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Mapping Colombia: The Correlation between Land Data and Strategy

Mapping Colombia: The Correlation between Land Data and Strategy - Cover

Authored by Dr. Geoffrey Demarest.

March 01, 2003

53 Pages

Brief Synopsis

The mapping of Colombian national territory, however, is fundamental to the problem of control of national territory. As a threshold matter, policy, strategy, and military asset management in contemporary conflict in virtually any unstable part of the world must deal with the problem of governance in "lawless areas." Unless a central government such as that in Colombia can exert legitimate control and governance in the 60+ percent of the municipalities not under its control, there can be no effective judicial system and rule of law; no effective legal crop substitution programs; no effective democratic processes; and, only very little military or police action to bring law and order into unknown and difficult terrain. Indeed, control of the national territory is a strategic paradigm for 21st century conflict. The state is under assault by a powerful combination of state weaknesses, "lawless areas," and insurgent and criminal terrorism. All these contributors to instability and violence have a powerful effect on local, regional, national, and international security. Colombia and other states experiencing conflicts that range from criminal anarchy to virtual civil war must understand that putting treasure and blood into a conflict situation without first establishing the strategic foundations of success only result in ad hoc, piece-meal, disjointed, and ineffective reactions to truly inconsequential problems.


This monograph highlights a shortcoming of U.S. and Colombian efforts attempted thus far to contain and reduce organized crime and terrorist violence in Colombia. Both governments acknowledge the importance that property rights play in long-term state legitimacy and in the short-term restraint of organized criminality. Nevertheless, inattentiveness to the condition of property rights, especially in rural areas, is both a cause and effect of a fundamental omission bearing on military operations: Colombia is not well-mapped, some of it not at all. For decades soldiers have been sent out to patrol in unmapped areas. This military inadequacy is overshadowed, however, by longer-term social implications. The country cannot hope to establish the rule of law without extending effective, formal land ownership, which implies creation of the maps and registries attendant to that ownership. While immediate military victory may be achieved without comprehensive mapping, establishment of a lasting, peaceful social order is unlikely. Ironically, in 1997 the United States removed its liaison to the Colombian national cartographic institute—one milestone of a transcendent failure to identify as essential the work of that piece of government. Cartographic inadequacy has weakened effective response to what has been (perhaps wrongly) the U.S. national preoccupation in Colombia—countering the industry of illicit drugs. U.S. programs have not been informed regarding who owns the land on which heroin poppy or coca is grown, or even what factors bear on the value of that land. Also overlooked is the powerful nexus between poorly enforced property rights and the violation of human rights. Good maps and registries are an essential tool for understanding the specific linkages between economics and land ownership, between land ownership and terrain control, and between control of terrain and terror. Property maps help define and visualize the vague geographic boundary between lawlessness and civilization. Incomplete mapping, beyond hamstringing military operations against guerrillas and illegal paramilitaries, puts Colombia’s social, economic, and security objectives at risk. And to the extent this is true for Colombia, it is all the more a reality in other countries of the hemisphere where property records are even less well-developed.

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