After Plan Colombia: Evaluating "Integrated Action," the Next Phase of U.S. Assistance

After Plan ColombiaThis report independently evaluates "Integrated Action," a new approach to state-building and counterinsurgency that the U.S. government is supporting in Colombia. Ten years and $6.8 billion after the 2000 launch of "Plan Colombia," officials from both governments are billing Integrated Action as the future direction of U.S. assistance to Colombia.

The term refers to a combination of military and development projects carried out in the same geographic areas. These have gone under many names in the past few years: Plan Colombia 2, Plan Colombia Consolidation Phase, Social Recovery of Territory (or Social Control of Territory), the National Consolidation Plan, the Center for the Coordination of Integrated Action (CCAI), and the Strategic Leap.

These programs' importance extends beyond Colombia, where the government of two-term President Álvaro Uribe holds them up as its vision for the country's future military and counternarcotics strategies. For the United States, whose aid packages are becoming smaller and less military, Integrated Action offers, according to a May 2009 Washington Post analysis, "a remedy palatable to a Democratic-led U.S. Congress not only interested in emphasizing social development over military aid for this country but also looking for solutions to consider in Afghanistan."1

The Center for International Policy has closely monitored U.S. assistance programs in Colombia since the late 1990s, and we have taken a critical position toward a series of aid packages that, until 2008, favored Colombia's security forces by an 80-to-20-percent margin. We are not only concerned about the proper implementation of the program in Colombia, but also about how the experience in Colombia might be applied to contexts like the war in Afghanistan and the ongoing effort to rethink U.S. foreign assistance in general.

In the 21st century, guaranteeing national security requires managing threats that could emerge from countries in conflict, or from countries facing rebuilding and development challenges. At times, this in turn requires working flexibly to help those countries improve the quality of governance and reduce impunity. It means balancing a strategy to protect the population with a strategy for building state capacity, the rule of law, and a strong civil society, while avoiding an outcome that militarizes these priorities. Learning the wrong lessons in Colombia today could have serious repercussions for U.S. policy anywhere in the world where the consequences of weak governance are perceived to be generating threats to U.S. national security.

This evaluation is the product of months of documentary research, more than 50 interviews and meetings with well over 150 subjects, and travel to two of the zones in Colombia where this new model is being carried out. The program we are analyzing is still incipient, with nearly all of its activities launched since 2007. Because these programs are still in early phases, this evaluation is quite preliminary. We look forward to updating and amending our findings and recommendations as the situation evolves.