It’s not a major breakthrough, but a call for a new economic aid program in Colombia has come from an unlikely quarter: nine Republican members of Congress, including the present and former chairmen of several committees and subcommittees that oversee aid to Colombia.
In letters three weeks ago to USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios (here, in PDF format) and Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, the nine Republicans ask to reprogram $3.5 million in USAID funds. The money would pay for a few specific initiatives to create jobs for demobilized guerrillas and paramilitaries and displaced people, as “a way to provide many Colombians with a ready and practical alternative to the cultivation, processing and transport of illicit drugs, or membership in illegal armed groups.” Their list of projects includes improving abilities to trade in agricultural goods, and specifics like “Pest Risk Analysis,” swine fever eradication, hog slaughtering, and growing fruit for export, like uchuvas and blueberries.
I do not know how, or from where, they came up with such a specific list of activities. In this case, though, the “who” is perhaps more important than the “what.” The letter’s nine signers are some of the House members most responsible for the design of U.S. aid to Colombia today, 80 percent of which has gone to Colombia’s military and police since 2000.
These reps are not known for aggressively advocating non-military aid. These are the hard-liners, some of the members who as long as eight or nine years ago were pushing the Clinton administration hard to increase aid to Colombia’s police and expand aerial fumigation. They include
- Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Illinois), chairman of the International Relations Committee;
- Cass Ballenger (R-North Carolina), who heads the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee;
- Tom Davis (R-Virginia), chairman of the Government Reform Committee and
- his predecessor, Dan Burton (R-Indiana);
- Mark Souder (R-Indiana), chairman of the Drug Policy Subcommittee and
- his predecessor, John Mica (R-Florida);
- Jerry Weller (R-Illinois);
- Katherine Harris (R-Florida, yes, the one from the 2000 recount); and
- Mark Steven Kirk (R-Illinois, who, incidentally, is the brother of Robin Kirk, the former Human Rights Watch researcher and author of More Terrible Than Death: Massacres, Drugs, and America’s War in Colombia.
All nine have been to Colombia, where they’ve flown over the coca fields in police helicopters. Several have issued statements, hosted hearings, and spoken on the House floor in favor of more helicopters, more guns, more spraying, and more training. By comparison, their advocacy of alternative development, judicial reform, protection of human rights workers, and similar economic and social assistance has been lukewarm at best.
That is why their advocacy of even these few initiatives is encouraging and deserves applause. Equally important is language in the letter that reveals a growing recognition that security, in Colombia, is more than just a military issue. “We are reaching a critical turning point,” the letter reads. “The challenge: to provide basic jobs and opportunities for many more working Colombians â€“ such as displaced persons and the demobilized (ex-combatants who have renounced violence) â€“ in a practical and sustainable manner.” That’s absolutely right.
What happens after this “turning point” will be at the center of next year’s debate over aid to Colombia in 2006 (Congress has nearly finished with the 2005 bill; opportunity for debate has passed). “Plan Colombia” â€“ however you define it â€“ is slated to end after 2005, and it is still not clear what will replace it. Will post-2005 U.S. aid still be a mostly military effort, a “Plan Colombia 2,” with the counter-terror mission eclipsing counter-narcotics? Or will we finally see a better balance between military and economic aid, a recognition that reducing drugs and violence depends on more resources to fight poverty and strengthen the civilian part of Colombia’s government?
Or will aid just decline overall? In the non-binding narrative report language accompanying its version of the 2005 foreign aid bill, the House Appropriations Committee calls for just that in 2006.
The Committee is concerned that the level of resources provided by the United States Government to Colombia is increasing in 2005, including increased funding for a costly air bridge denial program. Therefore, the Committee anticipates a decrease in the President’s budget request for 2006 for the Andean Counterdrug Initiative for Colombia.
CIP disagrees with that recommendation. Whether Colombia is recovering from its crisis or whether the worst is still to come, it makes no sense to cut back on the U.S. aid commitment after 2005. However, the ratio of military aid to economic aid absolutely must change. If the Uribe government is making gains militarily, these must be cemented by helping the rest of the government provide badly needed services, and by assisting those brave Colombians who are fighting to keep their government democratic and law-abiding. The priority should be on programs like the ones the nine members of Congress propose.
The Republicans’ letter is a welcome step. The next step is to appropriate an increase in USAID funds in 2006 â€“ not a reprogramming, but a real increase â€“ to create jobs, fight poverty, protect human rights and strengthen civilian democratic institutions. If those funds have to come from reduced military and police aid programs, so be it.