Update 3/9: Needless to say, we are very pleased with the coverage of this issue in today’s Washington Post.
As George Bush heads to Latin America, we keep hearing U.S. officials make the following claim as they read from their talking points.
From Associated Press:
"The American taxpayer has been very generous about providing aid in our neighborhood, and most of that aid is social justice money — in other words, it’s money for education and health," Bush said in an interview with CNN En Espanol. Since he took office, U.S. aid to Latin America has gone from $800 million (euro609 million) to $1.6 billion (euro1.2 billion), the president said.
"And yet we don’t get much credit for it," he said.
From The New York Times:
Mr. Hadley [Stephen Hadley, the White House's national security advisor] said that the United States has nearly doubled aid to the region since President Bush took office to $1.6 billion annually, although he acknowledged that figure was slated to drop next fiscal year.
We’d like to ask the Bush administration to please stop making this argument. Anyone who bothers to look at the actual numbers will quickly realize that it is misleading and cynical.
Here are the aid totals, from an upcoming report CIP is releasing together with WOLA and the Latin America Working Group Education Fund.
Notice that sharp dip in 2001? That was an artificially low year, since in late 2000 the "Plan Colombia" bill added almost $1.2 billion in additional aid to Colombia and its neighbors. After that, there was no way those countries could absorb the usual amount of aid, so the appropriation for 2001 was abnormally small.
But 2001 is the year that the Bush administration is using as a baseline for its claims that it "doubled" aid since taking office. That’s sort of like me having $10 on Tuesday, $5 on Wednesday, $10 on Thursday – and claiming that I doubled my money since Wednesday. A perfectly true statement, but leaving out a lot of information.
Here is the reality:
- When you include the "Plan Colombia" money, Latin America got just as much aid in 2000 as the Bush administration has requested for the region in 2008 – though of course the dollar bought more in 2000 than it does today.
- Since 2003, aid to Latin America has stagnated or declined for all but five countries in Latin America. Those who have seen increases since 2003 are the three countries chosen for the "Millennium Challenge" program (El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua) and the two countries chosen for the Global HIV-AIDS initiative (Guyana and Haiti).
Everyone else – even Colombia – has seen aid levels either remain the same or cut back since 2003. Taking Millennium Challenge and HIV-AIDS money out of the picture leaves economic aid to Latin America 15% lower in the Bush administration’s 2008 request than it was in 2003.
- Recall that the administration’s aid estimate includes military assistance as well as development aid. Don’t get the impression that the aid increase since 2001 is all roads, schools, and healthcare programs. There are a lot of helicopters and guns in there too.