On June 28, the House of Representatives voted down an amendment that would have cut $100 million in military aid to Colombia. Instead, Plan Colombia will now be extended into 2006, providing the Colombian military with another $742 million of U.S. assistance. The McGovern-McCollum-Moore amendment went to the House floor as part of the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, the legislation that determines the foreign aid budget each year. After a heated, hour-long debate, it was defeated 189-234.
Despite losing the vote, the amendment and the debate are significant in the struggle against Plan Colombia. Colombia was by far the most hotly debated issue on the foreign operations bill. This shows Plan Colombia has become controversial in Congress, and that there is considerable resistance to the current policy. Members spoke passionately about Plan Colombia’s failure as drug policy, lack of improvements in human rights, and the need to have a balanced policy focused on development aid.
Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) spoke powerfully about the need to reduce the amount of military aid to Colombia. “This policy has failed as an anti-drug policy. It has failed as a human rights policy, and it has failed to have any impact whatsoever in reducing the availability, price or purity of drugs in the streets of America. … It is time that this House stood up and decided to stop sending a blank check to Colombia, year after year. It is time that we demand real progress on human rights as a condition to our aid. It is time that we stop being a cheap date.”
Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA) also expressed his disdain for Plan Colombia on the House floor. “Eighty percent of funds have gone for military assistance [to Colombia] and been eaten up by coca eradication. Only 20 percent of funds have gone to social and economic programs. These programs are what build local economies and communities and provide alternatives to coca production. [The current] distribution of assistance is not a recipe for permanent coca eradication. It's not a recipe for peace. It's a recipe for disaster.”
In spite of these disappointing results in the House, the Senate version of the bill was considerably improved. An additional $25 million in aid to Colombia was shifted from the Andean Counternarcotics Initiative to development and human rights assistance. The bill included conditions on the aerial spraying program and added tough conditions prior to any U.S. assistance for Colombian paramilitary demobilization.
Plan Colombia will indeed be continued 2006 – despite the fact that it was scheduled to end this year – but the exact provisions of the policy depend on negotiations between the House and Senate. A compromise between the House and Senate versions of the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill will be reached in conference committee in the fall, and the final bill will then be sent to the President’s desk for his approval.
To see how your representative voted, go to: http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2005/roll329.xml.
After the vote, Congressman McGovern sent this appreciative and enthusiastic message to all those who worked so hard for this amendment:
"I would like to express my deep appreciation and gratitude for the tremendous effort and vitality of the work carried out by the national and grassroots organizations on the McGovern-McCollum-Moore (KS) amendment to cut military aid to Colombia. The breadth of the coalition that collaborated in support of this amendment is a clear demonstration of the increasing awareness among the American people about the failures of our current Colombia policy and the needless waste of billions of US tax dollars over the past six years."
"I encourage your members to continue this important fight to bring sanity back to our foreign policy and to our foreign aid budget – including making sure that Members who voted against this amendment understand the critical mistake they made and taking the time and care to thank those who voted in support of the amendment."
"Once again—my deepest thanks to you all—and I look forward to working with all of you in the weeks and months ahead."
Special thanks go to Reps. McGovern, McCollum and Moore for sponsoring the amendment; to Minority leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi and minority whip Rep. Schakowsky for their active support; to those who spoke passionately in favor of the amendment, including Reps. Farr, Skelton, Obey, Lowey, Honda, Schakowsky, Paul and Meeks; and to the 189 members who voted yes. Reps. Leach and Van Hollen were not able to speak, but submitted comments in favor of the amendment for the record.