Adam Isacson

Still trying to understand Latin America, my own country, and why so few consequences are intended. These views are not necessarily my employer’s.

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Latest Table of Aid to Colombia

(Cross-posted from colombiapeace.org)

Click to enlarge. If you’d prefer this as a spreadsheet for easier copying-and-pasting, go here.

The House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee finished work on the 2021 State Department and Foreign Operations bill on July 9. In addition to offering some language very supportive of peace accord implementation, the narrative report accompanying the bill provides a table explaining how the House appropriators (or at least, their strong Democratic Party majority) would require that this money be spent.

The table above shows how the House would spend the 2021 aid money, and how it fits in with what the Trump White House requested, and what aid has looked like since 2016, the year before before the outgoing Obama administration’s “Peace Colombia” aid package went into effect.

If the House were to get its way, less than $200 million of the $458 million in 2021 U.S. aid to Colombia would go to the country’s police and military forces. However, the bill must still go through the Republican-majority Senate, whose bill may reflect somewhat more “drug war” priorities. A final bill is unlikely to pass both houses of Congress until after Election Day.

Sources for most of these numbers:

Not reflected here is assistance to Colombia to manage flows of Venezuelan refugees.

Special Forces trainings in Latin America aren’t declining, despite the reported numbers

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, we obtained (heavily redacted) reports detailing U.S. Special Operations Forces’ training deployments around the world. (Reports since 2014 are here; earlier ones are at Security Assistance Monitor.)

This allowed me to update a table that ran in an August 2016 WOLA commentary about these trainings in Latin America. That piece voiced some of our concerns about this Defense Department-run training program, known as Joint Combined Exchange Training or JCET.

JCET, carried out by U.S. Special Operations Forces (elite units like Green Berets or Navy SEALs), is secretive. It barely seems to involve U.S. diplomats. It seems to lack much consideration of its impact on human rights, its effect on host-countries’ civil-military relations, or its congruence with the recipient security forces’ actual needs. (Many of us learned about JCETs for the first time in a groundbreaking 1998 Washington Post series, which spelled out these concerns.)

Our updated table of JCET training deployments in Latin America is at the top (click it for a more readable spreadsheet). I was surprised to find a sharp drop in these trainings in 2015 and 2016. Both years were below the 2007-2016 average, and 2016 saw the second-fewest JCET deployments of the past 10 years.

But this doesn’t mean that Special Operations Forces are visiting Latin America less often. The 2016 Defense Department report makes that clear (my emphasis):

“The total number of events executed in FY 2016 represented a 22 percent decrease from those executed the previous year. Despite this, the overall level of SOF [Special Operations Forces] engagements in the USSOUTHCOM AOR [U.S. Southern Command Area of Operations] increased due to other SOF training and operational support.”

What is this “other training and operational support”? Probably Defense Department counter-drug aid. JCETs, which usually pay for training in non-drug-related skills, may be getting less emphasis in favor of an aid program that the Defense Department may employ if the training’s mission can be construed as combating drug trafficking or transnational criminal organizations (TCOs).

If a “counter-drug” or “counter-TCO” nexus exists, the Defense Department can pay for Special Forces training that is very similar to JCET—but it may do so using its much larger budget for counter-drug and counter-transnational organized crime assistance. This account provides roughly US$300 million in assistance to the Western Hemisphere each year. Right now, Congress does not require that the Pentagon report on this program in the same way: while we can see dollar amounts by country and category, there is no unclassified listing of Special Forces trainings.

The JCET report, then, isn’t capturing everything or even explaining the trends properly. If U.S. Special Forces teams are spending more time in Latin America—as the report’s text asserts—you can’t tell where they’re visiting if they’re not paying for it with the JCET program.

The table above, meanwhile, seems to show some abrupt shifts in priorities. El Salvador, Honduras, and Colombia, the top three countries between 2007 and 2014, saw no JCETs in 2016. The Defense Department report notes:

“In FY 2016, in response to changes in the operational environment, U.S. SOF shifted the focus of a significant portion of the JCET program from Central America to partner nations in the Caribbean—primarily the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago.”

But it doesn’t explain what those environmental changes were (at a time when Central America was becoming, if anything, less secure), or why Colombia fell off.

Again, the shift might not be as abrupt as it looks. It’s possible that the Defense Department is now funding Special Operations Forces training in Colombia and Central America through its counter-drug account instead of JCET. The trainers may be there in similar or larger numbers, but we can’t say right now how often that is happening.

White House proposes 38.9 percent cut in economic aid to Latin America

Screenshot of aid table

On Monday, Foreign Policy reporters Bryant Harris, Robbie Gramer, and Emily Tamkin shared a draft 2018 budget document (PDF) that they somehow obtained from the Trump administration. It’s a printout of a table showing how the White House would cut economic aid to the world in its 2018 budget request for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

(The White House has not yet sent to Congress a full 2018 budget request in any detail, so this is a preview of what we expect to be released during the second half of May.)

