The Bush Administration’s foreign aid request for 2009 calls for a dramatic increase in funding for military and police aid to Colombia and an even sharper decrease in economic and social aid. The Washington Office on Latin America believes these requests, taken together, amount to a re-militarization of the Colombian aid package that Congress should correct.
The request also includes $550 million in funding for Mexico and Central America This assistance follows on a request for $550 million in supplemental assistance to Mexico and Central America for 2008, which Congress is now considering. Although details of the proposed 2009 figures for Plan Mérida spending are not yet available, if they track proposed 2008 spending, nearly 70% of the funding will go to military and police related assistance. through “Plan Mérida,” the anti-drug initiative announced in October by the Bush Administration.
On Colombia, the foreign aid request, submitted to Congress on Monday, calls for a jump in military and police aid from $444 million in 2008 to $538 million in the coming fiscal year. Social and economic aid would fall from $236 million to $145 million.
The Colombian government and people face grave security threats from armed groups, the narcotics trade and many other factors. But the lopsided increase in military aid – at the expense of social and economic aid – sends the wrong signal and will shortchange key programs aimed at reducing the poverty and exclusion at the root of many of Colombia’s problems. Economic Support Funding for Colombia, including money for human rights programs, judicial reform and other areas, will fall from $194 million to $142 million.
“Last year Congress took the initiative to reformulate our Colombia aid program, increasing the focus on human rights, judicial reform and aid to the displaced, while reducing our emphasis on military solutions. In this budget, the administration is proposing to reverse that action,” said Geoff Thale, WOLA Program Director.
The reduction in social and economic aid and the ramping up of military aid are reflected elsewhere in the administration’s request for foreign aid, of which Colombia is the largest recipient in Latin America. Child survival and health programs will be cut from $134 million to $105 million for the whole region, while the Latin American share of the Global HIV/AIDS Initiative will remain unchanged at $112 million. (Development assistance, however, will climb from $240 million to $356 million.)
Under the terms of Plan Mérida, assistance to Mexico and Central America will climb significantly. The Bush Administration sought $500 million for Mexico in supplemental funds in 2008, to which is now added $450 million in the regular foreign aid request for 2009. For Central America, its supplemental request last year was for $50 million, combined now with $100 million in the 2009 aid request.
Congress should exercise its oversight role and ensure that funding for Plan Mérida emphasizes long-term police reform and institutionalization and judicial reform. If funding is focused too heavily on military hardware for drug interdiction, the package will fail to help Mexico’s pending need for more professional police forces to face drug-related violence and other security threats. WOLA calls on Congress to scrutinize the Mérida package carefully and give it the proper balance between military aid and citizen security assistance.
“Mexico and Central America face serious problems with drug trafficking and crime. The United States, as the largest consumer of the illegal drugs that pass through them, ought to play a role in helping Mexico and Central America strengthen the police and public institutions that make citizens safer,” said Thale. “Congress should look closely at the administration’s proposals to ensure that the package actually contributes to strengthening civilian institutions.”
Roger Atwood, Director of Communications, (202) 797 2171, ext. 211,