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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Latin America in the 2014 foreign aid law

This post was drafted by WOLA Program Assistant Ashley Davis.

Last month the U.S. Congress approved, and President Obama signed into law, a 2014 Omnibus appropriations bill, funding most of the federal government’s budget for the rest of the year. The bill includes funding for the State Department and foreign aid. Below are some highlights of how it affects aid to Latin America and the Caribbean.

(The full text of the law can be found here. See “Division K: Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2014.” See also the explanatory statement (PDF, go to Division K) prepared by the House-Senate conference committee that resolved differences between both chambers’ versions of the bill. The Latin American highlights from the 2012 consolidated appropriations bill can be found here. For 2013, the Congress did not manage to approve a foreign aid bill; a “continuing resolution” maintained funding levels, and restrictions, that were laid out in the 2012 bill.)


Foreign Military Financing (FMF): in the bill’s explanatory statement, Congress specifies that $28 million should go to Colombia through FMF, the main non-drug military aid program in the foreign aid bill.

International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INCLE): $149 million are mandated for Colombia from this program, which funds both military/police and economic/institution-building programs. INCLE in Colombia pays for coca eradication, drug interdiction, and judicial reform, among other priorities. The bill specifies that $10 million of the INCLE outlay should go to the Human Rights Unit of Colombia’s Attorney-General’s Office (Fiscalía).

Economic Support Fund (ESF): $141.5 million are earmarked for Colombia from this USAID-administered program, to continue alternative development and institution-building activities. Within this category, the bill specifies the following priorities and amounts.

  • Transfer to the State Department-administered Migration and Refugee Assistance account $7 million
  • Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities $15 million
  • Human rights program $6.5 million
  • Biodiversity $3 million
  • Children disabled by violence $500 thousand

As in previous years, the U.S. government has attached human rights conditions to Colombia aid, and will withhold 25 percent of assistance to Colombia’s armed forces (not police) until the State Department certifies that:

  1. Members of the Colombian military alleged to have committed human rights violations, or have aided or benefitted from illegal armed groups, are tried in civilian courts, and the military is cooperating with investigations;
  2. Paramilitary groups are being dismantled, the government is protecting the rights of human rights defenders, journalists, trade unionists, and other social activists, as well as respecting the rights and territory of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities; and
  3. The government is investigating and punishing those responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes, and is not offering amnesty to such persons.

All of the above conditions are similar to those of 2012–13, though the language about amnesty appears for the first time. This addition has implications for the peace process and transitional justice in post-conflict Colombia: if the country’s peace process succeeds, and it adopts a framework that amnesties military and guerrilla abusers, some U.S. military aid could be frozen. The Senate’s version of the conditions had included even stronger language: it would have frozen the aid even if a post-conflict framework tried abusers but suspended their sentences.

Additionally, this year 10 percent of funds appropriated to the Colombian national police for aerial drug eradication programs may not be used for aerial spraying of chemical herbicides until the State Department certifies that:

  1. Herbicides do not pose health risks or have adverse effects on humans (including pregnant women and children) or the environment; and
  2. The government will investigate any complaint that aerial spraying is harming licit crops, and fair compensation will be paid for such claims.


The bill appropriates $17.5 million for ESF programs in Cuba, but they cannot fund new programs or activities there. It will continue existing programs to support civil society in Cuba, like the activities for which USAID contractor Alan Gross continues to be imprisoned in Cuba.


As in the past, U.S. aid is withheld from the Guatemalan Army–as it has been since the early 1990s, though some aid flows to it through the Defense Department budget. However, it is worth noting that the language in the 2014 law has changed from an outright ban on aid to the Guatemalan Army, to having conditions pending a certification process. Nevertheless, assistance to the Army remains frozen unless the State Department certifies that the Guatemalan Army:

  1. Has a narrowly defined mission focused on border security and external threats, and a credible plan to end the army’s involvement in law enforcement (which does not look likely, as President Otto Perez Molina has expanded the military’s internal security role via the creation of Citizen Security Squads [Escuadrones de Seguridad Ciudadana], or groups of soldiers that patrol high-crime areas).
  2. Is cooperating with civilian investigations and prosecutions of human rights cases involving current and retired military officers, with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and with the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala; and provides the investigators timely access to witnesses, documents, forensic evidence, and other relevant information.
  3. Is publicly disclosing all military archival documents relating to the internal armed conflict in a timely matter.
  4. In addition, this year the bill explains that, “There is a concern with the failure of the Government of Guatemala to implement the Reparations Plan for Damages Suffered by the Communities Affected by the Construction of the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam (April 2010),” and the government of Guatemala must take credible steps toward implementing this plan.

Also new to this bill is the withholding of all funds to the Guatemalan Armed Forces (from both the Foreign Military Financing and International Military Education and Training programs) until the State Department certifies that the Guatemalan government has resolved all cases, or is making significant progress toward resolving all cases involving Guatemalan children and American adoptive parents that have been pending since 2007.