This leaked information shows only economic aid through USAID’s three principal economic and development aid accounts. (These are Economic Support Funds or ESF, Development Assistance or DA, and Global Health Programs.) It doesn’t include some economic and institution-building aid that comes through the State Department’s large International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement account. We have no idea yet whether the budget request would seek similar cuts to that aid.

For these USAID programs, every country in Latin America would see a double-digit-percentage cut from 2016 levels next year, if Congress were to grant the Trump administration what it wants. The region-wide cut would be a breathtaking 38.9 percent.

Congress will undo this radioactive budget request—somewhat. But even if the actual cuts end up being half of what is shown here, the impact on U.S. goals, on humanitarian situations, and on specific outcomes—peace accord implementation in Colombia, reducing migration from Central America—will be severe. These cuts are an astonishingly bad idea.

The table shows the economic-aid cut that the draft Trump budget would foresee for each country in Latin America. I suppose we can assume that the countries whose cuts are lower than the regional average are “priority” countries.

Economic aid in 2016 was: The request for 2018 is: That’s a reduction of:
Western Hemisphere $1,083,580,000 $662,081,000 -38.9%
Haiti $177,630,000 $149,200,000 -16.0%
Colombia $133,000,000 $105,000,000 -21.1%
Honduras $93,000,000 $67,100,000 -27.8%
El Salvador $65,000,000 $45,500,000 -30.0%
Guatemala $125,000,000 $79,900,000 -36.1%
Peru $37,300,000 $22,191,000 -40.5%
Barbados and Eastern Caribbean $25,713,000 $15,000,000 -41.7%
State Department Western Hemisphere Regional $209,177,000 $121,390,000 -42.0%
Mexico $49,500,000 $25,000,000 -49.5%
Dominican Republic $20,988,000 $10,000,000 -52.4%
USAID Latin America and Caribbean Regional $28,360,000 $11,800,000 -58.4%
USAID Central America Regional $39,761,000 $10,000,000 -74.8%
Brazil $12,000,000 $0 -100.0%
Cuba (democracy programs) $20,000,000 $0 -100.0%
Ecuador $2,000,000 $0 -100.0%
Jamaica $4,500,000 $0 -100.0%
Nicaragua $10,000,000 $0 -100.0%
Paraguay $8,151,000 $0 -100.0%
Venezuela (democracy programs) $6,500,000 $0 -100.0%
USAID Caribbean $4,000,000 $0 -100.0%
USAID South America Regional $12,000,000 $0 -100.0%

“Ground Zero” is safer than the rest of America

Here’s Attorney-General Jeff Sessions in the border city of Nogales, Arizona, on Tuesday:

Here, along our nation’s southwest border, is ground zero in this fight. Here, under the Arizona sun, ranchers work the land to make an honest living, and law-abiding citizens seek to provide for their families.

But it is also here, along this border, that transnational gangs like MS-13 and international cartels flood our country with drugs and leave death and violence in their wake.

Lest you think U.S. border cities are aflame with violence spilling over from Mexico, however, take a look at this data, based on statistics compiled by the FBI which, ironically, is part of Sessions’ own Department of Justice. It turns out that nearly all cities near the U.S.-Mexico border are safer than the national average.

2015 Violent Crime and Homicide Rates, U.S. Cities Over 100,000 Population Within 100 Miles of the U.S.-Mexico Border

Numbers do show a “Trump effect” on migration

These statistics are from an upcoming WOLA memo analyzing sharp recent changes in undocumented migration to the United States.

There was a lot of migration during the last quarter of 2016, especially children and families from Central America. And now there is a very sharp drop since mid-January.

As that WOLA memo will explain, both phenomena—the recent flood and the current drought—owe to a “Trump effect.” Still, there are strong reasons to believe that the current super-low level of migration is unlikely to continue. Stay tuned.


Fewest Monthly U.S.-Mexico Border Migrant Apprehensions on Record Since October 1999

  1. 12,193 – March 2017
  2. 18,754 – February 2017
  3. 18,983 – December 2011
  4. 19,429 – December 2010
  5. 21,514 – January 2015

Border Patrol Unaccompanied Child and Family Apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico Border

    • October 2016 6,707 UCs (8th most of 54 months since October 2012) and 13,116 family-unit members (4th most)
    • November 2016 7,349 UCs (4th most) and 15,588 family-unit members (3rd most)
    • December 2016 7,190 UCs (5th most) and 16,139 family-unit members (2nd most)
    • January 2017 4,412 UCs (21st most) and 9,300 family-unit members (8th most)
    • February 2017 1,914 UCs (2nd least) and 3,124 family-unit members (26th least)
    • March 2017 1,043 UCs (least) and 1,125 family-unit members (6th least)
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