Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | April 17, 2012

A Case for Building Colombia’s Institutions

Michael O’Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. In a column on Bloomberg View, he suggested the U.S. should step up its role in Colombia by:

* Granting temporary aid increases to support development efforts for violence-prone parts of the country, such as a five- year road-construction plan.

(See Wasting Free Trade with Bad Infrastructure.)

* Providing greater technical reconnaissance support as Colombia seeks to track down insurgent leaders more efficiently.

(Recently, Colombia asked the U.S. for Blackhawk helicopters, as well as (remote-controlled, sans pilot) drone planes.)

* Helping Colombia’s special forces better organize themselves.

* Teaching skills to deployed soldiers and police in the field, as NATO has done in Afghanistan, where counterinsurgency advisory and assistance teams, known as CAAT, went on patrol with forces to train them in actual operations. Such education and cooperation can be a two-way street, as Colombia continues to have more expertise in areas such as jungle warfare than U.S. forces do.

(U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey said that as U.S. soldiers spend more time in Afghanistan and Iraq, they need to be retrained for new challenges, like jungle terrain. He also said the U.S. needs to be aware of drug routes because those could be the way organized crime get, per se, weapons of mass destruction into the U.S.)

Yes to all of the above.

However, alongside building up the Armed Forces, Colombia’s priority should be institution-building. Once the U.S. (and others’) help in Colombia ceases to exist, Colombia and Colombians need, more than ever, to stand on our own two feet. During Alvaro Uribe’s presidency, insurgency groups declined by roughly half. People travelled on rural roads. Kidnappings decreased. Foreign investment increased. But with Uribe out of office, these advances seem to have reverted, and we  saw that in some areas (like demobilization of paramilitaries, which, simply, metamorphosed into Bacrim), they were not advances at all. In hindsight, President Uribe was a one-man show. The former president seems to have been the back-bone decision-maker behind all ministries and institutions. Uribe was a one-man show because the institutions stand on fragile ground.

In the long-term, no amount of U.S. (or others’) help can strengthen a country with weak institutions.


  1. I appreciate any US support regarding NON-military solutions. Anything that fuels the fire (war) in Colombia including drones and blackhawks is a horrible idea. Colombia has enough resources to fix their own problems and the last time I checked, the US has a few problems to fix in their own country.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: