On September 7, the Senate Appropriations committee marked up (approved a draft of) its version of the Fiscal Year 2018 Department of State and Foreign Operations bill. This part of the annual federal budget funds U.S. diplomacy, as well as much assistance to Latin America and the world, for next year.
Just as the House of Representatives did in July, the Senate ignored the deep cuts in aid to Latin America that the Trump White House proposed in May. In fact, the Senate went even further in undoing Trump’s proposed cutbacks. This bill must pass a vote on the Senate floor before going back to the House, which has already passed its own version.
Normally, Congress must agree to a 2018 budget by October 1, the first day of the federal government’s 2018 fiscal year. However, on September 8, Congress passed a continuing resolution holding most of the federal government at 2017 spending levels until December 8. If a 2018 bill is not reconciled and approved by then, we will see either a new continuing resolution or a government shutdown.
At a glance, here are the topline numbers for Central America, Colombia, and Mexico.
The Senate bill does not specify aid outlays for every country in the region, but it does recommend levels for Central America, Colombia, and Mexico. Note that the foreign aid bill accounts for most, but not all, U.S. aid to the region. Where we have information about aid that flows through the Defense Department’s budget, we indicate it in these tables.
The Senate bill would cut assistance to Central America by $55 million from 2017 levels. While the House’s $40 million in proposed cuts all came from the USAID-administered Development Assistance account, the Senate version proposes to cut about half as much from that account, while cutting the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) account by $30 million.
For 2018, the Senate supports $258 million through the Development Assistance account, with a $24 million cut in aid to the Northern Triangle and a $3.6 million boost in aid to Nicaragua. The account’s main purpose is to support violence-prevention efforts, job-creation programs, and other non-security related programs mostly administered by USAID.
Most of the Senate’s cuts concern INCLE, the only program that can fund both military/police aid and economic/civil-society aid. The Senate would end $25 million in assistance to Costa Rica, and roll funding for a $6 million DNA forensics technology program into a new worldwide program with a $10 million overall budget (the amount remaining for Central America is unclear).The House and Senate proposals do not touch the International Military Education and Training Program (IMET).
The Trump White House had proposed zeroing out Foreign Military Financing (FMF), the main non-drug military aid program for the region. The House bill fully restored FMF to 2017 levels; the Senate proposes to do the same, except for a $3.6 million cut to Costa Rica. The Nonproliferation, Anti-terrorism, Demining and Related Programs (NADR) and International Military Education and Training programs would remain the same. The Senate bill also specifies funding for Attorneys General from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, for the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), and the Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH).
Senate appropriators kept conditions attached to Central America assistance, putting a hold on at least half of funds until the Secretary of State certifies that countries are taking steps to improve accountability, transparency, justice systems, and security practices, among others.
Senate appropriators matched 2017 funding, to the dollar, in all accounts for Colombia. This would maintain the “Peace Colombia” post-conflict aid package that President Barack Obama requested for 2017, and which Congress granted when it passed the 2017 budget in May.
While the House had proposed cutting economic aid through the Economic Support Fund (ESF) by over $55 million, the Senate version would continue to give ESF the largest portion of aid out of the five designated accounts. ESF supports increased civilian government presence in rural zones of Colombia, crop substitution programs in coca-growing zones, assistance to conflict victims, human rights, and support for Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities.
The Senate report would freeze 25 percent of Foreign Military Financing aid to Colombia ($7,705,000) pending a State Department certification that Colombia’s transitional justice bodies are independent and sentencing people to meaningful sanctions; that the Colombian government is working to dismantle illegal armed groups; that it is protecting human rights defenders and other vulnerable sectors; and that military personnel who committed “false positive” extrajudicial executions are being prosecuted and punished. The House bill calls for a report on a similar list of issues, but does not require that any military aid be held up.
Both the House and Senate undo the Trump administration’s deep proposed cuts to Mexico assistance, which would have come from the Economic Support Funds, International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement, and Foreign Military Financing accounts. The Senate bill even increases Economic Support Funds by $10 million.
The Senate report would freeze 25 percent of Foreign Military Financing aid to Mexico ($750,000) pending a certification that Mexico is investigating and prosecuting human rights violations in civilian courts, enforcing prohibitions against torture, and searching for disappeared persons and doing more to punish those responsible. The House bill contains no such provision.
Language from the Senate Appropriations bill notes that the elimination of the Inter-American Foundation—which the White House proposed—”has not been justified.”
A small agency separate from USAID, the Inter-American Foundation pursues a “grassroots development” model focused on marginalized communities. The Trump administration’s request proposed to close the Foundation down after nearly 40 years of operations (the $4.565 million proposal would have covered shutdown costs). Instead of an outright shutdown, House appropriators would cut the agency severely, while Senate appropriators would keep it intact.