Cuba democracy and plan Colombia

Campaign News | Tuesday, 18 December 2007

from the Miami Herald

Spending bill to bolster Latin America

House and Senate negotiators struck a deal on Latin America aid, trimming

Plan Colombia and boosting outlays for Cuba democracy.

WASHINGTON - Cuba democracy programs will get a big boost, and million of dollars in aid to Colombia will be redirected from military to social

programs under a massive government spending bill unveiled Monday by House

and Senate negotiators.

Lawmakers also restored many of the cutbacks in social programs for Latin

America proposed by the Bush administration, Democratic aides said.

The bill contains $45 million for Cuban democracy programs - a five-fold jump from current levels.

Passage of the big increase for Cuba would be a major victory for the White

House and its congressional allies, who are looking to step up support for

democracy activists as the country moves into a post-Fidel Castro

transition. Critics of U.S. policy on Cuba argued that the money is unlikely

to spur democratic reforms on the island.


The Latin American allocations, congressional staffers say, are included in a $516 billion government spending bill, trimmed by Democrats from their original proposal by $22 billion to avert a veto by President Bush. Though the bill is likely to pass the House and Senate floors this week, the fate is uncertain since Bush has warned he will veto spending bills that don’t include money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with no strings attached.

Democrats said Latin America was spared many of the cuts originally proposed

by Bush for development programs. Some of that money had been redirected to

other accounts also dealing with Latin America, and some would have been cut


”Western hemisphere funds were protected at fiscal year 2007 level,” said Federico de Jesus, a spokesman for Senate Majority leader Harry Reid.

”Democrats stopped Bush cuts on core development funding” and the region

was spared any pain as Democrats cut back to meet Bush’s overall budget



Democrats have criticized the administration for focusing too much on drug programs and trade in Latin America. An opinion piece jointly signed by Reid and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menéndez complained that Latin America

received less than 1 percent of the $160 billion a year the United States is

spending on Iraq.

”We are not satisfied with our country spending more every year on a

foreign civil war and less on core development,” the two legislators wrote

in the piece, released Monday.

According to the bill’s text, Colombia is to receive $545.6 million under

Plan Colombia, a counter drug trafficking program launched in 2000.

That is below the $589 million request by the administration, though only $12

million under what Colombia received in the 2007 fiscal year.

But military and security forces will get just 56 percent of the package, instead of the previous 70 percent.

”All we were doing was spraying coca, and we weren’t investing in economic

opportunities for people,” said one Senate Democratic staffer, who was not

authorized to be quoted by name.

Colombia will also see a bigger share of its military aid - 30 percent

instead of the previous 25 percent - conditioned on a State Department

certification that the country is complying with human rights provisions, like bringing to justice military personnel accused of abuses.

Colombia already has $55 million blocked by Vermont Democrat Sen. Patrick

Leahy, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Leahy says the State Department has not explained why it certified Colombia. Democrats say Bogotá eeds to do more to bring rights violators to justice. Congressional negotiators also appropriated $201 million for Haiti.

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