Juan Carlos Vargas Morales
Civilian Coordinator, Regional Center of the Centro de Coordinación de Acción Integral (CCAI)
Focus: Balancing the Central and Local, Civil Service
Topics: Extending services to insecure or remote areas
Keywords: infrastructure, roads, land reform, infrastructure development, security, reform sequencing, decentralization
Interviewer(s): Matthew Devlin
Country of Reform: Colombia
Location: Cartagena, Colombia
Date: Wed Oct 14 2009
Vargas characterizes the Centro de Coordinación de Acción Integral (CCAI, Comprehensive Action Coordination Center) as a coordinating agent established under the Colombian Presidency that connects local demands with national supply. Focusing on the Montes de María region, Vargas traces a process of i) identifying Montes de María as a strategic transit point near the Venezuelan border and the Caribbean sea that merits institutional attention, ii) assessing local priorities incorporating input from local authorities and producers (including the chamber of commerce, avocado and cacao growers), iii) relaying that assessment to the national level for strategic action, and iv) facilitating state interventions in the region. CCAI activities pertaining to two main issue areas: road infrastructure and land ownership. Vargas singles out the Transversal de los Montes de María, a major road across the region that is under construction by army engineers, but some work is done on secondary roads by private contractors. He notes that in the face of limited resources, the CCAI chose to maximize impact by focusing on highly productive and densely populated areas and by delivering durable (but more expensive) road infrastructure, which led to a tradeoff between number of projects and quality of output. To put CCAI land ownership work in context, Vargas points out that the issue is complicated by internal displacement and land transactions during the conflict, by the return of the displaced in the post-conflict era, by a culture of informality and by limited state capacity. To address this range of situations, the CCAI has adopted three approaches: First, to coordinate investigation of land purchases during the conflict, exploring the possibility of transactions under duress. Second, to normalize land ownership through various programs focused on restitution. Third, to promote socially-responsible industrialization by providing platforms for dialogue between small landowners and new private developers. Vargas also shortly elaborates on a pilot program aimed at victims from small towns, on funding sources, on channels of cooperation with regional authorities and on recent structural changes within the CCAI. He underscores that the Center does not pursue a policy of return for the internally displaced, but instead responds to the observable phenomenon that they are returning on their own. He also assimilates the problem of continuity across political administrations with the need to phase out CCAI activities as local capacity is strengthened. He closes by zeroing in on two keys for success: honesty about what can and cannot be done when dealing with the local community, and the fostering of trust, which may require an intervention as inexpensive but valuable as installing a water pump.
Full InterviewDownload MP3 (48 MB)
Juan Carlos Vargas Morales Interview
Juan Carlos Vargas Morales was involved with the Centro de Coordinación de Acción Integral (CCAI) from the start, serving as the delegate from the Ministry of the Interior and Law to the Center for nine years. He later worked on National Consolidation issues in the Montes de María Region on behalf of the Agencia Presidencial para la Acción Social y la Cooperación Internacional (Presidential Agency for Social Action and International Cooperation).