Participatory Action Research
in Caquetá Colombia
P a g e
© P a t r i c k
C h r i s t i a n
until their mission time is complete and they return to their originating station
. These teamsoperate in unique biospheres where geography, geology, climate, cultural identity andhistorical narrative create conditions that directly determine the probability of success of any single approach. As well, the composition, mission and temperament of each team providesadditional significant variables that are ignored at the risk of mission success and the publicfunding that made such a mission possible. This essay recounts a successful use of qualitative research that was used to shape and adapt one such team’s mission in theprovincial department of Caquetá in southern Colombia. Caquetá is one of threedepartments (or states) of southern Colombia that are within the Amazon Jungle Basin andare home to the Colombian Armed Revolutionary Front’s Southern Block (FARC)
. The warfor control of the towns, municipalities and hearts and minds of the people of these stateshas lasted for nearly half a century. Their homes and farms are the battlefields of the longestrunning insurgency in the Americas. Against this magnitude of violent conflict, how doesone team specializing in internal defense and development help to win the hearts and mindsof a battered population and secure them from a ruthless narco-insurgency bent onmaintaining the status quo for the next half century?In the early morning hours of January 17
, 2007, insurgent fighters belonging to theFARC’s Teófilo Forero Mobil Column (or TFMC) blew up the Nestle Milk processing plantin the village of El Doncello, Department of Caquetá, southern Colombia. The insurgentcell hijacked a milk truck, loaded it with explosives and drove it up to the plant docking platform. When it exploded, it destroyed Caquetá’s primary milk processing plant andbrought milk processing for the departments’ dairy farmers to less than 30% of capacity.Sources confided to military and police investigators that plant officials had recently becomeconfident enough in the security of the Department of Caquetá to begin refusing to pay theroutine extortion demands of the FARC’s 15
Front and TFMC’s 3
Companiesoperating in western central Caquetá. The destruction of the plant’s facilities wasaccompanied by the wounding and killing of several plant workers who were on duty at thetime. The destroyed milk processing plant occupied a central position economically for thedepartment’s dairy farmers. Nestle corporation established the plant and its subsidiary holding tanks throughout the department decades earlier to support the introduction of highquality lines of dairy cattle to the regions farmers. By the time of the attack, dairy farming and processing accounted for more than forty percent of the department’s revenueproducing industry. The loss of the plant was central in that without its ability to condensethe milk produced by the regions’ farmers, there was no way to transport the bulk product to
Based on personal experience on three continents and nine countries; such teams that have primarily a technicaltraining mission such as maintenance, manufacturing or entry level skill sets have a considerably higher success rate thanthose assigned to whole of government missions required for countering insurgencies in under-governed territories.
The three states where the Southern Block operates are Caquetá, Los Amazonas and Putumayo. The latter two statestogether border the countries of Ecuador, Peru and Brazil.