Senate committee approves the 2009 foreign aid bill

Latin America and the Caribbean

The Senate Appropriations Committee finished work last Thursday on its version of the 2009 State / Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, the U.S. government budget legislation that supplies most U.S. aid to Latin America and the Caribbean.

  • Excerpts from the Senate's bill are here.
  • Excerpts from the Appropriations Committee's non-binding narrative report are here.
  • The Bush Administration's 2009 foreign aid budget request, issued in February, is here.

The House of Representatives' Appropriations Committee has also finished its version of the bill; that language is not available yet, though a brief summary press release is here [PDF]. Don't expect this bill to become law anytime soon. The U.S. Congress is only in session for six more weeks between now and the November elections. The Democratic majorities that control both houses are unlikely to hurry and send a bill for a Republican president's signature when they stand at least a 50-50 chance of being able to send a much different bill to a Democratic president in January. Still, this bill is a useful measure of the Senate's view of how foreign assistance programs should evolve. The bill does not recommend specific aid levels for most countries. In the case of Colombia, however, there are enough recommendations to draw a pretty accurate picture of how the Senate appropriators would assign aid. As the table below indicates, aid to Colombia would remain similar to 2008, which involved a significant cut in military aid and increase in economic aid over 2007 levels. The Bush administration's 2009 aid request sought to undo those 2008 changes; the Senate bill refuses to do so.

Military and Police Assistance
Aid Program
2008 estimate
2009, administration request
2009, Senate Appropriations
International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement 386,869,000 247,097,704 329,557,000 241,800,000
Foreign Military Financing 85,500,000 55,050,000 66,390,000 53,000,000
NADR - Anti-Terrorism Assistance 3,395,000 3,288,000 2,750,000 2,750,000
International Military Education and Training 1,646,000 1,428,000 1,400,000 1,400,000
NADR - Humanitarian Demining 691,000      
NADR - Small Arms and Light Weapons   427,000    
TOTAL 478,101,000 307,290,704 400,097,000 298,950,000
Economic and Social Assistance
Aid Program
2008 estimate
2009, administration request
2009, Senate Appropriations
Economic Support Fund   194,412,000 142,366,000 199,000,000
International Narcotics Control Economic Aid 139,166,000 39,427,296   45,000,000
Transition Initiatives 1,699,970 2,000,000    
TOTAL 140,865,970 235,839,296 142,366,000 244,000,000
Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill Total 618,966,970 543,130,000 542,463,000 542,950,000
Military-Police Aid
Economic-Social Aid
Other military-police appropriations (est) 126,638,053 126,374,053 126,347,053 126,347,053
Other economic-social appropriations (est) 4,858,000 0 0 0
Total aid to Colombia 750,463,023 669,504,053 668,810,053 669,297,053

(Recall that the Foreign Operations funding bill provides most, but not all, aid to Colombia. Visit the Colombia aid page for the full picture.) The bill also repeats conditions on the Colombia aid regarding impunity for human rights violations, and the environmental and health impacts of aerial herbicide fumigation. The Senate bill meanwhile slices deeply into the Bush administration's $500 million request for counter-narcotics aid to Mexico under the "Mérida Initiative," granting $300 million instead. The committee's report recalls that Mexico got $400 million through the special Iraq-Afghanistan war appropriation passed last month, and that this aid will only begin to get spent when the 2009 budget year begins. Here are some excerpts from the committee's narrative report. (Click to continue)

International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement: Merida Initiative- The Committee notes that $465,000,000 was included in the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2008 (Public Law 110-252) for the Merida Initiative, including $400,000,000 for Mexico and $65,000,000 for the countries of Central America, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The bulk of those funds will not be disbursed until fiscal year 2009, after a spending plan and strategy, with concrete goals, actions to be taken, funding amounts, and anticipated results, are developed. Because it will not be possible to determine until late in the fiscal year, at the earliest, whether the fiscal year 2008 funds are being effectively used, and due to other competing pressing needs, the Committee recommends $300,000,000 for Mexico and $100,000,000 for the countries of Central America, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, for fiscal year 2009. The Committee continues the requirements in Public Law 110-252 on 15 percent of the funds for the military and law enforcement. The Committee notes that no funds are provided for budget support or cash transfer assistance. Andean Counterdrug Programs (basically the same as International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement): The Committee notes that after providing more than $6,000,000,000 in support of Plan Colombia since 2000, and vigorous efforts by the Colombian Government, many areas of Colombia are safer and its economic indicators have improved. However, armed groups, including demobilized paramilitaries who have rearmed and continue to traffic in drugs, threaten the security of many communities. Despite predictions that Plan Colombia would cut by half the amount of coca production by 2005, the amount of coca reported to be under cultivation has increased and coca is now grown in small, hard to eradicate plots in every region of the country, as coca growers continue to migrate and destroy the forest as they replant. The Committee directs the Department of State to conduct a thorough, objective cost-benefit analysis of the aerial eradication program, including an assessment of alternative approaches to reducing the cultivation and trafficking in illegal drugs in Colombia, and to report its findings and recommendations in writing to the Committee not later than 90 days after enactment of this act. Many coca growers would voluntarily shift to licit crops to avoid the dangers and difficulties of growing coca, if offered viable alternatives. Coffee and cacao offer such alternatives but require considerable training and support. To date, far too few resources have been devoted to such programs, without which Plan Colombia cannot succeed. The Committee remains troubled that after billions of dollars in U.S. training and equipment, reports of extrajudicial killings and other violations of human rights by the Colombian army, and impunity for these crimes, persist. The Committee notes the efforts of the Ministry of Defense to address these problems, but positive results are needed. The Committee directs the Secretary of State to report in writing, not later than 45 days after enactment of this act, detailing procedures in place to ensure the eligibility of Colombian army units that receive U.S. training and equipment. The Committee again conditions a portion of the military assistance on specific progress on human rights, and expects the Secretary to apply the law rigorously. The Committee commends the Fiscal General and the Procuraduria General for their efforts to investigate these crimes and recommends additional funds to support their offices. International Military Education and Training: The Committee directs the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security and Cooperation to make publicly available the name, rank, country of origin, and dates of attendance of students and instructors at the institute.