The law renews the $5 million in assistance to the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a UN body that investigates illegal security groups and related corruption in Guatemala.


All assistance to the central Government of Haiti is frozen until the State Department certifies that:

  1. Haiti is taking steps to hold free and fair elections for a new parliament;
  2. The government is respecting judicial independence; and
  3. The government is combating corruption and improving governance, including passing the anti-corruption law, and implementing financial transparency and accountability requirements for government institutions.


The 2014 law not only maintains human rights conditionality that appeared in the 2012 bill, but increases the amount withheld, pending certification, from 20 to 35 percent of all assistance to the Honduran military and police. This aid will be frozen until the State Department certifies that:

  1. The Government of Honduras is reducing corruption, including by prosecuting and removing corrupt officials from office;
  2. The government is implementing agreements between the United States and Honduras concerning counter-narcotics operations, including assistance for innocent victims;
  3. Freedom of expression, association, assembly, and due process of law are protected, including in the conflictive Bajo Aguan Valley, the site of land disputes and attacks on activists; and
  4. Military and police alleged to have committed human rights violations including forced evictions, or to have aided any armed groups involved, are being investigated and prosecuted in civilian courts, and the Honduran military and police are cooperating with investigations.

This law does not apply to assistance to promote transparency, anti-corruption, border security, and the rule of law within the military and police forces.


Foreign Military Financing: The explanatory statement sets aside $7 million in FMF for Mexico.

International Narcotics and Law Enforcement: The explanatory statement assigns a very specific amount: $148.131 million. Much INCLE in Mexico has supported police and judicial reform efforts.

Economic Support Fund: The bill sets aside $45 million for Mexico through this USAID program. The State Department and USAID are required to consult with the Committees on Appropriations on the uses of the funds.

The bill expresses “concern with reports of abuses by Mexican security forces,” and as in previous years, the law freezes 15 percent of aid to the Mexican military and police until the State Department certifies that:

  1. Military personnel alleged to have committed human rights violations are investigated and prosecuted, and the government is codifying this practice into law by reforming Mexico’s military court of justice;
  2. Prohibitions against torture and the use of testimony obtained through torture are enforced;
  3. The Mexican military and police are promptly transferring detainees to civilian custody and are cooperating with civilian authorities; and
  4. The Government of Mexico is searching for victims of forced disappearances and is investigating and prosecuting those responsible.

The bill appropriates $161.5 million in new funds for the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), which supports military, police, and civilian funds for public security and judicial reform in Central America. $61.5 million would go to USAID’s Economic Support Fund program, and $100 million to the State Department’s International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement program.

The Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), which pursues similar objectives in the Caribbean, would get $54.1 million: $29.1 million through ESF and $25 million through INCLE.

Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)

Although $898.2 million has been appropriated worldwide for the Millennium Challenge Corporation—an independent US foreign aid agency that gives grants to countries based on their policy performance—the explanatory statement voices concern about the indicators used to establish candidate countries’ eligibility:

Weak judicial systems and official and private sector corruption are significant impediments to democratic institutions and economic development and growth in many potential MCC compact countries. There is concern that anti-corruption indicators for eligibility are not sufficiently rigorous, and do not properly reflect adherence to the rule of law in candidate countries including the influence of criminal enterprises and enforcement of private sector contracts.

Sen. Patick Leahy (D-Vermont), who chairs the Senate subcommittee that appropriates foreign aid funds, voiced concern about El Salvador’s weak record of corruption this summer, when the country’s second MCC aid package ($277 million over five years [PDF]) was approved. He argued that the MCC was designed to reward countries whose governments are taking significant steps to address corruption and strengthen the rule of law, but that corruption and money laundering are widespread, and democratic institutions remain weak, in El Salvador.

The law advises the MCC to improve its eligibility criteria in this area, and to consult the Departments of State, Treasury, Commerce and USAID regarding their evaluations of corruption and rule of law in MCC candidate countries.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Funds were earmarked for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Offices in Colombia, Honduras, and Mexico. The Senate Committee recommends a $5.5 million U.S. voluntary contribution to the UNHCHR, of which:

  • $1 million is to support an office in Honduras;
  • $500 thousand is to support an office in Colombia; and
  • $500 thousand is to support an office in Mexico.

The Honduras office will be a start-up (both the main office and any field offices), and the above funds are contingent on whether the UNHCHR actually sets up an office there.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Latin America provisions in the 2012 foreign aid bill

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

- 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.

Monday, September 19, 2011

House Subcommittees Discuss the Merida Initiative

On Tuesday, September 13, 2011, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight held a hearing entitled “Has Mérida Evolved? Part One: The Evolution of Drug Cartels and the Threat to Mexico’s Governance.” The webcast is available online from the Committee’s website.

