Where is Washington’s counter-offer? The Latin Americanist’s lament
Jan 092006

Right now, here are our best estimates of the aid Colombia has received from the United States since 2004. (For estimates going all the way back to 1997, visit this page.)

2004: $690.1 million ($555.1 million, or 80 percent, military and police aid; the rest economic and social aid).

2005, estimate: $774.6 million ($643.3 million, or 83 percent, military and police aid; the rest economic and social aid).

2006, request: $751.0 million ($612.5 million, or 82 percent, military and police aid; the rest economic and social aid).

The 2004 number is pretty solid. The 2005 number reflects what, as of several months ago, the U.S. government estimated it might spend; actual amounts for 2005 won’t be available for another month or so. The 2006 number reflects what the Bush administration asked Congress to fund for this year.

Where do these numbers come from? What do they pay for? Here, as briefly as possible, is a walk through U.S. aid to Colombia. We hope to provide a more detailed overview in February, after the Bush administration makes its 2007 request to Congress.

I. Military and police aid
(2004: $555.1 million / 2005 estimate: $643.3 million / 2006 request: $612.9 million)

I.A. Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI)
(2004: $332.1 million / 2005 estimate: $336.1 million / 2006 request: $344.6 million)

The biggest single source of funding for Colombia comes through the ACI, managed by the State Department’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, or INL. (The INL bureau is now headed by Assistant Secretary of State Anne Patterson, a former U.S. ambassador to Colombia.) It is the only program in the U.S. budget that can pay for both military and economic aid, ranging from crop eradication to drug interdiction to alternative-development programs to demobilizing combatants, among others. (For ACI economic-aid amounts, see II.A. below.)

INL’s budget funds aid to many countries worldwide, especially Afghanistan. In 2001, however – after Plan Colombia’s passage – the State Department chose to request aid to Colombia and six of its Andean neighbors as a separate account: the ACI. The message to Congress, essentially, was “the Andes are a priority region for us, do not cut this aid.” For 2006, Congress has approved $734.5 million for the ACI; most of this military and economic aid (we estimate $483.1 million) will go to Colombia, the rest will go to Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama, Brazil, and (to a lesser extent) Venezuela. Some explanation of what ACI pays for is available in the annual INL Congressional Budget Justification documents.

Though ACI is a counter-drug funding account, the law since 2002 has allowed counter-drug funds to pay for Colombia’s fight against guerrilla (and presumably paramilitary) groups. For the most part, though, ACI aid is still mainly counter-drug aid.

It pays for the aerial herbicide fumigation program – the upkeep of aircraft, the contractor pilots, mechanics, logistics and search-and-rescue personnel, the cost of Colombian police involvement (including police helicopters that escort the spray planes), and the herbicides themselves. It pays for much of the Colombian military’s aerial interdiction or “Air Bridge Denial” program (that is, detecting and forcing down aircraft suspected of carrying drugs). It also funds much of the cost of efforts to stop drugs being smuggled on river and roads. Each year, $200 million or more of ACI aid to Colombia’s military and police goes simply to "aviation": maintaining all of the planes and helicopters that Colombia has been given over the past several years. (Recall that it costs nearly $3,000 to operate a Black Hawk helicopter for one hour.)

  • ACI military aid (2004: $159.4 million / 2005 estimate: $144.5 million / 2006 request: $152.8 million). Most ACI aid to Colombia’s armed forces pays for the Colombian Army’s Aviation Brigade, which manages and flies all of the planes and helicopters used by all of the army’s other units. Smaller amounts support the 2,000-man Counter-Drug Brigade that was initially formed with Plan Colombia funds, the “Air Bridge Denial” program, and naval drug interdiction (mainly in the ocean, since river interdiction is funded elsewhere). A small amount pays for “institutional reform for the Ministry of Defense.”

