Latin America provisions in the 2012 foreign aid bill

Latin America and the Caribbean

Just before Christmas, the U.S. Congress approved, and President Obama signed into law, a big 2012 budget law that included funding for the State Department and official foreign aid. Here are some highlights of how the 2012 budget law affects assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean.

  • The State Department and Foreign Operations law, “Division I” of the 2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act, can be read here.

  • The House-Senate Conference Committee, which reconciled differences between both chambers’ versions of the bill, issued a narrative report in December (PDF) that gives specific instructions about how some aid is to be spent.


  • As in past years, the law freezes some aid to Colombia’s armed forces until the State Department certifies that (1) their members alleged to have committed human rights violations are being suspended and tried in civilian courts, and the military is cooperating with investigations; (2) links between the government and paramilitary groups are being severed through “all necessary steps;” (3) paramilitary networks are being dismantled and those who help them are being prosecuted; and (4) the government is respecting the rights of human rights defenders, journalists, unionists, afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, and other activists, and the armed forces are distinguishing between civilians and noncombatants.

    The amount of aid frozen pending certification is 25 percent of all aid the law approves for the armed forces, not counting the $15-20 million “Critical Flight Safety” aircraft-maintenance program managed by the State Department’s narcotics bureau. Removing police aid and “Critical Flight Safety” aid, we estimate that this “frozen” 25 percent likely adds up to about $20 million on hold. As this blog noted in December, Colombia’s recent moves to weaken civilian courts’ jurisdiction over military human rights abuse might make it impossible to “un-freeze” this aid.

  • The law also requires the State Department to issue a report on any aid since 2002 to the Colombian government’s notoriously abusive, now officially defunct, intelligence agency (the DAS).

  • Approximately 54 percent of aid to Colombia in this law would now go to non-military aid programs. (The entire U.S. package for Colombia is still majority military, however, as additional military and police aid flows through the Defense Department’s counter-drug budget.) It will look something like this:

Military and Police Aid - $176.1 million
- International Narcotics and Law Enforcement $130.6 million
- Foreign Military Financing $39 million
- Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism, Demining and Related $4.75 million
- International Military Education and Training $1.75 million
(- Defense budget assistance estimate: an additional $95.9 million)

Economic and Institution-Building Aid - $209 million
- Economic Support Fund $179 million
- International Narcotics and Law Enforcement $30 million

  • The law meanwhile takes a troubling step away from transparency over aid to Colombia. A brief section [7034(n)] quietly eliminates several required reports to Congress about foreign aid. One of these was a very useful document and will be sorely missed: the annual report on contractors hired to deliver military and police aid to Colombia. This report, which our project has managed to obtain on three occasions, named the companies operating in Colombia and described, in general terms, the often risky jobs they were carrying out, from aerial herbicide fumigation to intelligence gathering.

    In 2009, this report told us, 14 companies operating in Colombia received $216.7 million. But now this report no longer exists. We understand that this report (required by section 694(b) of the 2003 Foreign Relations Authorization Act) was eliminated by the Senate Appropriations Committee in response to a State Department request. We are perplexed that Congress would choose to know less about a risky, controversial and rapidly growing practice like using contractors to deliver aid in a conflictive country. Instead of abolishing this informative report, we strongly recommend that it be revived and applied to additional countries.


  • Human rights conditionality also applies, once again, to aid to Mexico. 15 percent of aid to Mexico’s military and police in the law — approximately $15 million — is frozen until the State Department “reports in writing” that (1) military and police rights violators are being investigated and tried in Mexico’s civilian justice system; (2) prohibitions on the use of testimony obtained through torture are being enforced; and (3) Mexican military and police are cooperating with civilian judicial authorities on human rights cases. Last July, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that human rights cases must be tried in the civilian justice system, but the transfer of such cases out of the military courts remains rare.

  • The conference committee’s report has some strong language about Mexican law enforcement and justice capabilities, and calls for a report on U.S. aid in this area.

The conferees … note efforts by the Government of Mexico to implement constitutional reforms. The conferees are concerned, however, with the steadily increasing drug-related violence in Mexico and credible reports of a pattern of abuses by Mexican police. The conferees are also concerned with ongoing gender-based crimes in Mexico and encourage the Department of State to provide forensic equipment and training to Mexican states and localities that have the highest rate of homicide and other violent crime to ensure local law enforcement agencies have tools to solve and prosecute these cases. Additionally, the conferees direct the Secretary of State to provide a report, not later than 90 days after enactment of this Act, on how programs funded under this heading are achieving judicial and law enforcement reforms in Mexico. The report should include objectives to be met, benchmarks for measuring progress, intended results, and the extent to which such programs are coordinated with the federal and state governments in Mexico.