The witnesses called to testify at the hearing were Dr. Gary M. Shiffman, an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies, Dr. Andrew Selee, the Director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, Dr. Robert J. Bunker, a Senior Fellow at Small Wars Journal El Centro, and Dr. Pamela Starr, an Associate Professor in Public Diplomacy and the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California, and the Director of the U.S.-Mexico Network.

The two subcommittees convened to discuss the viability of the Mérida Initiative, a State Department initiative aimed at providing equipment and training to support law enforcement operations and technical assistance to support reform in Mexico and Central America. In his opening statement, Representative Connie Mack (R-FL) stated repeatedly that the Mérida Initiative is not the way forward for the United States’s and Mexico’s mutual fight against organized crime. Mack instead proposed a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy, “to combat the evolution and resilience of Mexico’s transnational criminal organizations. The United States should support a targeted yet comprehensive strategy that works with Mexico to secure one key population center at a time in order to build and support vital infrastructure and social development for lasting results.”

After encountering a bit of trouble in the pronunciation of the Mérida Initiative, Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) focused his statement on the issue of border security. He was very vocal about the necessity for heightened security on both sides, stating that the Mexican government has shown little cooperation with U.S. border security policies and officials and claimed that Mexico wants to “keep the border open at all points.” Rep. Rohrabacher believes that more must be done at the border before we should attempt to reform Mexican law enforcement and the judiciary.

Both Representatives Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Russ Carnahan (D-MO) kept their opening statements fairly short, and expressed a concern about drug use being a driver. Rep. Engel especially emphasized the need to look at domestic policies that could be enacted to work on demand-side elimination of the drug trade, rather than continue focusing on supply-side eradication.

While the different Representatives present had varying ideas of where the real issue lies with Mexico, from the border to drug use among U.S. citizens, one tendency was noted throughout – that of referring to the cartel violence as an insurgency.

Witness Testimony

  • Gary Shiffman agreed with Representative Mack’s usage of the word “insurgency” in defining the acute problems facing Mexico today. He reduced the seemingly complex violence in Mexico to a broad battle between state forces and illegal “outlaw” forces both competing for the hearts and minds of the population. In his opinion, once the conflict is understood through the insurgency framework, better and more successful policies could be enacted.
  • Andrew Selee presented four ways in which we should shift the Mérida Initiative to improve the strategy. He called for a strategic intelligence sharing plan, better mapping of how these organizations operate in the United States and the need for the U.S. Department of Treasury to start tracking cartel money, the continued support of those persons who are trying to (re)build and reform law enforcement and the judiciary in Mexico, and finally, to work to reduce drug consumption at home.
  • Robert Bunker was very blunt in declaring that the United States needs to reprioritize its national security and see that the cartels and “narcogangs” of Mexico and Central America are the number one strategic threat to the United States. He sees the cartels and gangs evolving towards war-making entities and criminal and “spiritual” insurgencies instigating societal warfare.
  • Pamela Starr’s testimony gave a much-needed historical introduction to the problem that unfortunately came at the end of the round of witness’ opening statements. She sees the current strategy as transforming what was a national security problem into a law enforcement problem, which is positive, but has also revealed the weakness of law enforcement, and their inability to deal with the violence and local problems.

Follow-up Questions

  • Representative Mack began by asking if Mexico’s governance and rule of law is threatened more so today than in 2007, when Mérida was signed. He also asked for a clarification of “insurgency.” Somewhat predictably, Dr. Shiffman responded by saying that due to the large amount of money that is at stake today, a new threat exists to Mexico’s government that did not exist in 2007. He explained the transformation of violence from cartel versus government (2007) to cartel versus cartel, which means the government is not relevant. Selee added to this by claiming that we are misdiagnosing the problem by focusing solely on the 6-7 large cartels, and instead need to target the smaller emerging criminal groups and networks.
  • There was a lot of emphasis placed on the ATF’s “Fast and Furious” scandal-- with Representative Rohrabacher using it as a reason to not further institutionalize intelligence sharing with Mexico. The leaking of intelligence given to Pakistani sources was also referenced--raising the concern that the same could happen in Mexico.
  • Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX) noted that he would like to see the Mérida Initiative be modeled much more after Plan Colombia, and also said that he would like to introduce a bill declaring the cartels as terrorists. Ms. Starr promptly responded with concerns of policy mishaps that could arise by mislabeling the Mexican crime syndicates.

This blog was written by CIP Intern Jessica Lippman.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A request for detailed accounting of U.S. assistance to Colombia's DAS

On Wednesday, September 7th, Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) sent a letter to four Obama Administration officials requesting a "comprehensive accounting of U.S. assistance to the Colombia government's Department of Administrative Security (DAS) during the period of August 7, 2002 to August 7, 2010." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and CIA Director David Petraeus were all addressed in the letter, which asks specifically for detailed information on all "funds, training, lethal and non-lethal equipment, intelligence- and information-sharing, technical assistance, facilities construction and any other aid provided to the DAS, its officials, its employees or any of its subcontractors during this period."

