Congress to cut Colombia military aid?

In response to years of activist pressure, Congressional Democrats have proposed amendments to the Bush administration’s annual foreign aid appropriations request for Colombia. If the Democrats have their way, overall funding will be cut by 10%, while 45% of the total package will now be devoted to economic and humanitarian assistance, the remainder to the military. Yet, the majority of aid would still be directed at Colombia’s military, regularly implicated in horrendous human rights abuses. Moreover, despite the proposed cuts, Colombia is “expected to get an additional $150 million in purely military and police assistance through a separate appropriation in the defense budget bill,” as the Houston Chronicle reported June 7. Nor do the Democratic proposals appear to include any new mechanisms for ensuring that remaining military aid is not used to commit human rights abuses. (Jake Hess for Upside Down World, June 27)

See our last post on Colombia.

  1. Colombia to reduce aerial fumigation?
    From the Miami Herald, July 30:

    Colombia announced in July it will favor manual eradication of coca crops over the current system that focuses heavily on aerial fumigation. The spray program has been the source of endless legal, social and diplomatic conflicts because of the controversy over the health and environmental effects of the chemicals. The latest estimates of coca acreage — showing little drop — have fueled doubts on the effectiveness of the spray program. And the new Democratic majority in the U.S. Congress is viewed as less friendly toward spraying.

    “Instead of uniting Colombians around the idea of eradicating drugs, [aerial spraying] causes complaints and provokes reactions against eradication,” President Alvaro Uribe said in a July 20 speech in which he announced the shift. He said spraying would remain only a “marginal” part of the counter-drug strategy.

    Many longtime critics of the fumigation policy applauded the decision, including the government in neighboring Ecuador, for whom aerial spraying along the border had become a major
    diplomatic issue with Colombia.

    Coca growers often replant crops damaged by aerial fumigations, and plants often grow back stronger after fumigation. They also have learned to coat leaves with a sugary substance to protect them against the herbicide glyphosate. Manual eradicators do a more thorough job by chopping off bigger plants, uprooting smaller ones and destroying plant nurseries that otherwise quickly would replace plants killed by the aerial spraying.

    The U.S. government has limited its contributions to previous manual eradication efforts in Colombia, supplying only logistical support for the programs such as aircraft fuel. But Colombian, U.S. State Department and U.S. congressional officials are looking into a major overhaul of Plan Colombia rules that would allow more U.S. assistance for manual eradication efforts, several persons familiar with the conversations say.

    The Senate version of the Foreign Appropriations bill earmarks $10 million of the military aid specifically for operations to provide security for manual eradication, and stipulates that funds for aerial fumigation could only be used in specific areas where the State Department has certified that manual eradication is not feasible.

    This year, Defense Minister Santos said, the government expects to manually eradicate 173,000 acres, and spray 321,000. But Victoria Restrepo, head of the government’s manual eradication program, said she cringes every time she hears Santos announce the target. She told The Miami Herald that with the resources she now has, she barely will make her agency’s original target for the year of 123,500 acres. So far this year, eradicators have cleared just under 60,000 acres.

    Analysts warn, however, that any eradication efforts not accompanied by comprehensive efforts to give farmers a legal alternative to coca growing are doomed to fail. “The farmers have to be taken into account. Otherwise, they will just wait for the eradicators to leave, and they will replant,” said Astrid Puente of the environmental group AIDA, which monitors fumigation in Colombia.

  2. Senate approves Colombia aid
    The US Senate passed its version of the foreign aid bill for Plan Colombia Sept. 6. The Senate approved substantially more military aid than the House version ($359.5 million vs. $289.8 million), and nearly $40 million less in non-military aid. When combined with the estimated $150 million in military aid administered directly from the Pentagon, if the Senate version prevails, then the United States will provide more than $500 million in assistance to the Colombian military and police in the coming year. (The average amount of such assistance from 2000 through 2006 was $542 million.)

    Now House and Senate committee leaders will reconcile the different versions in a “conference committee” that operates behind closed doors. Several Washington-based organizations are urging the conferees to adopt the version with lesser military aid and more assistance to displaced people and to governmental human rights investigators. (FOR Colombia Program, Oct. 1)