By Sergio Gómez Maseri, EL TIEMPO, May 29, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration this Friday requested that Congress approve an investment of $453,800,000 in Colombia in 2022.
Even though this amount is very similar to the amount approved by Congress for aid to Colombia last year ($461,000,000), it’s more, and by quite a bit, than the proposal by the Donald Trump administration during his years in the White House.
“This request by the Biden administration shows, once more, that relations between Colombia and the U.S. have been handled seriously and responsibly. The bipartisan management of this relationship has guaranteed this U.S. support for Colombia, its most important strategic ally in the region. Friends always support each other, even more when times are tough,” said Ambassador Francisco Santos.
Basically, what this first budget request of the Biden era for Colombia reflects is a balanced focus, very much in line with the vision of Congress, and it also makes clear his priorities for Colombia.
In general, Biden is requesting some 211million dollars in economic support, social assistance, and implementation of the Peace Agreements. Added are five million dollars for health programs and another 21 million for land mine removal. That means some 237 million dollars in assistance focused on economic and social programs.
At the same time, he is requesting 175 million dollars for the war on drugs, 40 million in Foreign Financing of the Military (These funds go to the Army.), and 1.8 million dollars for training in remedies intended for security. This is a distribution very similar to the one approved by Congress last year for 2021, when Republicans controlled the Senate, and the Democrats controlled the House.
But the differences are larger when compared with Trump’s request. The Republican President, for example, had asked for only 100 million dollars for social focus assistance, and more than 300 million dollars in aid for the war on drugs and support for the Army (an amount that Congress later reduced to 185 million dollars).
The only variation that the Democratic President made was to reduce the “hard” component of aid by 14 million dollars. From the 230 million that Congress approved, to the 216.8 million that is requested now. But it’s only a reduction of approximately six percent.
The other thing that has to be kept in mind in Biden’s new budget is that it maintains the levels of assistance to Colombia in spite of the country’s fiscal constraints caused by the expenditures needed to combat Covid-19 and the economic crisis that caused.
It’s another indication that Colombia continues to be a priority for the administration, which was also made clear by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken after his meeting yesterday with Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez.
The presentation of the proposed budget is just a starting point in the U.S. appropriations process. It has been submitted to Congress, which has the last word. But given that the Democrats control Congress right now, significant variations in the amounts requested by the President are not expected.
What’s most likely is that Congress will impose conditions on the disbursement of the aid funds, as several Democratic legislators have already predicted. In the majority those will turn on the human rights situation and the renewal of aerial fumigation in this country.
Biden’s request, of course, does not indicate total harmony with President Duque’s administration, or that there is no bitterness and/or differences in focus. But it does demonstrate, at least from the perspective of economic assistance, that the new Democratic administration has no plan to turn its back on Colombia.