The letter comes after the Washington Post published an article asserting that U.S. aid may be implicated in the abuses of power by the DAS, currently under investigation and being prosecuted in Colombia. Representatives McGovern and Schakowsky also express concern that former President Álvaro Uribe has publicly called the reporters of these articles "terrorist sympathizers," and a "terrorist ally."

The full text of the letter is below. Or download it as a PDF.

For more information on Colombia's DAS scandal, read Lisa Haugaard's blog, "Colombia's DAS Intelligence Agency: A Case of U.S. Aid Gone Bad," and the 2010 report written by CIP, LAWGEF, USOC and WOLA, "Far Worse than Watergate."

Dear Secretary Clinton, Secretary Panetta, Attorney General Holder and Director Petraeus,

We write to request a comprehensive accounting of U.S. assistance to the Colombian government's Department of Administrative Security (PAS) during the period of August 7, 2002 to August 7, 2010. Specifically, we request a full accounting of all funds, training, lethal and non-lethal equipment, intelligence- and information-sharing, technical assistance, facilities construction and any other aid provided to the DAS, its officials, its employees or any of its contractors during this period, whether in Colombia, the U.S., or at other facilities. We further request the information indicate any such aid or information provided to the National and International Observations Group of the DAS.

As you know, the Colombian Attorney General's Office is undertaking an aggressive investigation and series of prosecutions of illegal activities carried out by the DAS during these years. Six former high-ranking intelligence officials have confessed to crimes and more than a dozen other agency operatives are on trial, and several more are under investigation by the Attorney General or by a special legislative commission of the Colombian Congress.

These investigations have revealed a vast illegal network of surveillance of nearly all sectors of civil society, including human rights defenders, political party leaders, journalists and members of the Colombian Supreme Court engaged in investigations of elected officials with alleged ties to paramilitary groups or who engaged in corrupt practices. These illegal operations were also connected to threats received by many of the individuals under surveillance, and in some cases the DAS shared information with paramilitary and other violent actors that resulted in the assassinations of trade unionists and other rights defenders.

Recent articles in the Washington Post (8/21/11) assert that U.S. aid may be implicated in these abuses of power. We are concerned that former President Alvaro Uribe has made public statements claiming the reporters who wrote these articles are terrorist sympathizers (simpatizantes del terrorismo), going so far as to characterize one reporter as a terrorist ally (ocultador del terrorismo), language that increases the level of threat under which journalists work in Colombia. We strongly urge you to make clear to the former president that such statements are unacceptable and ask that he retract them.

We believe it is important to set the record straight in a clear and transparent manner by providing Congress with a comprehensive report on all forms of U.S. assistance to the DAS. We also believe it is important to provide Congress with this information in as rapid a manner as possible, but assuredly prior to when Congress begins debate on the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

To the maximum extent possible, the information included in this comprehensive report should be provided in an unclassified format; if necessary, a classified annex should be made available for review by all Members of Congress. We further ask that you inquire and coordinate with your counterparts in other departments and agencies that might have been working with the DAS (e.g. Treasury/Internal Revenue Service) to ensure that the report is indeed comprehensive.

Thank you for your serious attention to this request. We look forward to your timely response
and the receipt of this comprehensive report regarding all forms of U.S. support for the DAS over the past decade.


James P. McGovern & Janice D. Schakowsky

Thursday, April 14, 2011

FY2012 foreign aid budget: Lisa Haugaard's appeal to House Foreign Operations Subcommittee

On March 15, the Latin America Working Group, Center for International Policy and Washington Office on Latin America, along with many other faith-based organizations, humanitarian agencies and nongovernmental organizations, sent a letter asking Congress "not to turn your backs on the most vulnerable people in Latin America nor abandon wise investments that create lasting peace and security for our hemisphere as you make difficult choices on the final FY2011 and the FY2012 budgets."

Based on that letter (PDF), Latin America Working Group's director Lisa Haugaard testified today before the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee with the following appeal:

We urge you not to turn your backs on the most vulnerable people in Latin America nor abandon wise investments that create lasting peace and security for our hemisphere as you make difficult budget choices.

In Latin America, U.S. aid programs protect those at risk from disasters, deadly disease, and conflict. Well-targeted aid programs such as development assistance for small farmers help impoverished people raise themselves to a better life. Multilateral Debt Relief reduces the debt burdens of some of the hemisphere’s poorest nations so that these countries can invest in poverty reduction. The Inter-American Foundation’s compact budget supports small-scale self-help.

