provide the opportunity to build relations between communities and local government, and respond to local dynamics and urgent needs. In areas where security is better established, the contractor will support longer-term interventions in coordination with the government, private sector and civil society with a particular emphasis on accompaniment and the provision of technical assistance to permanently consolidate state presence.
The goals of this program are to achieve a sustainable end-state where “peace and security are permanent, civilian state entities are providing the services expected of any legitimate and democratically-elected government, legal livelihoods supplant illegal economic activities, and active citizen participation demands accountable and transparent governance.”
This new program will be awarded as a contract, and not a grant. This means the contractor will have less flexibility in how it carries out the work, and may not be easily able to adjust its work in response to a change in conditions on the ground. According to the RFP, USAID and the contractor “function as an integrated, operational team with shared program vision for achieving program success. The Contractor shall be responsible for implementation of the program strategy that is set and adjusted through an iterative, coordinated process between the Contractor, USAID, and the GOC to achieve the goal of strengthening the consolidation of state presence in critical conflict zones within the Central Region.”