The drop in aid to Latin America foreseen in the Obama administration’s 2011 aid request to Congress, issued a week ago, has caused a minor stir in the region’s media. Typical is this opening sentence in Miami Herald columnist AndrÃ©s Oppenheimer’s Sunday column.
If President Barack Obama’s foreign aid budget request for 2011 is a reflection of his priorities in world affairs, it looks like the president is saying “adios” to Latin America.
A look at the region as a whole does reveal U.S. aid declining sharply in the hemisphere, by 15 percent from 2010 to 2011. A region-wide view also makes 2011 appear to be the least militarized aid package since 2001; the ratio of economic and military aid would approach 2:1 for the first time in ten years.
(As always, do keep in mind that we’re looking only at assistance in the foreign aid budget here. The U.S. defense budget also provides military aid to the region, much of it for counter-narcotics programs, which normally increases the military-aid total by about one-quarter to one-third. The Defense Department does not have to report its aid expenditures, however, until the year after it spends the money.)
The picture changes dramatically, however, if you remove just two countries: Mexico and Colombia. These two countries:
- are the number-one and number-two recipients of U.S. aid;
- account for more than two-thirds of all military and police aid to the region;
- have been the recipients of mostly military U.S. aid packages big enough to get their own “brand names:” the MÃ©rida Initiative in Mexico, and Plan Colombia in Colombia; and
- both would see aid cuts â€” with almost all of the reductions coming from military aid â€” as both “brand-name” aid programs exit their “delivery of big expensive helicopters and other military equipment” phase.
Here is the same chart as above, leaving out Mexico and Colombia. The difference is striking.
When Mexico and Colombia are removed from the equation, aid to the rest of the region follows a different trend.
- Total aid actually increases from 2010 to 2011. The only reason 2009 is higher than 2011 is that it included the Millennium Challenge program, which provided much aid to El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras that year (despite cutoffs to the latter two) and has not gone on to aid other Latin American countries.
- The aid is far less military in nature, with military and police aid making up less than one-sixth of all aid in the foreign aid bill. However, it becomes slightly more military from 2009 to 2011, with the economic-to-military aid ratio slipping from over 6:1 to just barely over 5:1. The main reason for this is the Obama administration’s launch of a new Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, an anti-crime and anti-drug program in the Caribbean.
- The 2010 bar on these graphs will grow taller. Economic aid â€” and, as a result, overall aid â€” will grow by hundreds of millions of dollars once the administration requests, and Congress approves, a special “supplemental” aid appropriation to help Haiti rebuild from the January 12 earthquake. The amount of this additional 2010 aid is not yet known, as the request has not yet been issued.
Look at the aid this way, and it’s pretty clear that nobody is saying “adiÃ³s” to anybody. We need not lament that the tempo of helicopter-buying for Mexico and Colombia has slowed, and we note that economic and social assistance is holding remarkably steady despite the Millennium Challenge program’s decline in the region.