Friday Links “Osorio devastated the Fiscalía”
Jan 072008

Note as of 8:30 PM – Shortly after posting this, I realize I may have missed the bigger story. While Colombia does suffer an aid cut as a result of the reprogramming described below, the majority of the money – at least $10 million – is to be transferred away from Evo Morales’s Bolivia. This would mean a major decrease in military and police aid to Bolivia, which totaled about $33 million in 2007.

During the early 1990s, as Central America’s civil wars drew to a close, the U.S. government reduced its military aid to the region. At the same time, aid to the armed forces and police of Colombia and the Andes began to inch upward.

Could the opposite be happening now? Consider this State Department document that recently came our way (PDF). It is dated September 28, 2007 – the last business day of the U.S. government’s 2007 budget year.

It informs Congress that the State Department decided to take away $16 million in unspent counter-drug military and police aid that had been “in the pipeline,” appropriated and obligated for aviation support programs in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. Instead, this money would be redirected to Central America, where it would pay for:

  • Four Huey helicopters for Guatemala ($10 million, originally intended for Bolivia), for interdiction and opium-poppy eradication.
  • $800,000 for a Guatemalan Police anti-drug Special Investigative Unit (SIU) to work closely with DEA.
  • $650,000 for a “vetted unit” and police aid in Honduras.
  • $1.3 million for ballistics analysis capabilities in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
  • $850,000 in assistance to prevent young people from joining gangs.
  • $600,000 for prison improvements.
  • $175,000 for laser tattoo removal machines for ex-gang members.
  • $1 million for an OAS program for at-risk youth.
  • $175,000 for the DARE (drug education) program in Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast.
  • $200,000 for CADCA community drug abuse-prevention programs in Honduras.
  • $100,000 for drug-abuse prevention in Guatemala.
  • $150,000 for methamphetamine precursor chemical control training in El Salvador or Guatemala.

This is the third reduction in Colombia’s military and police assistance during the past nine months. The first came in April, when Congress rescinded $13 million in funding for maritime interdiction aircraft that the previous Republican-majority Congress had inserted in the 2006 supplemental appropriations bill. The second came at the end of the year, as Congress appropriated $141 million less military and police aid for Colombia than the Bush administration had requested for 2008.

The $16 million cut announced September 28, however, is the first one coming from the Bush administration itself, instead of Congress.

The resulting transfer would mean a huge increase in counter-drug aid to Central America, which we estimate as having totaled only about $10 million in 2007.

10 Responses to “Cutting Colombia aid to benefit Central America”

  1. lfm Says:

    This isn’t exactly on Adam’s topic of the day, but I’m so nervous about the hostage situation that can’t hardly extricate my mind from it. I just read that Restrepo is contradicting Araujo (or at least qualifying his assertions) and, in the process, opening again a crevice (no matter how small) for international mediation in this crisis. Could it be that cooler heads are beginning to prevail? The truth is, without some Venezuelan involvement, there will be no liberation, like it or not. Furthermore, I have changed my mind in one respect. Until a few weeks ago, I thought that the hostage liberation, as much as it would be a great thing for them and their families, was pretty much a political non-event. That might have been right at that point. But now, the FARC were talking, for the first time in probably 25 years, of a unilateral concession. That changes everything. If this could succeed, this could change the political dynamics of the conflict. What do you think?

    As a result of past experiences, I will only engage comments written by people that:

    1. Display basic language-processing skills above those of my dog and do not confuse, say, a kind suggestion (as in “don’t feel compelled to”) with a demand.
    2. Bother to read what others write and, more importantly, what they themselves write.
    3. Can handle in their minds and writings ideas more complex than: “kill the motherfuckers” and
    4. Aren’t apologists for terrorists.

  2. SJH Says:

    Agreed, it could change the political dynamics of the process but I wonder if there is any real hope while Marulanda is still “in charge”. I liken him to Arafat. In Dec 2000 and Jan 01 there was a peace deal on the table that even Arafat’s aides suggested he endorse. But he just couldn’t do it. It is my belief that it is very difficult to change hats once one decides to be a revolutionary leader. (I recognize that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Clinton’s failure is more complex than that – just wanted to point out one of the impediments to real peace making.)