  • The House-Senate conference committee also calls on the State Department “to develop and implement a coordinated border security strategy” with Mexico. Such a strategy, which would most likely require input from the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Defense and others, does not exist today.

  • Mexico language in the Senate Appropriations Committee’s report on the law, which appeared in September, is quite pessimistic.

The Committee notes that its attempts to obtain reliable information from the Mexican Ministry of Defense on the status of investigations or prosecutions of military personnel for human rights violations have been unsuccessful. The Committee is concerned that since the start of the Merida Initiative more than 36,000 Mexicans have been killed as a result of drug and gang-related violence and there has been a spill-over of drug related crime into Guatemala and Honduras. With no evidence that the violence is abating or that the flow in drugs to the United States from Mexico or guns from the United States to Mexico are being appreciably reduced, the Committee questions whether the current strategy can be sustained.

Not counting military aid in the Defense budget, and possible adjustments that may occur to counter-narcotics aid, we estimate that funding for Mexico in 2012 in this law will be about 31 percent military and police aid. It will look something like this:

Military and Police Aid - $102.22 million
- International Narcotics and Law Enforcement $88 million
- Foreign Military Financing $8 million
- Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism, Demining and Related $4.5 million
- International Military Education and Training $1.72 million
(- Defense budget assistance estimate: an additional $76.7 million)

Economic and Institution-Building Aid - $230.81 million
- International Narcotics and Law Enforcement $160.5
- Development Assistance $33.35 million million
- Economic Support Fund $33.26 million
- Child Survival and Health $3.7 million


  • As in the past, aid to Guatemala’s armed forces is limited to the country’s Air Force, Navy, and Army Corps of Engineers. The Army can only receive training through “Expanded IMET,” which funds courses in human rights, defense resource management, civilian control of the military and similar topics. This is despite some administration officials’ calls to engage more with Guatemala’s army, despite ongoing impunity for past human rights abuses, to confront escalating organized crime-related violence. (The ban on Guatemalan Army aid, however, has not stopped U.S. Marines from occasionally using Defense-budget funds to “sweat it out” with Guatemala’s notorious Kaibiles special-forces unit.)

    The House-Senate conferees say they will “consider” a 2013 request to fund Guatemala’s army “if the army has a narrowly defined mission focused on border security and external threats, is implementing a reform strategy that has broad support within Guatemalan society, is respecting human rights, is cooperating with civilian investigations and prosecutions of cases involving current and retired officers and with the CICIG, and is publicly disclosing all military archives pertaining to the internal armed conflict.” Newly inaugurated Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina’s pledge to give the Guatemalan Army a greater internal security role appears to run against the first of these stipulations.

  • The law gives $5 million in new assistance to the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a UN body that aims to strengthen prosecutions of organized crime and related corruption.


  • For the first time, 20 percent of funding for Honduras’s security forces is frozen until the Secretary of State reports that (1) the Honduran government is implementing policies to protect freedom of expression and association, and due process; (2) military and police personnel accused of violating human rights are being investigated and prosecuted in Honduras’s civilian justice system; and (3) the Honduran security forces are cooperating with civilian justice in human rights cases.


  • The law holds up all International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement funding for Bolivia’s military and police until the State Department “determines and reports to the Committees on Appropriations that such funds are in the national security interest of the United States.”

Leahy Law enforcement

  • The so-called “Leahy Law,” which prohibits U.S. aid to military and police units that violate human rights with impunity, is somewhat clarified and strengthened. The State Department must keep a list of security-force units receiving U.S. assistance. It must do more to avoid training “clean” individuals from notoriously abusive units. It must (“to the maximum extent practicable”) stop classifying the idenities of units that receive U.S. assistance. Report language recommends $2 million for the State Department’s Democracy, Human Rights and Labor bureau to improve Leahy Law compliance.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee’s September report offers strong words of support for the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which has come under fire last year from some governments in the region.

The Committee notes the invaluable role of the IACHR in providing justice for victims of human rights violations and protecting fundamental freedoms in the Western Hemisphere, where many local justice systems are antiquated, under-funded, and compromised by corruption. The Committee is concerned with reports of efforts at the OAS to weaken the authority of the IACHR in ways that would limit its autonomy and effectiveness, and recommends $1,500,000 for a U.S. voluntary contribution to the IACHR in fiscal year 2012.

The final conference committee report increases this recommended amount for the IACHR to $2 million.

Ecuador oil pollution

The conferees recommend $500,000 in Development Assistance funding for health and water projects in parts of northern Ecuador affected by contamination left decades ago by U.S. oil companies.