U.S. assistance programs reduce the threats from drug trafficking and drug-related violence that directly affect the communities that you represent. USAID supports efforts by Andean farmers to abandon coca and grow food crops instead. USAID and the Justice Department help Mexico, Colombia, and Central American nations strengthen courts and prosecute drug trafficking mafias. The U.S. Institute for Peace encourages fresh approaches to ending conflicts. All of these programs in the long run are less costly and provide more sustainable solutions than emergency military programs to address drug-related violence that has spiraled out of control.

With the maze of funding categories, it can be hard to understand why cuts to a particular account fall so hard. For example, most members of Congress say they support assistance to Colombia. Yet to ensure that good programs for Colombia are not cut, you have to know that programs to support alternative development, aid Afro-Colombian communities, strengthen human rights and help people displaced by violence are under Economic Support Funds. Indeed, “Economic Support Funds,” which has a name even its own mother couldn’t love, is a catchall category that fails to convey the importance of the programs it funds in Latin America. In Mexico, ESF supports crime prevention in Ciudad Juarez and human rights training for police and prosecutors. If your goal is to effectively reduce illicit drug production and the power of drug cartels and strengthen the rule of law in Colombia and Mexico, we know you will find a way to support those programs.

The President’s budget cuts assistance to Latin America, reducing economic assistance by 5 percent and sensibly beginning to shift responsibilities, as long scheduled, for military aid and equipment maintenance to the Colombian government. There are programs in the President’s budget that merit further cuts. Aid that encourages militaries to carry out internal security is damaging, as is assistance to security force units that commit abuses with impunity. Military and police aid makes up at least one-third of aid to the region in the foreign ops budget, and is an even greater percentage if you factor in what is in the defense bill. If you cut humanitarian aid and do not cut military aid, the U.S. footprint in the region looks more like a bootprint, and that is not the image our nation should wish to convey.

The President’s budget fails to fund adequately Migration and Refugee Assistance for the Western Hemisphere, which helps Colombia and its neighbors grapple with the largest conflict-driven humanitarian crisis in the world. This has protected children from forced recruitment, helped refugee women who have survived sexual violence, and offered a lifeline of food aid and income generating opportunities for refugees living in perilous conditions.

Finally, we urge you to hold true to our commitment to help Haiti recover from the earthquake. While U.S. assistance has saved lives, rubble still has not been removed, hundreds of thousands of people remain in precarious conditions in camps, a cholera epidemic has had deadly impact, and many Haitians have not been able to rebuild their livelihoods and their lives. The U.S. government needs to listen harder to input from Haitian civil society about the best path toward recovery. But the United States should not cut funding or walk away. If you have visited Haiti, walked past the photos of Haiti in the Rayburn foyer or met with the Haitian civil society leaders here recently who are working so hard to help their communities, you know why we must commit to join with them to address this humanitarian crisis and strengthen the Haitian government’s capacity to meet the needs of its own people.

As the Congress considers tough choices, we urge you to preserve already very limited economic and institution-building programs for Latin America. Their impact on the U.S. budget is minimal, but their return, measured in increased goodwill, citizen security, alleviation of suffering and protection for human rights, is substantial. They benefit U.S. interests by building support from our neighbors in the hemisphere, showing that the United States can be a partner willing to lend a helping hand.

Friday, December 17, 2010

In the Senate: The Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act of 2010

On December 7th, Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Dick Lugar (R-IN) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the "Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act of 2010" (S.4011) in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. This piece of legislation is very similar to the House initiative sponsored by Congressman Elliot Engel (D-NY) and Connie Mack (R-FL) that was passed by the House of Representatives on December 8, 2009.

The purpose of the bipartisan bill is "to evaluate U.S. policies and programs aimed at reducing illicit drug supply and demand and recommend a multiyear counternarcotics strategy to address the escalating security crisis in the hemisphere fueled by the illicit narcotics trade." While the new piece of legislation in the Senate is very similar to the House's version, the second component, a recommendation for a multiyear interagency counternarcotics strategy for the Western Hemisphere, did not appear in the version passed by the House. This added component appears to come from S.3172, the "Counternarcotics and Citizen Security for the Americas Act of 2010" (PDF), which was introduced by Senators Menendez and John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) in March 2010.

The Senate version of the bill also allows more time for the formation of the Commission (60 days vs. 30 days) and provides more time for the production of a report that would detail the findings, conclusions and recommendations of the Commission (18 months vs. 12 months). Yet, the new bill appropriates far less resources to the Commission to carry out its duties ($250,000 vs. $2,000,000).

According to Senator Menendez, "we need a comprehensive and smart policy that looks at both the supply and demand side of the issue -- domestic prevention and treatment programs, as well as a long-term multiyear counternarcotics strategy -- and that ultimately succeeds in turning around this epidemic of drugs and crime that is destroying families, communities, and undermining the rule of law both at home and abroad." Senator Lugar noted, "I am especially interested in efforts to bolster the role of the U.S. military and the intelligence community to help combat cartels headquartered in Mexico with reach in Central American countries, Venezuela and throughout the Region. New approaches might include ways to jointly deploy aviation, surveillance and intelligence assets where necessary."

