Colombia to Receive $450 Million USD in Aid from United States but Longer-Term Peace Funding Remains Uncertain
On Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump formally signed a $1.16 trillion USD federal spending bill that ensures Colombia will receive the $450 million USD in aid for the nation’s peace process that was pledged last year by former President Barack Obama.
Finalizing the legislation took weeks of heated political wrangling in Washington, and officials in Bogotá were left waiting to see if the full sum of funding for this “Plan Colombia” program would be included. While the assistance program, which has origins dating back nearly 20 years, has had wide bipartisan support in Washington, concerns that Obama’s promise would be honored had grown since Trump’s election.
Trump ran on campaign pledges to cut to the nation’s discretionary spending budget and govern with an “America first” focus that will push to lower the level of aid sent to foreign countries. Further uncertainly for Colombia surfaced in April after Trump met with two former Colombian presidents hostile to the nation’s peace plan.
But with the funding now formally approved, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos can rest easier — at least for now. There will be no budgetary hole this year. In fact, the $450 million USD sum is $74 million USD above the 2016 package, and these funds — rebranded last year as the “Peace Colombia” program — represent yet another annual dispersement that builds on the more than $10 billion USD in assistance that the United States has provided under an initiative that was devised in the late 1990s during the administration of President Bill Clinton.
“Just as the United States has been Colombia’s partner in a time of war, I indicated to President Santos we will be your partner in waging peace,” said Obama in February 2016 at a White House event.
Funding Peace in Colombia
While this money has been significant for the nation in military terms since the program’s inception, it is now also very important politically. Colombia’s recently finalized peace accord to end more than a half-century of conflict with its largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), will require billions in funding in the years to come.
Since being elected in 2010, Santos has staked his political reputation on reaching a “stable and lasting peace” with FARC. And though the two sides reached an agreement late last year, and the guerrillas have since demobilized into specific zones monitored by the United Nations, even the president has noted that the peace remains fragile given Colombia’s highly divided political climate and slow-growing economy.
Foreign financial commitments will be essential to funding the many national programs tied to peace plan, including rural development projects, a victims fund, coca plant substitutions plans, legal tribunals, guerrilla reintegration goals, and many other initiatives. While the European Union, Canada, and other countries and organizations across the world have pledged money to support Colombia’s attempt to move beyond the past half-century of conflict, the U.S. funding is by far the largest commitment that has been made.
Had the Trump White House backed out of the Obama administration pledge for funding, Colombia would be even further behind the eight ball as it attempts to finance all the initiatives in a new era for the country in which economic growth has slowed down significantly compared to the recent past.
Future Funding Uncertainty
While the 2017 discretionary spending bill, which covers U.S. budget for a period through September 30, has allocated $450 million USD for Colombia this year, doubt remains as to whether the same level of assistance will keep arriving over the long term.
Trump’s initial 2018 fiscal year budget proposal released earlier this year — in what has been called the new president’s “skinny budget” — includes an increase in military spending that will be paid for through cuts to many other programs. While this proposal is merely the first step in a long process that will include revisions and infighting in Congress, Trump’s plan includes a $10.9 billion USD cut (or a 29% drop) for the U.S. State Department compared to the agency’s most recent budget.
“Much of these cuts would come from reductions in foreign aid,” stated the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget in an analysis in March. “The budget specifically proposes cuts in funding for United Nations peacekeeping missions and to the Food for Peace program, which sends food to conflict-ridden areas.”
If Trump gets his way, “Peace Colombia” would face a 21% reduction in 2018 compared to its 2016 funding levels, according to an analysis by Latin America Goes Global (LAGG). In one respect, this is good news. Though such a cut would make financing peace more difficult for those in Bogotá, this figure is actually well below the major cuts other areas have seen, including the $95 million USD cut that the 2017 budget already has made for aid to Central America.
For the 2018 fiscal year, Trump is also proposing a 52% cut to funding for the Dominican Republic and a 36.1% cut for Guatemala, per LAGG. Jamaica and Nicaragua fare even worse, with Trump proposing to cut the entirety of aid for certain program funding.
Overall, Trump’s 2018 proposal represents a 38.9% drop in the development assistance that Washington would send to the rest of the Western Hemisphere, according to LAGG. Including various different aid programs, Trump is proposing just $662 billion USD for the hemisphere for fiscal year 2018, a massive drop from from the nearly $1.1 trillion that was committed in fiscal year 2016, per LAGG.
