Para-politicians out of jail? Perhaps, but not yet Ángela Giraldo: “U.S. accompaniment is important”
May 292007

A big tip of the hat is due to the Center for Public Integrity and its International Consortium for Investigative Journalists. They released a report last week that is required reading.

Collateral Damage: Human Rights and U.S. Military Aid After 9/11” is the product of a team of investigators in the United States and several regions around the world (including noted Colombian journalist Ignacio Gómez and Gerardo Reyes from El Nuevo Herald). They worked for 18 months to come up with a thorough overview of U.S. military aid worldwide since the “war on terror” began.

The report juxtaposes this aid data with official information about the recipient countries’ human-rights records, and with amounts each country spent on lobbying and public relations in the United States.

The report ranks Colombia sixth in the world, and first outside the Middle East and Afghanistan, among the world’s U.S. military-aid recipients between 2002 and 2004. This sounds right – by 2005 we had expected Colombia to slip to number seven – though right now it is most likely back at number five, above Pakistan and Jordan. Of the top sixteen 2002-2004 military-aid recipients listed, five are from Latin America (Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Mexico and Ecuador).

In addition to the lobbying data, one of this report’s biggest contributions is never-before-seen information about aid that has flowed through some very un-transparent aid accounts in the massive Defense Department budget. The “Collateral Damage” website has a “document warehouse” page with the results of several Freedom of Information Act requests. Latin Americanists will find especially useful the country-by-country breakdown of aid that has flowed through the Defense Department’s counter-drug programs. These programs – whose aid amounts are very hard to uncover – account for about one-quarter of Colombia’s military aid (about $150 million) each year. And they are not subject to the human-rights conditions that apply to the rest of U.S. military aid to Colombia.

The only quibble with the report is that it overstates military aid by throwing in two programs’ economic aid. Economic Support Funds are in each country’s list of military-aid sources; while this aid sometimes does come in the form of cash transfers that offset military spending, it just as often pays for specific development programs and support for civilian institutions. The report also erroneously portrays the State Department’s International Narcotics Control program – which, under the guise of the “Andean Counterdrug Initiative,” is the biggest source of aid to Latin America – as an entirely military-aid program, though much of it also pays for programs like alternative development, judicial reform and aid to displaced people.

Overall, though, this is a stunning and necessary piece of work. It is a very highly recommended resource.

One Response to “The CPI reports on world military aid”

  1. jcg Says:

    The amount of information is definitely impressive, and it is indeed useful as a resource, but I do believe that it is essential to consider the quibbles you’ve mentioned when reading through it.

    Something else that doesn’t sit too well with me is to simply create a checklist of human rights violations per country and leave it at that, without making distinctions nor clarifications.

    Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic, among others, all seem to be “guilty” (for lack of a better term) of almost all the listed human rights violations (with the exception of “Religious Persecution”), according to this report.

    Pointing out specific problems would be far more useful, one thinks, as there is currently no sense of proportionality nor context. The mere fact that those human rights violations occur in the mentioned countries shouldn’t be enough, I think, for a proper analysis.

    I can see that a “Story” about Colombia will be online by June, and I’m sure that it will likely be more than explicit about the country’s situation (as seen through the eyes of The Center for Public Integrity), but that hardly addresses the point as a whole, IMHO.

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