As Congress considers foreign aid appropriations for FY2012, it is important to maintain economic assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean. Particularly worthy are humanitarian aid for displaced persons and refugees; disaster relief and reconstruction, including to Haiti; alternative development programs to encourage farmers to turn away from illegal drug crops; programs to strengthen justice systems and support human rights; and public health programs such as those to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and other preventable diseases. See this letter (PDF) from humanitarian agencies, faith-based and nongovernmental groups on aid priorities for Latin America.
Latin America currently receives an unusually hefty percentage of U.S. military and police assistance. Cutting economic assistance to Latin America while maintaining or increasing security assistance will magnify this unbalanced approach to the region.
To illustrate this issue, we took a look at the relative mix of U.S. aid to Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.1 While most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean do not have the degree of poverty and development challenges facing African nations, the region still experiences devastating poverty and is the most unequal region of the world. And yet aid to the region is far more security-focused while initiatives to reduce poverty, tackle public health problems and other development issues are underfunded.
The numbers used to calculate the total aid to the two regions do not include aid from the Department of Defense, due to a delay in carrying out reporting requirements. Yet still, even before Defense Department military aid is included, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) receive significantly more military and police aid from the United States.
As depicted in the above pie charts, only 6% of total U.S. aid to Sub-Saharan Africa in FY20092 was military and police aid, compared to Latin America’s 36%.3 In 2009, Africa received $495,087,366 in military and police aid from the United States – 50% of which was allocated to Somalia under the Peacekeeping Operations fund. LAC received $846,923,000 in military and police aid in 2009.
Not only is the distribution of the type of aid unbalanced between the two regions, but also there is a discrepancy in the allocation of aid. While LAC received 71% more military and police aid than Africa in 2009, it also received 82% less economic and social aid. As a result, the total U.S. foreign operations assistance to Africa in 2009 was over 277% higher than the total assistance to LAC – a difference of $5.4 billion.
As the nongovernmental letter urges, it is important "to preserve already very limited economic and institution-building programs for Latin America. These programs protect the most vulnerable; help farmers grow food, not coca; provide immunizations for deadly diseases; strengthen courts, and help those fleeing from wars and recovering from disasters. Their impact on the U.S. budget is minimal, but their return, measured in increased goodwill, citizen security, and protection for human rights, is substantial. These programs strongly benefit U.S. interests by building support from our neighbors in the hemisphere, showing that the United States can be a partner willing to lend a helping hand."
1Our calculation of aid follows USG classifications in its appropriations and reporting. The USG uses "Africa" to refer to Sub-Saharan Africa, and does not include Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia, which are classified as "Near East." From this point forward, "Africa" refers to Sub-Saharan Africa.
2FY2009 is used for the comparison because it is the most recent year with complete data on actual U.S. foreign operations assistance to the two regions available.
3The total U.S. military and police assistance to Sub-Saharan Africa for 2009 could be less than $186 million. Africa received $26.6 million from the INCLE fund in 2009, which, for the purposes of this analysis, is classified as military and police aid. The INCLE program, however, also provides some economic and social aid, though the distinction does not appear in the 2011 Congressional Budget Guide. The data for LAC does make the distinction; therefore U.S. assistance to LAC through INCLE appears in both the military and economic aid totals.