  • ACI police aid (2004: $173.2 million / 2005 estimate: $191.6 million / 2006 request: $191.9 million). The fumigation program makes up the bulk of ACI police aid – in 2005, $82.5 million was to go to “support for eradication,” and much of the $70 million “aviation support” category was to maintain police aircraft involved somehow in the fumigation effort. (An additional cost of fumigation comes from the operations of military units, such as the Counter-Drug Brigade mentioned in the previous paragraph, which secure conditions on the ground before spraying begins.) Much of this aid in fact goes straight to private contractors – pilots, mechanics and the like – who are “supporting” the police-led fumigation effort. Other police aid paid for river and road drug interdiction, bomb squad units, and support for the Uribe government’s effort to station police in zones with little or no police presence.

ACI military aid pays for much training; in 2004, it paid for 903 out of the 8,801 Colombians trained by the U.S. military. (To find out what courses were offered and what units were trained by this or any other program, visit the website of the State and Defense Department’s Foreign Military Training Report, choose a year, click on “Country Training Activities” and click on “Western Hemisphere” to download a big PDF file.)

Twenty-five percent of ACI military (not police) aid ($38.2 million in 2006) is frozen until the State Department certifies that Colombia is properly investigating and punishing military human-rights violations and paramilitary collaboration. Eighty percent of funding for herbicides is frozen until the State Department certifies that fumigation “does not pose unreasonable risks or adverse effects to humans or the environment,” people are being compensated for damage to legal crops, and alternative-development opportunities exist in spraying zones.

I.B. Defense Department counter-drug aid (“Section 1004”)
(2004: $122.0 million / 2005 estimate: $200.0 million / 2006 request: unknown; average of previous two years is $161.0 million)

The second-largest source of military-aid funds to Colombia cannot be found in foreign-aid legislation, and is not overseen by the State Department. Since 1991 the law has allowed the Defense Department to use its $400 billion-plus budget to provide its own military and police aid for counter-drug purposes. The 1991 law in question was Section 1004 of that year’s Defense Authorization bill, as a result, the Pentagon’s anti-drug aid is generally referred to by the rather innocuous-sounding name “Section 1004.”

“Section 1004” cannot pay for helicopters, weapons or, in general, other items that can kill people. It can pay for training, however – and the Defense Department’s counter-drug aid is now by far the number-one source of funding for training of Colombian military and police personnel (it paid for 6,472 of Colombia’s 8,801 trainees in 2004).

It also pays for “establishment and operation of bases of operation;” maintenance, repair or upgrading of equipment; intelligence and “aerial and ground reconnaissance.” Since 1998, a similar Defense Department provision (known as “Section 1033”) has allowed the Pentagon to help Colombia interdict drugs on rivers, providing boats, training, and helping to build bases. And since 2002, all of this aid may be used not just to fight drugs, but to fight guerrillas and paramilitaries.

“Section 1004” funded much of the creation of the Colombian Army’s Counter-Drug Brigade. It is very likely that this account has since helped the Colombian military to create new mobile and Special Forces brigades throughout the country, as well as to upgrade some of its facilities. The three U.S. contractors who have been FARC hostages since 2003 were likely on a Section 1004-funded aerial reconnaissance mission.

Because it is in the Defense budget, this aid is not subject to the human-rights and other conditions that apply to programs in the foreign aid budget. For instance, none of this military aid is “frozen” pending a State Department human-rights certification. (The Defense budget does have a version of the so-called “Leahy Law” that cuts aid to military units that violate human rights with impunity, but the provision is significantly weaker than the Leahy Law in the foreign aid bill.)

It is difficult to get detailed information about what “Section 1004” aid pays for in Colombia. Most years, the law has required no public reporting or reporting to Congress. As a result, in some years it has been very difficult for us to get a decent estimate even of the overall amount of aid Colombia has received.

It follows that this is the part of our aid estimate in which we have the least confidence. The $200 million figure we cite for 2005 comes from the Congressional Research Service (PDF format), whose researcher was only able to obtain it in a phone conversation with a Defense Department counter-narcotics official. Thankfully, we should be able to get a more solid dollar figure for 2005, and perhaps more detail, by April 15 of this year. Congress wisely approved a new reporting requirement for “Section 1004” aid in its 2006 Defense Authorization bill (section 1021 of H.R. 1815, which President Bush just signed into law).

I.C. Foreign Military Financing (FMF)
(2004: $98.5 million / 2005 estimate: $99.2 million / 2006 request: $90.0 million)

Let’s leave the defense budget and move back to the foreign aid process, in which programs are managed by the State Department and congressional oversight is more thorough. After the ACI, the foreign aid bill’s second-largest source of military aid is Foreign Military Financing.