    That being said, there was considerable reconciliation between the Palestinians and Israeli’s prior to that last ditch effort by Clinton. And I do think that the FARC could, if they were so inclined, make gestures toward at least establishing regular and positive communication with the government with the idea of establishing a level of trust for future negotiations. Unfortunately in Colombia it always seems to be a debate of absolutes instead of baby steps. Give us a DMZ in Florida or give us nothing. Releasing several hostages “gratis” would be a good step toward building confidence and trust between the two parties.

    I had great hopes for the process and I now feel more pessimistic. The FARC took a big blow to the chin and I have a feeling that given historical (lack of trust) and cultural (machismo) factors and what I perceive to be a luke-warm interest in negotiotian on their part (and barely warm on the government’s part) that we’re unlikely to see positive steps in the near to mid-future. Ultimately, though, it comes down to what the FARC wants. If they are serious about starting a credible peace process, they will show it by fulfilling their promise (and, really, they should release all women in captivity).

  3. jcg Says:

    Cutting aid by that amount probably won’t have a huge impact, unless there is no other aviation support financing available, U.S. or Colombian (which I doubt), but it may indeed have a proportionally bigger effect in Central America after all is said and done.

    It may or may not mean that a general trend is beginning to emerge, but it’s too soon and too little to tell, I think.

    LFM: Perhaps it’s a sign of cooler heads making themselves heard, but also one of continuing improvisation. The government still has trouble defining a general strategy and sticking to it, which would make those contradictions private and not public. In theory, at least, discretion would be preferable to so much public diatribe.

    Also, I personally think this liberation won’t necessarily change the essential political dynamics of the conflict unless both FARC and the Colombian government were willing to continue such moves and, more importantly, directly talk to each other without establishing too many or too controversial conditions (see: the “despeje”, although IMHO it could have been, and could still be, implemented in a more reasonable manner…but each passing year makes it much more “valuable” than it should be, which is bad).

    Right now, Venezuela has become an important player (too important perhaps) because the Colombian government hasn’t correctly managed the situation. If it did, I wouldn’t rule out Venezuela’s presence being absolutely unnecessary for future developments…but they could also be quite useful if the government ever reconciles with Chávez, at least to a certain extent. Not seeing that happen under Uribe, at least for now…hopefully I’m wrong about that.

    In any case, I believe this specific liberation isn’t so much an indirect gesture (that is, a concession) towards the Colombian government as it is, directly, one towards Chávez and the international community in general. “See, we appreciated Chávez’s role as a mediator…we can be generous, when you treat us nicely and not like Uribe…go ahead and bother him, not us”.

    Meaning: Chávez would need to do, or be allowed to do so by Uribe, something else in order for us to see more such moves. Unless FARC and/or the government change their minds, of course…which is hard to predict, but unlikely.

  4. lfm Says:

    Well, you two are several steps ahead of me. At this point asking for negotiations, talks or even confidence-building is perhaps too optimistic. I was thinking of something more modest but that can add up: What if the FARC begin to realize that they cannot go forever ignoring politics. What if this unilateral gesture, even if it is just toward Chavez (which I doubt) is their attempt, albeit ham-handed, at presenting a different face to the public opinion. Sometimes I wonder if there are people in the FARC who understand that just acting as a kind of Khmer Rouge in a country that’s 70% urban is just ridiculous (not to mention that it failed criminally even where it “succeeded”).

    Two problems: 1. Right now there is no humanitarian mechanism in place. I still don’t understand why it was scrapped entirely when something could have been salvaged, or better, I do understand but that’s more about politics than hostage-saving. Without such mechanism, the risks of any liberation going wrong, whether intentionally or not, are enormous and this could dynamite any political opening. 2. The one thing that the Uribe Administration hates viscerally about any of these things is precisely the notion that the FARC will obtain some political gain. This is a rather perverse logic. Ultimately the goal of any peace process is to show the FARC that they can win politically what is impossible through military means. So, by definition, they should be able to make political gains in any rapprochement. In fact, and I say this with some goosebumps, probably this was the whole point of shutting down the humanitarian mechanism. I don’t know, that assumes too much perversity, something I normally hesitate of doing. At any rate, I think the opposition should start telling Uribe that this notion of wanting the FARC to make gestures but blocking them from any political gain is ludicrous. Restrepo keeps obsessing about the FARC looking good among any small handful of over-the-edge scandinavians as if that would propel them to victory and keeps using that as a pretext not to do anything or let anyone else do anything.

