I enjoyed participating in a June 10 panel discussion at a seminar in Washington, “The Colombian peace process after two years,” hosted by Notre Dame University’s Kroc Institute for International Affairs. Colombia’s 2016 peace accord gives this Institute, which maintains a database of worldwide peace processes, a formal role in monitoring the accord’s implementation.

I chose to talk about the challenge of getting government into vast rural areas that used to have a heavy guerrilla presence, before the FARC demobilized. Here’s what the notes on my index cards said:

I. I’d like to focus on Chapter 1 of the accord. (Comprehensive Rural Reform)

A. It’s where the Colombian government’s executive branch has the most to do.

B. It is a part of the accord that should be less controversial, because it appeals both to peace advocates and counter-insurgency advocates

1. It provides a blueprint for getting the state into vast areas of the country that need a state presence

2. A part of the accord that shouldn’t be thought of as a concession to the FARC. The end of FARC presence in these zones was supposed to provide an opportunity to enter these zones without having to shoot one’s way in.

a. As new armed groups fill the vacuum, that security obstacle is growing

b. But except for a few really troubled zones, the window is still open. For now.

C. Implement this well, and much else should fall into place

1. Coca doesn’t get grown in areas with a robust state presence

2. Reintegration of excombatants: land and productive projects

3. Predictability, rules, someone to settle disputes

II. The commitments made in Chapter 1 are ambitious

A. List a few

1. Land Fund

2. “Massive formalization” of landholdings.

3. A National Cadaster System.

4. Establishment of Campesino Reserve Zones for small landholders.

5. Tertiary road building.

6. Irrigation and drainage.

7. Rural electrification and internet connectivity.

8. Rural health care.

9. Rural education.

10. Rural housing.

11. Food security.

12. (Basically, supporting the smallholding agriculture model)

13. Development Programs with a Territorial Focus (PDET).

B. This is a fine plan. It’s common sense whether you support peace and a small-producer model, or whether you want to “clear hold and build” in order to weaken armed groups. It works well enough for both priorities.

C. The PDETs (Territorially Focused Development Plans) got established

1. 170 municipalities (counties, out of 1,100); 6.7 million people; 94% of coca; homicide rate 12 per 100,000 higher than national average; poverty rate 2.5 times higher than national average

2. Officials visited many thousands of veredas (hamlets), consultative process

3. In March, signed the last of 16 regional plans

4. 15 years of commitments

D. National Development Plan gives PDETs its blessing, though there’s debate over whether they’re resourced enough.

III. However, Chapter 1 faces big challenges. I see 7 big ones.

A. It’s 85% of the cost of the accord (15 years)

1. So something like $3 billion per year. In reality, probably more.

2. At a time when deficits are already high

3. Expensive items: road, cadaster

4. So you’re talking about a moon shot or a Marshall Plan

B. There are locally powerful interests that don’t like it

1. Landowners, political bosses

a. (Local elites are under-studied)

b. They are very influential during national elections, at get-out-the-vote time.

2. People in private sector who favor capital-intensive model in the countryside, don’t want to pay taxes for the campesino economy

C. There are armed actors that will block efforts, in some zones

1. ELN, FARC Dissidents, Gulf Clan, regional groups

D. Success really depends on social leaders doing much of the work, and much of the oversight.

1. Community Action Boards in some places.

2. Ethnic leaders where there are resguardos and community councils.

3. Women’s groups, victims’ groups.

4. Many others.

5. But those leaders are being being terrorized right now.

E. There are other priorities that are big distractions

1. Venezuelan refugees

2. U.S. pressure to take care of coca first

F. It’s something Colombia’s state has failed at before.

1. Or rather than “failed at,” I should say it hasn’t tried it in a long-term, sustained way.

2. Past efforts sort of fade away after a change in government. (Big example National Territorial Consolidation Plan 2006-12)

G. It’s something Colombia’s state isn’t really set up for, for 3 reasons

1. Coordination

a. Military and civilians

i. 20-year-old soldiers and 30-year-old officers are representatives of the state, but they’re not the state. They can’t provide all state services, it’s not what they’re trained for.

ii. Meanwhile civilians go slow, they can’t “surge” into new zones the way the military can.

b. National government and local/departmental governments, which are turning over at the end of the year

c. The Justice System, which hardly appears in the plan (judges and prosecutors)

ZEII (Strategic Comprehensive Intervention Zones – National Security Council – 5 years) in the PDETs

i. Planning says they’re supposed to be articulated when they overlap

ii. But gives sense that there’s not a whole-of-government approach

2. Incentives: what gets you promotions, raises, and medals?

3. Timeframes: must go beyond the gobierno de turno

IV. New National Development Plan calls for a new “road map for intervention” in PDET zones, to deal with coordination/articulation issues.

A. Hope it’s not just another reshuffling of the org chart.

B. The process of drawing up the PDETs has greatly raised expectations in some very volatile territories. Populations are going to want to see results that are tangible for them.

V. There are many in government in Bogotá who want to see this succeed, for the reasons I mentioned. A few of them are here with us today. But they’ve got a lot of obstacles to overcome in order to make good intentions in the capital play out in the countryside, over the long term.

A. They’re going to have to be very creative.

B. And we really really need the United States government to be on board and firmly supportive. No wavering. Let’s not get distracted. This is a huge opportunity and the window is still open.