FMF is the largest military-aid program in U.S. law. It can buy weapons or defense services for any purpose – it’s not limited to counter-narcotics, for instance. It was used heavily in Central America twenty years ago, and most of it goes to the Middle East today.

Colombia got almost no FMF during the 1990s, when the focus of U.S. aid was counter-drugs only. That changed in 2003, after the Bush administration asked for (and received) a big package of FMF to help the Colombian military protect the Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline in the northeastern department of Arauca. FMF paid for helicopters and other equipment, weapons, training and improvement of facilities, among other things, for Colombian military and police units in Arauca, especially the army’s 18th Brigade. (See the recent report on this program [PDF format] by the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, of the U.S. Congress.)

Today, FMF is the main source of aid specifically for the Colombian military’s fight against armed groups, supporting many specialized and mobile units with training, parts, and equipment like weapons and night-vision goggles. It funds a host of initiatives, from medical evacuation, improved logistics, boats and aircraft for the navy and air force, and above all, support for “Plan Patriota,” the Uribe government’s effort to re-take guerrilla-held territory by military force. FMF probably does not pay for any police aid.

FMF generally does not pay for training; in 2004, it funded only 58 Colombian trainees. Twenty-five percent of FMF military aid, about $22.5 million in 2006, is frozen until the State Department certifies that Colombia is properly investigating and punishing military human-rights violations and paramilitary collaboration.

I.D. Anti-Terrorism Assistance (NADR/ATA)
(2004: $0 / 2005 estimate: $3.9 million / 2006 request: $3.9 million)

Though one might expect a program called “Anti-Terrorism Assistance” to be one of the biggest accounts in the entire foreign aid budget, it is actually a rather small program that mainly provides training and minor equipment. It is a subset of the State Department’s Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism, Demining and Related Programs (NADR) funding account. In Colombia, it has chiefly paid for an “anti-kidnapping initiative.” According to the 2006 Foreign Assistance Budget Justification [PDF format], this has meant giving “tactical and investigative training and equipment to the Colombian Government’s military and police anti-kidnapping units (Unified Action Groups for Personal Liberty-Spanish acronym ‘GAULA’.)” Twenty-five percent of ATA military aid (not police aid) is subject to human-rights conditions; this amount, however, is probably quite small, less than half a million dollars.

I.E. International Military Education and Training (IMET)
(2004: $1.7 million / 2005 estimate: $1.7 million / 2006 request: $1.7 million)

IMET is the main military-training program in the foreign aid budget. Like FMF, ACI and ATA, it is overseen by the State Department. For the most part, it pays for training in non-drug subjects. It is usually the main source of funding, for instance, for students at the successor to the U.S. Army School of the Americas, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) at Fort Benning, Georgia. IMET paid for the training of 704 Colombians in 2004. Twenty-five percent of any IMET for the Colombian military is subject to human-rights certification.

I.F. Smaller programs
(2004: $0.8 million / 2005 estimate: $2.4 million / 2006 request: $2.3 million)

Smaller amounts of aid sometimes trickle through the following accounts.

In foreign aid legislation and overseen by the State Department:

  • Excess Defense Articles (EDA): Transfers of equipment and weapons considered to be “surplus” or excess.
  • Emergency Drawdowns: Presidential authority to take non-excess defense articles from existing stocks and give them to other countries to address a “counter-narcotics emergency.” This authority has not been used since 1999.
  • Small Arms / Light Weapons (NADR/SALW): Grants to assist in halting trafficking in small arms. 

    In the Defense Department’s budget:

  • Counter-Terror Fellowship Program (CTFP): sort of a Pentagon clone of IMET, for counter-terror purposes. Established in 2002, the CTFP funded the training of 542 Colombians in 2004.
  • Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies (CHDS): Grants for education in defense management at a Defense-Department school in Washington. Many of the 30-70 Colombian students each year are civilians.

