After the Negotiations: How Reconstruction Teams Can Build a Stronger Peace in Colombia

By Dominguez, Agustin E. | Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

After the Negotiations: How Reconstruction Teams Can Build a Stronger Peace in Colombia


Dominguez, Agustin E., Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations


For more than a decade, Plan Colombia guided our joint U.S.-Colombia efforts to combat narcotics and, more importantly for Colombia, the insurgents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) carrying out the illicit trade. By the end of 2014, the Colombian military, with targeted U.S. support, had degraded the FARC's capacity by 68 percent from its peak in 2002. Relentless pressure on the organization forced them to join the Government of Colombia in peace talks in Havana, and, for the first time in six attempts at peace negotiations, power resided with the state. The talks, which began in November 2012, have led to partial agreements on three of five agenda items, though the most contentious issues, transitional justice and end of conflict, remain to be solved. The talks are also entering a delicate stage. Last December (2014) the FARC announced an indefinite and unilateral ceasefire and largely abided by it until an attack on April 15, 2015, killed eleven Colombian soldiers and wounded an additional twenty. In response to the attack, President Juan Manuel Santos ended the suspension of airstrikes against the FARC in effect since March 2015 and ordered the military to intensify operations, resulting in approximately 40 rebels killed by the end of May.

Despite the recent heightened tensions, the 37th round of peace talks began on May 25, 2015, and progress has been made on other issues such as the March 7th joint humanitarian demining agreement. On February 23, 2015, in a move welcomed by both sides, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry appointed Special Envoy Bernie Aronson to the negotiations. The appointment highlights the United States' support for the peace process and willingness to help both sides resolve the remaining obstacles to reach a final accord. Even so, for a country faced with the challenges of recent setbacks and the realization that for more than 50 years it fought a war for which no combat-only solution exists, reaching the final peace accord will be easy compared to the large and difficult task of implementing it. Yet, President Santos has declared 2015 the "Year of Peace and Progress,"1 and to deliver, his government will have to build confidence in the peace process. For that reason, and in order to reach a stronger, more durable peace, Colombia should accompany the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) process with a Colombian model of provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) to extend state presence to the rural areas, and address the root causes of the conflict.

Plan Colombia and the Democratic Security Policy

How did Colombia evolve from a near failed state to a country with real prospects for peace with the FARC? In 1999, Colombia was suffering two separate, but related security crises: the fight against the FARC and the explosion of drug production and trafficking organizations throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The genesis of both crises was Colombia's inability to exercise state authority over most the country, especially the rural areas. Historically, rural Colombia has lacked legitimate state presence and authority, enabling the FARC to become the dominant force and use the drug trade to fuel its insurgency.

In September 1999, with his country spiraling out of control and a failed peace process under his belt, Colombian President Andrés Pastrana announced "Plan Colombia." Plan Colombia was a Clinton administrationbacked initiative to prevent Colombia's collapse by combating drug production and trafficking; increasing the capacity of the Colombian security forces; and providing development assistance to bolster prosperity. One of the major strengths of Plan Colombia has been its staying power and, in 2002, newly elected Colombian President Álvaro Uribe found another committed U.S. partner in President George W. Bush. The expansion of Department of Defense authorities in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States aided President Uribe's Democratic Security Policy to expand state control over Colombia. …

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