    I guess it’s time the Polo Democratico and the Liberal Party speak out about this showing what a ridiculous policy it is.

  5. Kyle Says:

    This shift in aid is not too surprising in my mind. A document referenced earlier on the blog, the National Drug Threat Assessment, highlighted Central America as a huge piece in the drug trafficking route towards the US. Whether going by Pacific or Atlantic, Central America seems to be a stop along the way. And with, what may be seen by the administration, recent successes in Colombia, the attitude of slowly shift operations to the Colombians may have played a role in this decision. Thus, with Mexico covered for anti-drug aid, Colombia covered, a key player, Central America, is not completely covered, but a huge shift in aid (from $10 to $26) may be a way to try to cover all areas with more anti-drug focus and expertise.
    Also, they may be taking lessons in from Mexico, where interdiction efforts (the #2 most efficient way of reducing drugs on America’s streets, according to RAND (and out of 3 options)) had shortly stemmed the flow of cocaine to America’s streets. Though John Walters made a fool of himself, as pointed out by WOLA, when he announced the big cocaine drop (which in the NDTA report was described as only temporary), this attitude and idea may have taken hold within the administration. Thus, they are trying to increase interdiction/drug efforts in Central America, hoping they can achieve a more long-term effect or a bigger decrease if time does not change.
    History and simple economics tells us that they will most likely not succeed at all, and cocaine will continue to flow to the US and other emerging markets as well. Sadly, and embarrassingly for the government (note: not just this administration), history tells us they will keep trying, only to continuously do poorly, if these policies do anything at all.

  6. Kyle Says:

    One a side note, mainly to rub in Camilla’s face, the FARC have given coordinates to Venezuela so that the hostages can be released. According to El Tiempo, they are in Guaviare; not Venezuela. Military operations are still occurring in Guaviare which lends credence to the idea that the FARC were saying that until Emmanuel was returned. Of course, they could have been legitimate at the time, but as El Tiempo reports military operations in Guaviare and the FARC are now willing to release the hostages, there are two options now: (1) The complaints before were only a cover, and (2) that the FARC has lowered their threshold with regards to military activity near the hostage areas. I think the first option is more likely, as there was only one military operation occurring Guaviare anyways when the FARC were crying foul.
    Camilla’s responses can only be two things: Venezuela is lying about the coordinates, or the hostages were moved from Venezuela to Colombia so that the FARC would not have to admit they were holding them there. Both have no evidence to sustain them, but that does not mean Camilla will not run with these arguments. She just has the burden of providing evidence.

  7. LFM Says:

    Wow, this is great news! Let’s just hope this time it comes to fruition. I can still imagine lots of things going wrong. I just checked El Tiempo and, sure enough, readers there are already thinking that the hostages were in Venezuela all along. Kyle, you’re being a tad too optimistic if you think that these people will be trammeled by things such as the “burden of proving evidence.” That has never been their major concern.

    Once the hostages are free (fingers crossed) I think it will be time to go back to discuss the implications of this unilateral gesture.

  8. jcg Says:

    Let’s hope this is finally the end of this particular hostage liberation.

  9. Kyle Says:

    I agree with JCG.

  10. Camilla Says:

    Kyle: Hostages have legs, they can move. As Ingrid wrote in her letter – did you read it? – they are constantly moving. In case you weren’t aware, Venezuela shares a border with Colombia. The hostages could have had a starting point from either Colombia or Venezuela to make it to Guaviare. One released, the hostages themselves might have some insights. In any case, they are just two hostages, there are still 750 more. The reports coming out of Venezuela say that SOME of them are believed to be held there. I do not know which SOME.

    As this hostage drama goes on and the FARC stalls for time as they always do, it’s likely that the Colombian army’s operations against them in the Guaviare region are probably squeezing them and they are using this hostage release as an excuse for a ceasefire. The FARC always gets paid – they aren’t doing this for nothing. Hugo is just their dupe, they can treat him nice or treat him bad because he’s always there no matter what. What FARC really wants is a ceasefire of operations in Guaviare. I say the Colombian army should strike harder there and put them out of business.

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