This week, two people—a journalist and a congressional staffer—wrote me with variations on the same question:
“How much aid is the United States giving the military and police in Honduras this year?”
Seems like a simple question, but it’s not. Because U.S. government reporting to Congress is so poor, all I can give is a ballpark estimate. That estimate is “about $55 million.”
Here’s how I derive that. And stay with me—this is byzantine:
1. Nearly all security assistance comes from two budgets: the State Department-run Foreign Operations budget, and the Defense Department’s budget. Let’s do the State Department first.
2. For 2018 State Department aid to Honduras, normally we could consult the State Department’s 2019 foreign aid request, issued in February, which gives estimates of what the Department expects to spend on aid in the current year (2018). But this year, this document leaves 2018 blank. The State Department left the current year out because as of February 2018, when the aid request went to press, our dysfunctional Congress still hadn’t passed a budget for 2018. (That didn’t happen until March 23.) The Department couldn’t make an estimate without first knowing how much money Congress was giving it. So this document contains no useful 2018 aid numbers (it’s still a good source, though, for what was spent in 2017). Toss it aside.
3. For most countries, that leaves you with no source for 2018 State Department / Foreign Operations aid numbers. However, Honduras is one of a few countries that Congress cares about so much that it specifies the amounts of aid the State Department should provide. (Other Latin American countries this applies to are Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and to some extent Costa Rica, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama.) We can look at the 2018 appropriations law, passed in March, to get Congress’s directions for Honduras.
Well, not exactly the text of the law, which is an 878-page beast cramming together 12 aspects of the federal budget. Instead, you have to look at the narrative “explanatory statement” that Congress included with the bill. That unhelpfully exists as “Book III of the Congressional Record for March 22, 2018.” Go all the way to page H2851 of that document (or search for “Honduras” to save your sanity), and you find this table:
OK, now we’re getting somewhere. The last four programs listed here provide military or police aid, and there’s some mention of Honduras. Let’s go from the bottom upward.
Honduran security forces are getting $4 million this year from the Foreign Military Financing program (FMF). That’s the State Department’s main non-drug military aid program, it mainly pays for weapons and equipment. Under some circumstances, it can also aid police.
Honduran security forces are getting $800,000 this year from the International Military Education and Training program (IMET). That’s the State Department’s main non-drug military training program. Under some circumstances, it can also train police.
That would seem to be it: $4.8 million. But there’s more: a lot more, but we don’t know exactly how much. Here’s where it gets even uglier.
The State Department’s International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement program (INCLE) is the biggest single source of military and police aid to Latin America, and Honduras gets a lot of it. Like FMF and IMET, INCLE can aid and train militaries and police. But it can also pay for non-military/police programs like judicial reform. As you see in the table above, for instance, it contributes $6 million for the CICIG in Guatemala. So only some INCLE aid is military or police aid. The trouble is, we don’t know how much—despite repeated requests for a number. So we have to estimate.
But it’s even worse. See that line for “Central American Regional Security Initiative,” $215 million? That goes to all of Central America, and we don’t know how much goes to each Central American country (except Costa Rica, for which Congress specified $25 million). We have to estimate still further. So let’s try:
Congress added $41 million in earmarks to the $215 million Central American Regional Security Initiative. None of these appear to go to Honduran security forces. Take them away and you get $174 million.
The bulk of that $174 million goes to the three “northern triangle” countries: El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Let’s say, then, that Honduras gets just under one-third of it—perhaps 30 percent, or $52.2 million.
Let’s ballpark further and say two-thirds of that $52.2 million is military and police aid, with the rest going to judicial reform and similar priorities. That would be $34.8 million. Let’s round up and say:
Honduran security forces are getting $35 million this year from the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement program (INCLE).
Now we’re up to $39.8 million in military and police aid to Honduras from State Department sources. That was awfully messy. But we’re not done yet.
4. Some aid to Honduras also comes from the Defense Department’s budget. The principal source, by far, is the Department’s “Counter-Drug and Counter-Transnational Organized Crime” program, which (after INCLE) is the second-largest source of military and police aid to Latin America. It pays for training, construction, boats, some equipment upgrades, intelligence analysis, and a few other things.
Reporting about how this program gets used is also poor. The Defense Department is not required to report how much it expects to spend in each country during the current year—only what it spent the previous year. So we have to estimate 2018 aid by just repeating the 2017 figure—imprecise, but it’s all we can do.
That requires getting our hands on a Defense Department report to Congress covering last year, which is difficult to obtain. Our Freedom of Information Act request to the Office of the Secretary of Defense for the report covering 2017 has not yet received a response.
Luckily, our colleagues at the Security Assistance Monitor have secured a copy, although they haven’t yet posted a PDF of it (come on guys!). Using that report, their Honduras page shows that Honduras got $13,768,000 in 2017 assistance through “Section 1004 Counter-Drug Assistance” (what the Counter-Drug and Counter-Transnational Organized Crime program used to be called before a 2017 rearrangement of Defense Department security assistance authorities). So let’s repeat that figure for our 2018 estimate, rounding up:
Honduran security forces are getting $14 million this year from the Defense Department Counter-Drug and Counter-Transnational Organized Crime program.
5. That brings us up to $53.8 million. Now, the Defense Department has many other programs with which it could aid Honduras. Most of these don’t get used, though, in Honduras—they’re more focused on the Middle East and NATO. However, Honduras gets some aid to participate in exercises and engagement activities. We don’t know how much, though page 31 of this helpful Congressional Research Service report on Colombia shows that (much larger) country getting about $2 million to $5 million per year from these “other” Defense Department aid sources. For Honduras, let’s estimate something smaller—perhaps just over $1 million.
Honduras is getting just over $1 million this year from other Defense Department aid sources.
OK. Add that rough amount and we get $55 million in military and police aid to Honduras in 2018. A rough estimate, derived through very messy means. But one I feel comfortable enough to use.
This number probably raises more questions than it answers. How much of it is military aid, and how much is police aid? How much is weapons and equipment, and how much is training? What kinds of weapons and equipment? How many are lethal? What units are getting this aid? What skills does the training teach? What parts of the country are getting the most focus? How much training happens on U.S. soil? How much training is performed by Colombian soldiers and police? By private contractors? How do we know that human rights protections are being enforced rigorously?
We have at least partial answers to many of those questions, but for many others we still lack a lot of basic information. Those are subjects for another post, another day. But hopefully this all gives a sense of why the “defense oversight” work we do here at WOLA is so important. And why it’s often so frustrating.