Tempered Excitement over Obama’s Budget Request

by Jess Hunter-Bowman, WFP Associate Director

Unless you live on the moon (or aren’t a political junkie like me), you probably heard that yesterday President Obama released his federal budget request for 2011. We’ve taken a peek (and studied our friend Adam Isacson’s cheat sheet) and so far we like what we’re seeing. Especially when it comes to what has been the pretext for providing military aid to brutal armies across the hemisphere since the 1990s – the Drug War.

As you well know, we’ve been pumping billions in military aid into Colombia since kicking off Plan Colombia in 2000. $5.6 billion in military aid to the worst human-rights-abusing military in the hemisphere to be exact.

The vast majority of those funds have gone to fight the Drug War, but the percentage destined to fight Colombia’s war has grown larger in recent years.

You know as well as I do what this has meant for Colombia. While coca production has remained basically unchanged since 1999, tens of thousands of farmers have watched their food crops be destroyed by Dyncorp-piloted spray planes. The untested chemical has killed livestock, native species and rainforests. People have gotten sick. Meanwhile, the brutal Colombian military has not stopped killing innocent civilians. Just during President Alvaro Uribe’s time in office, human rights groups report an estimated 2,000 innocent civilians have been killed at the hands of the Colombian security forces. Millions have been displaced since 2000, including an additional 286,389 people just in 2009.

When the Democrats took over Congress in 2007, they cut about $150 million in military aid from Plan Colombia. Now President Obama has taken another positive step. In his budget, he would further cut military aid to Colombia. In fact, his request would put military aid almost 50% under the 2007 levels (the last year of a Republican stamp on the program). Initial reports indicate we may see a significant portion of the fumigation program cut.

Now for Mexico the news may not be as heartening, but it is still positive. The Obama Administration inherited the Merida Initiative from the Bush Administration. Last year Washington sent over $700 million in military aid to Mexico in a quixotic effort to fight drug cartels.

Not surprisingly, drug-related violence is still rampant and Amnesty International has reported a six fold increase in complaints against the military since 2006.

In Obama’s budget, Merida Initiative funds to Mexico would fall by about 30% from the peak levels of the last three years. According to the Bush plan, Merida should have ended this year. So we shouldn’t have seen any Merida military aid in Obama’s budget. But you can imagine how hard the drug warriors were fighting for military aid levels similar to Bush’s plan given the continued levels of violence.

And while military funding for dangerous and useless military adventures to fight the Drug War in Latin America are slowly on the way out, the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s budget for domestic drug treatment and prevention is up $341 million. Since Plan Colombia began, we’ve called for shifting counter-narcotics funding away from military aid to Latin America and toward these under-funded domestic programs.

Yes, we are concerned about the slight increases in military aid to Central America. And the new “Caribbean Basin Security Initiative”. In a couple of months, when the funding bills start moving through Congress, we’ll be calling for more definitive reductions in military aid. You and I both know that we cannot stop working until not one dollar is going to Latin American militaries targeting farmers, organizers and human rights activists.

But for now let’s celebrate this small, but significant victory. This would never have been possible without the work of WFP members, our coalition partners and most of all, the tireless work of our partners in Mexico and Colombia. We’re on the right track. Let’s keep up the momentum!

#WitnessforPeace #USforeignpolicy #AmericanUniversity #MeridaInitiative #PlanColombia

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