Colombia and U.S. Focus Military Spending on Plan Colombia
The US government is concentrating its anti-narcotics funding on Colombia's war with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and other rebel and paramilitary groups as the government of Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe steps up spending for the same effort. The US plan to further fund Colombia's war and anti-narcotics programs comes as the administration of US President George W. Bush seeks to reduce anti-drug funding to Colombia's Andean neighbors including Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia.
Colombia: US$3.7 billion for 4-year military upgrade plan
Colombia plans to buy new helicopters and aircraft and send more troops to counter rebels after approving a US$3.7 billion, four-year investment plan to upgrade its military, the government said on Feb. 27.
Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said the government would purchase fighter aircraft and helicopters and put 38,000 more police officers and soldiers on patrol to consolidate a US-backed crackdown on Marxist rebels. Washington has funneled about US$4.7 billion in mainly military aid to Colombia since 2000, helping key ally President Uribe battle the drug trade that partly fuels Latin America's oldest guerrilla war.
"We are not going to engage in an arms race with any of our neighbors," Santos told local radio. "This simply maintains a strategic base, bolsters troops on the ground, and maintains our capacity to consolidate the policy of democratic security."
Neighboring Venezuela, whose left-wing President Hugo Chavez is increasingly at odds with the US, has spent billions of dollars of its oil revenues on arms purchases including Russian attack helicopters, fighter jets, and automatic rifles (see NotiSur, 2006-09-01). This has led to US accusations that Chavez is inflaming a regional arms race, even as the US has funded military purchases for Venezuela's closest neighbor.
Santos said much of Colombia's new military spending would come from a special tax the government proposed last year on wealthy Colombians and companies. Uribe has called for the inheritance and corporate tax to fund military spending in the coming four years (see NotiSur, 2006-10-27).
Under the investment plan, Colombia's police force would expand by around 20,000 officers, with investment in better transport and intelligence equipment. Aging naval frigates and submarines will also get upgrades.
Uribe remains popular for security policies that have pushed back the FARC rebels from urban areas and highways and disarmed right-wing militias who once battled the guerrillas.
Bush seeks continuation of Plan Colombia
In the 2008 fiscal year budget request released Feb. 5, the US State Department seeks US$446 million for Colombia security forces in 2008, a slight decrease from US$457 million in 2006. The budget also calls for US$139 million for social programs for the world's leading cocaine producer. The Bush administration is asking Congress to approve another US$3.9 billion over seven years for Colombia, but some Democrats are concerned about a scandal tying many of Uribe's political allies to illegal right-wing militias accused of atrocities (see NotiSur, 2007-03-02).
In its written budget presentation, the State Department said total aid to Latin America would amount to US$1.6 billion, a 4% increase over the 2006 budget. The administration has long denied complaints that it is ignoring Latin America's social needs, and its budget document says US aid to the region nearly doubled under Bush. Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, and Haiti would account for 70% of the 2008 budget request for the Western Hemisphere.
The increase includes money spent through the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which conditions aid to countries complying with a set of policy benchmarks like combating corruption and respecting private property.
The 2008 budget's numbers on Colombia brought some criticism that Washington is still directing too much money into Colombia's security forces and too little for social and other programs. …