Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The 2012 aid request

Note: this post does not discuss all U.S. aid to Latin America. There are other sources, though the accounts in the foreign aid request discussed here make up 78% of all U.S. aid to the region, and 87% of all economic aid, since 1996. See the 3 important caveats at the end of this post.

As the Obama administration seeks to close the huge U.S. deficit without raising taxes, cutting defense or reducing entitlements, programs like foreign assistance are likely to suffer reductions. And foreign assistance to regions beyond the Middle East — like Latin America — is still more likely to get cut back.

That is exactly what the White House foresees in the 2012 federal budget request that it sent to Congress yesterday. The request for State Department and Foreign Operations assistance — the foreign aid budget bill, which accounts for most U.S. aid to Latin America and the Caribbean — is being cut deeply.

The request includes about $2.07 billion in new aid to Latin America and the Caribbean for 2012. That would be the lowest amount since 2007, and a reduction of 18.1 percent from 2009.

Since 1996, the year for which we began tracking aid for the “Just the Facts” project, U.S. aid to the Western Hemisphere has spiked twice. The first time was 1999-2000, when the Clinton administration provided a big rebuilding aid package to Central America after Hurricane Mitch, then launched “Plan Colombia,” a large package of counter-drug aid to Colombia and its neighbors. The second bulge in aid appears on the above chart in 2008, and is flattening now. That is the “Mérida Initiative,” the Bush administration’s big aid package for Mexico and Central America. An additional aid spike appears in 2010: the U.S. response to the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

The same chart without the Hurricane Mitch and Haiti earthquake aid shows clearly that the second aid “spike” is ending. Unless Congress provides a big supplemental package of aid to the region this year — which is unlikely — the wave of aid that began with Mérida in 2008 will have crested.

Looking at the first chart by type of aid, rather than by country, yields an interesting result: nearly all of the 2012 aid cut would come from military and police assistance. 23 percent of the aid in the 2012 request for Latin America and the Caribbean is military and police aid. That is a big change from 2007, when the Bush administration and a Republican-majority Congress approved a package of 40 percent military and police aid.

Military and police aid to the region through this budget bill would fall by 43 percent from 2009 to 2012. Most of the reduction would come from Colombia and Mexico. Military and police assistance to Colombia would drop by 91 million (31 percent) from 2009 to 2012.

Military and police aid to Mexico would drop even more steeply. 2009, the beginning of the Mérida aid package, was a year of big outlays for expensive military and police equipment like helicopters; military and police aid to Mexico totaled $387 million that year. With those big-ticket deliveries out of the way, the focus of U.S. assistance to Mexico has shifted to the long-term institutional strengthening that Mexico’s law enforcement and justice systems urgently require. This has meant less military-police aid: $112 million in 2011 and $102 million in 2012.

Though a smaller aid recipient, Bolivia is also notable for a sharp drop in U.S. assistance. Foreign Operations military and police aid to Bolivia, once regularly above $30 million per year, would barely exceed $10 million in 2012. This reflects the poor state of U.S. relations with Evo Morales’s government.

Removing Colombia and Mexico from the picture, however, reveals an interesting result: minus those two countries, military and police aid to the rest of the region actually increases from 2009 to 2012, from $185 million to $186 million.

Without Colombia and Mexico, the Andes, post-Aristide Haiti, and Central America dominate the military and police aid picture. The wars on drugs and organized crime are still the main missions underlying this aid.

Non-military, economic assistance to the region would also be cut in 2012, but far less than military and police assistance. The 2012 aid request foresees a 5.0 percent drop in economic and social assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean from 2009 levels. Development and institution-building aid to the region would be spared most of the budget-cutting pain.

A few additional observations:

  • Colombia: This may be the first Foreign Operations aid request we have ever seen that would provide Colombia with more economic and social assistance ($201.7 million) than military and police assistance ($196 million). (Whether this is truly accurate depends on how much of the “International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement” program would pay for military versus nonmilitary aid — the preliminary budget documents released yesterday do not specify. We estimate this by extrapolating from the proportions in the 2011 request, and come up with a minority-military aid request for the first time.)

  • Mexico: During her January visit to Mexico, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke of $500 million in assistance to Mexico for this year. That package does not appear in the Foreign Operations request, which would give Mexico $330 million in 2011 and $333 million in 2012.

Perhaps there is a big supplemental package of aid to Mexico in the works for later this year. Or it could be that the Secretary was including Defense-budget aid too, though this would have to increase substantially to bring the aid total to $500 million. Or maybe she was referring to aid appropriated in past years that is scheduled to be delivered this year.

  • Central America: Visiting Central America last week, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield pledged $200 million in new assistance to Central America. The aid, Brownfield said, would be part of the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), the Obama administration’s framework for law enforcement and administration-of-justice aid for the seven Central American countries. This $200 million, however, does not appear in the 2012 aid request, which includes $100 million in CARSI funds to Central America for next year. In fact, the Foreign Operations request appears to show assistance to Central America declining by about 12 percent from 2009 to 2012.

Caveat 1: Recall that this post only covers assistance to the region through the State/Foreign Operations aid bill. The Defense Department also gives aid too; reports about how this aid gets spent are hard to obtain, and only produced after aid funds have been spent. Actual military and police aid amounts may be as much as one-third higher than they appear in this post.

Caveat 2: This post also leaves out smaller economic-aid programs that aren’t reported by region in this preliminary aid request, like PL 480 (“Food for Peace”) and the Peace Corps. Actual economic aid totals may be about one-seventh higher than they appear in this post.

Caveat 3: All aid figures here are in nominal dollars. Adjusting this data for inflation could yield interesting results, but we did not do that here.