en English

Good News, Bad News: Congress Votes to Finalize 2006 Appropriations

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

As the Congress wrapped up the FY06 foreign operations bill, there’s some good news and bad news for Latin America. Latin America Working Group and coalition groups won some of what we had called for in this bill, which funds US aid programs worldwide. The Congress decided to maintain the ban on military aid to Guatemala, in place since 1990. The Bush Administration pushed harder than usual to lift the ban, arguing that Guatemala had made sufficient progress, and the House lifted the ban in its version of the bill. Grassroots activists, LAWG, NISGUA, Guatemala Human Rights Commission, WOLA and other groups called on Congress to keep the ban due to continued threats and attacks against human rights and social activists and lack of progress in implementing military reforms contained in the 1996 Peace Accords. The final bill also contained $3 million in DNA analysis and support for forensic investigations in Guatemala, Mexico, Argentina and other parts of Latin America. It contained a provision we supported to stop the erosion of aid to Central America, by mandating that aid to the region not drop below 2005 levels.

The Congress approved $734.5 million for the Andean Counternarcotics Initiative, as expected. In a great disappointment, the House rejected what the Senate had done to improve the balance of aid to the Andean countries, especially Colombia – the Senate had for the first time placed a cap on military and police aid to Colombia of $278 million and had increased development funds. The final balance of aid to Colombia from the Andean Counternarcotics Initiative will be $310.8 million in military/police aid and $158.6 million in economic/judicial aid, which is the same quantity of military aid and $6.5 million more in economic aid than the year before. Colombia also receives military aid from other accounts in the foreign operations and defense bills, so that the balance of aid will remain overwhelmingly—probably still 80%—military.

The Congress also approved $20 million in aid to fund the paramilitary demobilization. Colombian human rights groups have criticized the demobilization process for providing minimal punishment to leaders responsible for massacres and assassinations; for having no truth commission; and for failing to ensure that demobilized paramilitaries disclose their crimes, structures and financial assets. The underlying concern is that paramilitary violence will continue in other forms. The Congress fortunately included conditions on the assistance, although not as strong as we would have wished. The conditions require the Secretary of State to certify that demobilized paramilitaries receiving benefits have renounced violence and disclosed their involvement in past crimes and knowledge of the paramilitary structures, financing sources, illegal assets, and the location of kidnapping victims and bodies of the disappeared. They also require State to certify that the Colombian government is providing full cooperation to the United States in extraditing individuals who have been indicted in the United States for murder, drug trafficking and kidnapping. Disturbingly, the administration plans to take the $20 million in aid for the paramilitary demobilization out of the limited existing development funds for Colombia, including alternative development and, possibly, programs for the internally displaced. However, Congress has not specifically agreed to this, and we will work to insist that it comes from other sources.

The human rights conditions for Colombia—which had resulted this year in a seven-month delay in delivering some US military aid—were maintained and a new provision added to reflect concern about the war’s impact on indigenous communities. The State Department will be required to certify that “The Colombian government is taking effective steps to ensure that the Colombian Armed Forces are not violating the land and property rights of Colombia’s indigenous communities.”

The environmental conditions on the aerial spraying program for Colombia were also maintained. The conditions also require compensation for food crops destroyed, in cases where farmers were not growing any coca or poppy. While these conditions have proven extremely difficult to enforce, maintaining them keeps certain minimal limits on the program.

The bill requires the Agency for International Development to appoint a special advisor for indigenous issues worldwide—an effort to ensure greater consultation with indigenous peoples and improve how they are affected by aid programs.

The Congress kept the requirement for the State Department and Defense Department to make public a Foreign Military Training Report on US military training programs around the globe. This report has been essential for monitoring US programs to Latin America, as documented on by Center for International Policy, LAWG and WOLA on http://justf.org/.

Thanks to all of you who worked hard to tell Congress to make aid and policies that supports human rights, denies military aid to human rights abusers, and supports humanitarian and development aid. We wish they’d listened to everything we had to say! But whether they did or not, we’re going to keep calling for the United States to support peace, justice, and human rights, and generous, well-targeted aid for poverty reduction. And we know you will too.

Action: Thank Senator Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) for their hard work and dedication to aid for poverty reduction around the globe and policies that support human rights in Colombia and Guatemala in particular. Thank Rep. Kolbe (R-AZ) and Senator McConnell (R-KY) for retaining the ban on military aid to Guatemala. It is most important for members of Congress to hear this from their own constituents.