Below is a summary of the bill from the press release on Senator Menendez's website. You can read the full text of S.4011 here.

  • The bill creates an independent commission which will be charged with reviewing and evaluating U.S. policy regarding illicit drug supply reduction and interdiction in the Western Hemisphere, along with foreign and domestic demand reduction policies and programs. The commission is also charged with identifying policy and program options to improve existing international and domestic counternarcotics policy;
  • The Commission will recommend a multiyear interagency counternarcotics strategy for the Western Hemisphere that describes the assistance required to achieve regional counternarcotics goals and a methodology for countering shifts in production and transit routes by producers and traffickers due to pressure from counternarcotics efforts;
  • The commission will be composed of 10 members – 2 executive branch employees appointed by the President and 2 appointed by each of the following congressional leaders: the Senate Majority Leader, the Senate Minority Leader, the Speaker of the House, and the House Minority Leader.
  • Monday, November 8, 2010

    Week in Review - Monday Edition

    • Last Tuesday's elections resulted in significant changes to the make-up of the U.S. Congress. Republicans gained a majority in the House of Representatives and the Democrats narrowly maintained a slim majority in the Senate. What does this mean for U.S. policy to Latin America? Many Latin Americanists worked on answering that question throughout the week. Some good reads:

      • Adam Isacson explains what a Republican majority in the House means for Latin America, and provides background information on the new House committee chairs;
      • New America Foundation's Anya Landau sees little change, positive or negative, on Cuba policy in the new U.S. Congress;
      • Josh Rogin "introduces" us to the new House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; and
      • Andres Oppenheimer suggest that "there will be a huge pressure to cut foreign aid, which could include anti-drug programs such as Plan Merida for Mexico and Central America, Plan Colombia and aid to earthquake-devasted Haiti."
    • Tuesday's elections also resulted in the defeat of Proposition 19 in California, which would have allowed for the regulation of marijuana in the state. In the lead-up to the election, the implications of Proposition 19 for Latin America, and the "drug war" in the region, was the topic of many debates. Regardless of the results of the vote on Proposition 19, WOLA's Coletta Youngers wrote that "the genie has been let out of the bottle" and "Prop 19 has furthered an international debate on alternatives for regulating cannabis that will no doubt continue and even expand after the polls close on November 2."
    • Last Sunday, Brazil elected a new president: Dilma Rousseff of the ruling Workers' Party won a 55-to-44-percent victory in the country's second-round vote. She will take office - succeeding her close ally, popular two-term president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva - and become the first woman to serve as president of Brazil on January 1, 2011.

      Many analysts took the opportunity to speculate about the implications of Dilma Rousseff's victory for the future of Brazil. Definitely not an exhaustive list, but some of the analyses include those by Adam Isacson, Jeffrey Rubin, Julia Sweig, Peter Hakim, and David Rothkopf.

    • October was the bloodiest month so far in 2010 in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, with a total of 350 murders registered. The violence continues into November, and this weekend at least 20 individuals were killed in the Mexican border city, putting local death toll estimates for the year at more than 2,600.
    • A mass demonstration in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, brought somewhere between 500 and 1,000 people to the streets to demand the demilitarization of their city, after a student was shot by two police officers at a protest last week.
    • Also demanding demilitarization of the drug war in Mexico via a halt to U.S. military and police aid to Mexico under the Mérida Initiative, are dozens of U.S. and Mexican organizations. The organizations are circulating a sign-on letter right now that insists that the U.S. government focuses instead "on attacking the causes and structures of organized crime within the United States' drug addiction and the demand for black-market drugs, international financial transactions and transborder corruption, arms trafficking--and aid Mexico in eliminating the roots causes of the spread of crime such as poverty, inequality, unemployment and the lack of opportunities for youth." You can read, and sign-on to, the letter here.
    • The United Nations Development Program released a new report on inequality last week, in which it ranks 10 Latin American and Caribbean countries among the 15 worst in terms on inequality. These countries include Haiti, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay and Chile. The report also ranks Uruguay as the region's most equal country.
    • A dispute over the Costa Rican and Nicaraguan border emerged after Costa Rican officials alleged that Nicaraguan troops crossed into Costa Rican territory. Costa Rica took the dispute to the Organization of American States last week, however, Google also became an unintentional third party after Costa Rica claimed that the border line on Google Maps were incorrect. On Friday, Google changed the border line in Google Maps, granting the disputed territory to Costa Rica, after consulting data supplied from the U.S. Department of State. The blog on the Google Earth and Maps team's "Lat Long Blog" explaining the dispute and the boundary line move gives a brief history lesson, too, explaining that the dispute in the area goes back to at least the mid-19th century.
    • Uruguay's Supreme Court ruled that amnesty was unconstitutional in a number of cases involving human rights violations committed during the country's 12-year dictatorship.

