Sen. Mel Martinez, author of the withdrawn Colombia amendments.
On Thursday, many colleagues and I were in Montreal for a Latin American Studies Association conference. While we were gone, the Senate debated and approved the 2008 foreign aid bill.
To our surprise, Senate Republicans introduced two amendments that would have reversed cuts in military assistance to Colombia, and weakened conditions on the fumigation program. Before they could come to a debate or a vote, though, the amendments’ Republican sponsors withdrew them.
Here is a very broad overview of the military-to-economic aid proportions in the House and Senate versions of the 2008 aid bill. All figures are in millions of dollars. They do not include about $150 million in additional military aid that comes through the Defense Department’s counter-narcotics budget, which is an entirely different funding bill.
|Military aid||Economic aid||Total|
|Bush administration request||450.2 (76%)||139.5 (24%)||589.7|
|House of Representatives||289.8 (55%)||240.8 (45%)||530.6|
|Senate||359.5 (64%)||201.4 (36%)||560.9|
The House of Representatives’ bill, which was passed back in June, goes farther than the Senate’s version. It cuts military assistance to Colombia by $160.4 million, and restores $101.3 million as new economic aid. The House also includes stronger human-rights safeguards and more stringent conditions on the aerial coca fumigation program than the Senate’s bill does.
The Senate still shifts the military-to-economic aid proportions significantly. The bill was principally authored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) – chairman of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee and a long-time critic of the U.S. strategy in Colombia. Sen. Leahy and his staff did not go as far as the House bill primarily because his party’s majority is much slimmer in the Senate (51 to 49) than in the House (233 to 202). They did not want to provoke a “negative” amendment from the Republican minority seeking to undo changes to the Colombia aid.
Yet a challenging amendment came anyway. On Thursday, Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Florida) introduced 4 amendments related to Latin America: two on Cuba and two on Colombia. (Read page S11171 of the transcript.) Martinez had the approval of Sen. Leahy’s Republican counterpart on the foreign aid subcommittee, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-New Hampshire).
Martinez’s two Colombia amendments would have
- Weakening conditions on aerial coca fumigation, allowing it to proceed with less-stringent tests for health, environment, compensation for mistaken spraying, access to alternative development, and consideration of manual eradication as an alternative.
- Increasing the amount of money available for aerial eradication by $30 million, thereby reducing the bill’s military-and-police aid cut by half.
Sen. Martinez had this to say on his behalf.
Rather than hamstring and tie down the Colombian forces and eliminate eradication, we are changing the language to permit it where necessary, when to do otherwise would endanger the life of Colombians.
Drug eradication is vitally important. To allow the current language in the bill would diminish these important efforts so that we can eradicate drugs in the Colombian fields and not have to deal with them in our neighborhoods.
(Never mind that thirteen years of fumigation in Colombia have utterly failed to keep drugs out of our neighborhoods.)
Sen. Gregg added:
“I honestly haven’t understood what seems to be an antipathy from the intelligentsia in the United States, especially the Northeast intelligentsia, toward President Uribe and his government.”
(Yes, no doubt President Uribe was a frequent topic of conversation at dinner parties all over the Vineyard this summer.)
Had these Colombia amendments come to a vote, it would have been a nail-biter. Most of the 49 Senate Republicans would have lined up behind Sens. Martinez and Gregg (and, by extension, President Bush). They might have taken with them enough of the 51 Democrats (50 without the ailing Sen. Tim Johnson [D-South Dakota]) to win a majority. Unlike the House, where the majority of Democrats have consistently voted for amendments cutting Plan Colombia military aid, a significant contingent of more hawkish Democratic Senators have supported the “tougher” policy ever since Bill Clinton proposed it in 2000.
In the end, though, Martinez’s Colombia proposals did not come to a vote. A deal was cut. Martinez ended up withdrawing three of his amendments – one Cuba and both Colombia provisions – in exchange for Sen. Leahy agreeing to add his remaining Cuba amendment to the bill’s language.
The House and Senate have now both finished the aid bill. The House version, again, includes stronger changes to the proportion between military and economic aid, and stronger human-rights and fumigation conditions. If I had to make a prediction, I would say that the final bill will more closely resemble the House version – though of course I could be wrong, and the end result will be at a mid-point somewhere between both houses’ bills.