The US House of Representatives voted last Friday to reduce funding for Colombian security forces under the Andean Initiative and increase development assistance. The measure passed by the House also cuts funding and creates tighter conditions for aerial spraying to curb coca cultivation. The measure, passed as part of the 2008 aid foreign aid bill, HR 2764, now heads for the Senate, where Democratic critics of the Bush administration's Colombia policy lay in wait.
Since 2000, the Congress has appropriated more than $4.3 billion—more than $3.3 billion for police and military—for the Bush administration's Andean Initiative, the US effort to wipe out the region's coca producing capability and related cocaine economy. But despite all the billions spent and the hundreds of thousands of acres of Colombian farmland sprayed, coca production remains at roughly the level it was in 2000 and cocaine prices in the US continue to plummet, a key indicator of ample supplies.
According to an analysis by the Center for International Policy, the Bush administration sought $450 million for the Colombian military for next year, but the House slashed that by $160 million. And while the Bush administration sought $139.5 million for development assistance, the House funded it at a level of $241 million, making economic and social assistance account for 45% of funds under the aid bill, compared to the 24% it would have been under the Bush proposal.
In its narrative report accompanying the bill, the House Appropriations Committee spelled out its reasoning for the change in emphasis. "The Committee is concerned that the perennial goal of reducing Colombia’s cultivation, processing and distribution to restrict supplies enough to drive up prices and diminish purity has not worked and the drug economy continues to grow—further weakening the fabric of Colombian society," the report noted. "The Committee notes that this is now year eight of an ever more evolving multi-year plan. This program is not working and the Administration’s fiscal year 2008 request for Colombia is virtually identical to previous requests, which contradicts assurances that the Administration has provided to Congress over the years that the social component to Colombian aid would be significantly increased and that gradual 'Colombianization' of the program would take effect."
“This bill recognizes that it is time for change in our Colombia policy,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) in floor debate on Wednesday.
Such a change couldn’t come soon enough for advocates of a more enlightened policy toward Colombia and the drug war. “While there are no easy solutions, the bill passed by the House moves in the right direction,” said Joy Olson, executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America.
"This is a very good bill," said the Center for International Policy. "It shows that a great deal of thought went into trying to get this policy right."
The Colombia foreign aid appropriation bill once again provides evidence that a congressional election can make all the difference in the world.