    Monday, September 20, 2010

    Groups Call for Congress to Withhold Funds for Mexico Tied to Human Rights Performance

    This is cross-posted from the Latin America Working Group's blog, the LAWG Blog. It was written by Jennifer Johnson.

    They did it again. Despite the fact that not a single soldier responsible for human rights violations has been held accountable by civilian authorities in the years since the onset of the Merida Initiative, the State Department released its second report on September 2nd affirming that the Mexican government has met the Merida Initiative’s human rights requirements. This report not only recommends the release of roughly $36 million in Merida funds that had been previously withheld from the 2009 and 2010 budgets, but also sends the wrong message to Mexico on human rights.

    For over a year, LAWG and its partner US and Mexican NGOs have been persistent in reminding Secretary of State Clinton and other officials that long-lasting improvements to public security in Mexico cannot be accomplished without ensuring advances in human rights. However, State’s latest assessment runs contrary to what our organizations, as well as the State Department’s own reports, have clearly demonstrated. In response, LAWG joined with Human Rights Watch, Washington Office on Latin America, Amnesty International and five Mexican human rights organizations to send the message to Congress that it is in the best interest of both countries to provide a candid assessment of Mexico’s progress towards improving accountability and transparency and withhold funds pending real progress.

    While we underscore our grave concerns regarding ongoing human rights violations, particularly impunity for abuses committed by the military and use of torture, we do want to note one step—albeit small—in the right direction. In the September 2nd report, the State Department identified its intention to withhold a portion of FY10 supplemental funds (roughly $26 million) until two events took place, one of which is the introduction (but not the passage or implementation) of a proposal to reform the Military Code of Justice. The impact or effectiveness of such a proposal cannot be evaluated as it has yet to be made public, but the understanding is that this reform would limit the crimes that can be tried in military courts. The State Department’s effort to press for a reform to military jurisdiction is positive in that it points to the urgency of such a reform; however, mere legislation does not alone ensure fulfillment of the human rights requirements detailed in the Merida Initiative which “measure not only changes in law, but in practice”.

    You can find below the full statement issued jointly by LAWGEF, Tlachinollan Human Rights Center, Washington Office on Latin America, Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center, Amnesty International USA, Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos Human Rights Watch, Fundar, and the Monitor Civil de la Policía en Guerrero.

    If you’d like to read the report in english click here o para leerlo en español, haga clic aquí.

    Wednesday, July 14, 2010

    Details on delivered and pending Merida Initiative equipment and training

    On May 18, 2010, Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), the Republican minority-party leader of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released a detailed report evaluating U.S. aid to Mexico since the 2007 launch of the Mérida Initiative (download the PDF). This report included a very detailed table of aid that has been delivered, or is pending delivery, through the State Department's International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) program.

    We have added the information in these tables to the Just the Facts database (see equipment details for 2009 here and training details for 2009 and 2010 here). Below is a summary of some of the information provided in the report's tables.

    Top Ten Most Expensive Equipment to be Delivered to Mexico between 2009 and 2014

    • $150,000,000 for 3 CASA Aircraft to assist the Mexican Navy in maritime interdiction efforts (due to be delivered in Summer 2012)
    • $110,000,000 for 3 UH-60 Helicopters to assist the Mexican Navy in coastal operations (due to be delivered in 2014)
    • $76,500,000 for 3 UH-60 Helicopters for the Secretariat of Public Security (SSP) - Federal Police (due to be delivered in 2010)
    • $66,000,000 for 5 Bell 412 Helicopters for the Mexican Army (delivered in 2009)
    • $50,000,000 for 1 CASA Aircraft to assist the Mexican Navy in maritime interdiction efforts (due to be delivered in Winter 2011)
    • $39,000,000 for 2 Bell 412 Helicopters for Mexican Army troop movement in support of counternarcotics operations (due to be delivered in 2010, estimated date of signed contract is August 2010)
    • $28,000,000 for Constanza Software for the Procuraduría General de Justicia (delivered in 2010)
    • $20,000,000 for Mobile Gamma Radiation Trucks. 18 are for the Secretariat of Public Security - Federal Police and 1 for the Mexican Army (due to be delivered in 2010)
    • $15,500,000 ISR Aircraft for the Secretariat of Public Security - Federal Police (due to be delivered in 2011)
    • $10,400,000 for 3 installed X-ray Portal Units for the Customs Agency

    Total Dollar Amounts of Pending and Delivered Equipment as of May 2010

    • Equipment

    • Total dollar amount of equipment pending delivery in 2010: $230,985,322
    • Total dollar amount of equipment due to be delivered from 2011-2014: $330,500,000

