Mapping Stabilization in Post-Peace Accord Colombia

A more promising future for Colombia hinges on its national government pursuing an integrated and conflict-aware approach to stabilization outside Bogotá in the years following a historic peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The peace accord, while not inclusive of other armed actors, is likely the most viable vector through which stabilization can be achieved in Colombia, given the degree of political buy-in and international support for the process.

President Iván Duque initially opposed the peace process during the referendum in 2016, perceiving it too lenient of the FARC. However, upon assuming office after the 2018 elections, he realized the importance of moving the process forward. While putting his own undeniable imprint on implementation, his administration has continued several important efforts launched by former president Juan Manuel Santos.

The map presented here shows the territorial coverage of three important post-peace accord efforts (the Territory-Focused Development Plan, also known as PDETs; the crop substitution program; and Zonas Futuro) and overlays recent social leader killings.

The PDETs initiative is already in some stage of implementation in 158 municipalities (out of a planned 170) across 16 regions considered to be critical to sustainable peace. PDETs plans are meant to be community-driven and could include myriad types of development projects (e.g., roads, schools, expanded access to electricity, critical infrastructure, and increased access to health services). As with many community-driven development initiatives, the process of building trust through government support of local priorities is almost as important as the resulting projects themselves.

Another important part of peace accord implementation is the program for illicit-crop substitution. Though also continued by the Duque administration, serious doubts exist as to the financial sustainability and effectiveness of this program. Some reports say that 40,000 of the 99,097 enrolled families (94 percent of which are complying with the guidelines) have not seen any monetary compensation, although others report that 73,332 families have received one or more payment for immediate food assistance. Coca eradication—a historic and ongoing focus of U.S. cooperation with Colombia—is also unlikely to have a sustainable impact if not integrated with stabilization approaches, especially since illicit groups are flexible, often moving to new areas that are not part of the program, and coca farmers currently do not have many viable cost-competitive substitutions.

The crop substitution program aligns almost completely with PDETs implementation, an important step to coordinate development, security, and governance projects with initiatives specifically designed to replace cultivation of coca. It remains to be seen how the controversial aerial eradication programs proposed by the Colombian government and encouraged by the Trump administration will be layered into what is currently an integrated PDETs and crop substitution approach. Failure to take a nuanced approach to aerial eradication could undermine local Colombian support for the PDETs projects and overall peace process. There needs to be viable farming and production alternatives that take advantage of the rich soil primed for growing crops such as avocados, coffee beans, and blueberries.

Perceiving lingering security challenges in key areas, the Duque administration recently created an initiative under the peace implementation process, Zonas Futuro, which combines army, navy, and police efforts to increase security presence and strengthen intelligence capabilities. Although it is designed to include social services, some local communities perceive it to be a security strategy at its core. This perception is reinforced by the sole presence of the Colombian military in some Zonas Futuro areas and the lack of presence of civilian ministries, according to stakeholder interviews. It remains to be seen whether this initiative can differentiate itself from previous Bogotá-led security efforts that had little success. Initial indications are that the Zonas Futuro initiative is working best in locations where there is close coordination with PDETs efforts. If unsynchronized (as seems to be the case in certain areas), pressing forward with security imperatives could simply squeeze terrorists and illicit drug groups to other parts of the territory where there are not adequate measures in place to resist them or their coercive ways of providing livelihoods by illicit means and access to basic goods and services.

Finally, a disturbing increase in social leader killings since the signing of the peace accords throughout Colombia’s territories emphasize the importance of synchronizing PDETs and Zonas Futuro initiatives to provide legitimate local justice and security measures to the population. The spike in killings is likely the result of illicit groups pushing back against the threat of more formal governance, security, and economic initiatives introduced in the territories. Empowering locally legitimate justice and security authorities through PDETs, Zonas Futuro, and international stabilization projects will be important to create trust and accountability in Colombian institutions. Doing so will ensure that all Colombians can report on corrupt and illicit actors and will protect local leaders on whom Colombia’s future depends.

As part of its Pursuing Effective and Conflict-Aware Stabilization project, CSIS conducted fieldwork in Colombia in January 2020 to inform the findings of this commentary, including interviews with stakeholders across the Colombian government, security services, U.S. and allied governments, local civil society organizations, multilateral institutions, international humanitarian organizations, and implementers of U.S. government assistance.

Melissa Dalton directs the Cooperative Defense Project and is deputy director and a senior fellow with the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Janina Staguhn is a program coordinator for the CSIS Project on Prosperity and Development and Project on U.S. Leadership in Development. Erol Yayboke is deputy director and senior fellow with the CSIS Project on Prosperity and Development.

Special thanks to Paul Franz, the Andreas C. Dracopoulos Chair in Innovation and Creativity and director of technology with the iDeas Lab, for his production of the interactive map.

This project is made possible by the generous support of Chemonics, International.

Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

© 2020 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

Janina Staguhn

Janina Staguhn

Former Associate Fellow, Project on Prosperity and Development
Erol Yayboke

Erol Yayboke

Former Director, Project on Fragility and Mobility and Senior Fellow, International Security Program

Melissa Dalton