II. Economic and social aid
(2004: $135.0 million / 2005 estimate: $131.3 million / 2006 request: $138.5 million)

II.A.Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI)
(2004: $135.0 million / 2005 estimate: $131.3 million / 2006 request: $138.5 million)

The largest source of military aid to Colombia also accounts for nearly all economic aid to Colombia. Colombia is considered too “wealthy” for the development programs that USAID normally administers (compared to Nicaragua, Bolivia or Haiti, it is wealthy). As a result, funding for priorities like alternative development, aid to displaced people, judicial reform and human rights goes to the State Department’s narcotics bureau, which then passes much of it on to USAID. This arrangement has been the source of endless bureaucratic battles, which Congress has sought to address by requiring that a minimum of ACI money go straight to USAID.

The aid that goes to USAID is divided into three categories. See USAID’s 2006 Budget Justification for more detail about what these categories pay for.

  • Support for Democracy (2004: $24.0 million / 2005 estimate: $22.0 million / 2006 request: $19.0 million). This category includes improving the efficiency of Colombia’s justice system ($4.8 million in 2005); human rights, including the government’s early-warning system ($6.9 million); anti-corruption and democratic institutions ($4.1 million); and strengthening political parties ($0.5 million).

    This is also where aid to peace processes would be funded – including support for the paramilitary talks. USAID had planned to spend $5.8 million on this priority in 2005, and $6 million in 2006. This would mainly be funding for the OAS verification mission and Colombian government logistical costs (such as aid to units of the attorney-general’s office and Interior Ministry). The most controversial part of funding for the AUC process – aid to demobilized combatants – would come from the “support for vulnerable groups” category below.

  • Alternative Development (2004: $59.8 million / 2005 estimate: $70.7 million / 2006 request: $83.3 million). Subcategories here include “Strengthen National and Local Economic Institutions” ($0.6 million in 2005); “Expand and Improve Rural Economic and Social Infrastructure” ($8.9 million); “Support Democratic Local Government and Decentralization” ($6.6 million); “Develop and Expand Economic and Social Alternatives” ($42.6 million); “Improve Sustainable Management of Natural Resources and Environment” ($7.5 million); and administrative costs.
  • Support for Vulnerable Groups and Internally Displaced Persons (2004: $42.6 million / 2005 estimate: $32.0 million / 2006 request: $22.5 million). This includes funds for emergency humanitarian assistance, help with income-generating projects, “strengthening strengthening the institutional capacity of Colombian organizations that benefit IDPs,” assistance for child combatants, and – probably – some assistance to adult ex-combatants. $5 million of the amount for 2004 was a grant to the State Department’s Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) program, which runs a parallel effort to provide emergency aid to displaced Colombians.

    Congress has allowed USAID to spend up to $20 million to support the paramilitary process, including a portion for the demobilization of former AUC members. That portion would be funded through the “Vulnerable Groups” category. Congress did not, however, appropriate any new money for this priority. If the State Department and USAID want to spend the full $20 million – and the Uribe government is strongly urging them to do so – they will have to find that money elsewhere in the budget. Most of the “Democracy” and “Vulnerable Groups” categories are already committed to other priorities in Colombia. No decision has yet been made about where to find any additional funds for paramilitary demobilizations.

Through the ACI, the State Department’s Narcotics Bureau also manages a few non-military aid programs under the category of "Promote the Rule of Law." These include prison security, judicial reform, reduction of Colombia’s domestic drug demand, a "culture of lawfulness program," and a very small amount ($363,000 expected in 2006) for a "reinsertion program for armed groups."

II.B. Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA)

This State Department bureau manages a program, with funds in the foreign aid bill, to provide emergency assistance to refugees and displaced persons. MRA spends more than $20 million per year in the Western Hemisphere, including Colombia, its neighbors, Central America, Haiti and UNHCR and Red Cross activities region-wide.

That’s it. It all adds up to an aid package that places Colombia fifth in the world – behind Iraq, Israel, Afghanistan, and Egypt – in both military/police aid and overall aid. Four of every five dollars goes to Colombia’s security forces, and counter-drug programs still account for most of it.

Every U.S. government source we’ve consulted says not to expect any radical departure from this pattern when the Bush administration issues its 2007 foreign aid request to Congress during the first week of February. We’ll keep you posted.

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