    This table appears in the Committee's report

    Total Equipment Pending and Delivered, by Recipient Unit:

    • $261,200,000 - Mexican Navy
    • $129,044,396 - Secretariat of Public Security - Federal Police
    • $106,575,711 - Mexican Army
    • $39,600,000 - National Migration Institute
    • $36,140,271 - Procuraduría General de Justicia
    • $26,101,277 - Customs Agency
    • $16,100,000 - National Security and Investigations Center
    • $6,238,744 - Secretariat of Communications

    U.S. Narcotics Affairs Section Capacity Building Events - Top recipient units, 2009 and 2010 combined

    • Secretariat of Public Security - Federal Police: 4,957 trainees (corrections, investigations, and policy & procedure courses)
    • State officials: 75 trainees (anti-kidnapping courses)
    • Customs Agency: 44 trainees (canine courses)

    Friday, June 25, 2010

    Congressional letter to Secretary Clinton on Honduras

    Twenty-seven members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed and sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a letter (PDF) expressing their concern regarding the human rights violations and violations to the democratic order in Honduras that continue one year after the June 28, 2009 coup ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

    The letter asks Secretary Clinton to send Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner to Honduras "to make a prompt assessment of what is occurring there with regard to human and political rights" in order to justify continuing U.S. support for Honduras without "significant restrictions."

    Below is the full-text of the letter. You can download the PDF here.

    Dear Secretary Clinton:

    Next Monday, June 28th , marks the first anniversary of the coup in Honduras. We write to express our continuing concern regarding the grievous violations of human rights and the democratic order which commenced with the coup and continue to this day. We recognize the challenges facing President Lobo and welcome efforts to reconcile the country and strengthen the rule of law that are consistent with international human rights and humanitarian law.

    It is our belief that the State Department should rise to this occasion and assign Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner to visit Honduras and make a prompt assessment of what is occurring there with regards to human and political rights. Without an early and accurate report, we would be reluctant to see U.S. support for Honduras continue without significant restrictions.

    During your recent visit to Latin America, you asserted that Honduras has made progress since President Lobo took office in January 2010. However, it is our view that political violence continues to wrack Honduras, and insecurity grips much of the population. Reports indicate that many Hondurans fear for their safety, lack confidence in the rule of law, and remain subject to the whims of those in power, including architects and holdovers from last year's coup that are protected by a climate of impunity.

    In this year alone, nine journalists in Honduras have been murdered, and several more have been tortured, kidnapped and suffered death threats, including threats against their families. Also, there are cases of reporters who have been forced to leave the country due to these threats, some of them looking for asylum here in the U.S. and Canada. Members of social movements who oppose or criticize the government have been victims of violence and subject to ongoing intimidation. Several judges have been summarily dismissed for raising principled questions about the legality of the coup. Against this backdrop, a number of Army officials suspected of being involved in the coup have been appointed to executive positions in the Lobo government. Most notably, General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces at the time of the coup, is now the head of Hondutel, the national telecommunications company. The appointment of Velásquez, a primary actor in the coup, is troubling because in his new position he controls the country's telephone, Internet and fax lines at a time when human rights advocates and political opposition leaders fear they are being persecuted for their activism.

    President Lobo is eager, in his words, to bury the past. But these violations of human rights and democratic order persist in Honduras on his watch. At the same time, Honduras has failed to live up to its commitments regarding the Truth Commission and establishing a government of national unity, which the U.S. last year deemed as prerequisites for Honduras being treated again with the legitimacy of a democratic government.

    We strongly believe U.S. policymakers need an accurate assessment of the current human rights situation in Honduras in order to formulate policies that can support the Lobo administration's efforts to strengthen the rule of law and return the democratic order to the country. We strongly and respectfully recommend that you direct Assistant Secretary Posner to visit Honduras for the purpose of collecting the facts on the current human and political rights situation and reporting back to you and to us as promptly as possible, including but not limited to, the following issues:

    1. The murders, assaults, threats and exiling of journalists.
    2. The murders, assaults, threats and exiling of members of the Resistance Movement, labor unions and the Afro, Indigenous and LGBT communities.
    3. The dismissal by the Supreme Court of judges who opposed the coup.
    4. The resources and mandate available to Ana Pineda, special advisor to President Lobo on human rights, to carry out her work.
    5. The potential for the Truth Commission to lead to justice and reconciliation.

    The Congress needs a clear and candid assessment by the U.S. Department of State concerning conditions on the ground in Honduras as they are - not as we might wish or imagine them to be. Our country cannot claim to uphold the democratic values at stake in Honduras or the region more broadly, and we in Congress cannot countenance additional support for the government of Honduras, without a reliable report about the status of political and human rights as they prevail under President Lobo and a plan for addressing these conditions effectively.