Peace Colombia Funding Restrictions
While long-term certainly remains in doubt, Colombia has received a reprieve. Fiscal constraints have been mounting in Bogotá in recent years as the oil-exporting nation continues to adapt to the new normal of low crude prices that hit like a shockwave in late 2014. So the 2017 assurance of expected funding from the United States alleviates the most pressing concern: peace financing this year.
A cut to Peace Colombia in later years would still be unwelcome, but the nation’s economy is projected to return to growth of 3.0% or better in 2018 and beyond, meaning that less funding from the United States in 2018 would be disappointing but not disastrous.
But even though the funding for 2017 is now approved, it does come with some ties. A U.S. House of Representatives summary of the legislation, known as the Consolidated Appropriations Act or H.R. 244, outlined these stipulations.
“The bill provides strong support for Colombia, but withholds a portion of funding until the secretary certifies that Colombia has established and is implementing a counter-narcotics strategy to reduce illicit drug cultivation and production in Colombia,” stated the House summary. “No funds may be made available for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or the National Liberation Army in Colombia.”
The text of the legislation also states that “none of the funds appropriated by this act…may be made available for payment of reparations to conflict victims or compensation to demobilized combatants associated with a peace agreement between the government of Colombia and illegal armed group”
The details of the legislation’s provisions for the $391 million USD in Colombia funding coming from the U.S. State Department are included below in full.
(Additional funding will come from the U.S. Department of of Defense through its Defense Institution Reform Initiative that has sought to provide support to the Colombian military “as they focus on identifying medium-term equipment recapitalization costs, evaluating the affordability of the current force structure, and developing integrated capability and resource planning solutions to address known shortfalls in both.” Previous Defense Department funds have also been allocated to help Colombian military officials “develop affordable and implementable force modernization plans” and “revamp their logistics system to increase effectiveness.”)
Of the funds appropriated by this Act under titles III and IV, not less than $391,253,000 shall be made available for assistance for Colombia, including to support the efforts of the Government of Colombia to:
(A) conduct a unified campaign against narcotics trafficking, organizations designated as foreign terrorist organizations pursuant to section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1189), and other criminal or illegal armed groups: Provided, That aircraft supported by funds made available by this Act and prior Acts making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and re lated programs may be used to transport personnel and supplies involved in drug eradication and interdiction, including security for such activities, and to provide transport in support of alternative development programs and investigations by civilian judicial authorities;
(B) enhance security and stability in Colombia and the region;
(C) strengthen and expand governance, the rule of law, and access to justice throughout Colombia;
(D) promote economic and social development, including by improving access to areas impacted by conflict through demining programs; and
(E) implement a peace agreement between the Government of Colombia and illegal armed groups, in accordance with constitutional and legal requirements in Colombia: Provided, That such funds shall be subject to prior consultation with, and the regular notification procedures of, the Committees on Appropriations.
None of the funds appropriated by this Act or prior Acts making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs that are made available for assistance for Colombia may be made available for payment of reparations to conflict victims or compensation to demobilized combatants associated with a peace agreement between the Government of Colombia and illegal armed groups.
(3) PRE-OBLIGATION REQUIREMENTS
Prior to the initial obligation of funds made available pursuant to paragraph (1), the Secretary of State, in consultation with the USAID Administrator, shall submit to the Committees on Appropriations a multi-year spend plan as described under section 7045 in the explanatory statement described in section 4 (in the matter preceding division A of this Consolidated Act).
Funds made available by this Act under the heading ‘‘Economic Support Fund’’ for assistance for Colombia shall be apportioned directly to USAID, except that not less than $7,000,000 of such funds shall be transferred to, and merged with, funds appropriated by this Act under the heading ‘‘Migration and Refugee Assistance’’ for assistance for Colombian refugees in neighboring countries.
Of the funds made available by this Act under the heading ‘‘International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement’’ for assistance for Colombia, 20 percent may be obligated only in accordance with the conditions set forth under section 7045 in the explanatory statement described in section 4 (in the matter preceding division A of this Consolidated Act).
(6) HUMAN RIGHTS
Of the funds made available by this Act under the heading ‘‘Foreign Military Financing Program’’ for assistance for Colombia, 20 percent may be obligated only in accordance with the conditions set forth under section 7045 in the explanatory statement described in section 4 (in the matter preceding division A of this Consolidated Act).
The limitations of paragraphs (5) and (6) shall not apply to funds made available for aviation instruction and maintenance, and maritime and riverine security programs.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore