Research: Publications

CIP Position on U.S. Aid Package

April 8, 2000 | Policy Brief

By Adam Isacson

The Center for International Policy shares the belief that the United States must act quickly to support Colombia with a large aid package. Those in Colombia's government and civil society working to bring peace and strengthen the rule of law urgently deserve generous and rapid support, both financial and political.

The aid package that the U.S. Congress is presently considering, however, is inappropriate and does not deserve our support. The assistance it contemplates is severely unbalanced in favor of Colombia's security forces (81 percent military and police aid), and it fails to respond to Colombians' real economic and security needs.

1. The package would continue a failed drug policy. Colombian peasants will continue growing coca and heroin as long as U.S. demand exists and rural Colombia lacks economic opportunity. It's a matter of survival. Aerial fumigation won't change that - if anything, it will push coca-growing into more remote guerrilla-controlled areas.

2. The package is a step closer to quagmire. The new package's "push into southern Colombia" closely resembles counterinsurgency, activating U.S.-created units in a fiercely defended guerrilla stronghold. If the "push" fails, is further escalation inevitable?

3. The package threatens a fragile peace process. President Pastrana's talks with guerrilla groups are in a delicate but promising stage. U.S. weapons and training could weaken them, escalating the conflict and encouraging hard-liners on both sides who want to keep fighting. More aid didn't bring El Salvador's FMLN to the negotiating table - talks began in 1990, ten years after U.S. aid was first increased and shortly after aid was cut.

4. The package threatens human rights. Colombia's army, the main beneficiary of the new aid, remains a deeply troubled institution. Despite top leaders' good intentions, local-level collaboration with paramilitary groups - responsible for over ¾ of violations in 1999 - remains commonplace and mostly unpunished. The new aid proposal barely mentions the paramilitaries, though they profit handsomely from the drug trade.

In January of this year, the Clinton administration laid out four chief U.S. policy goals for Colombia:

1. Boosting counter-drug efforts;
2. Strengthening the capacity of Colombia's national and local governments;
3. Boosting economic recovery; and
4. Assisting the peace process.

These goals are valid, and the Center for International Policy supports them unequivocally. But we would prefer a U.S. funding bill that allocates resources more evenly to each.

The 19 percent of the current aid package designed to meet goals 2, 3 and 4 - alternative development, rural infrastructure, aid to the displaced, judicial reform, rule of law, human rights and peace programs - deserve political support and greatly increased funding. A much more balanced and, in the end, effective aid package could fund these goals by removing the specious $600 million "push into southern Colombia." It could also include additional funding for efforts to reduce domestic drug demand, especially by making treatment more available to addicts.

Such a package would carry the same message of U.S. support for President Pastrana, Colombia's peace process, and Colombia's war-weary people - with the added benefit of actually reducing the flow of drugs out of Colombia. The aid package currently before us, however, is risky, unbalanced and poorly designed, and the Center for International Policy will continue to oppose it.

CIP in the Press