By Sergio Gómez Maseri, EL TIEMPO, February 9, 2023


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

President Joe Biden presented his proposed budget for fiscal 2024 this Thursday, and once again it includes an important item for Colombia, nearly USD $444,000,000.

Biden’s request to Congess is USD $18,000,000 less than the amount he had requested for this country for 2023 (approximately USD $462,000,000).

The majority of the funding is directed to development initiatives, the war on drugs, climate change, implementation of the Peace Agreements, and resources for the Armed Forces.

The presentation of the budget is just a starting point for the difficult negotiations with the Congress, which usually takes the whole year.

In 2023, in fact, Biden’s proposal to furnish USD $462,000,000 to Colombia ended up with USD $487,000,000 (25 million more) by the time the process with the various government agencies was complete.

The main reduction in the President’s proposal for assistance came from the account the State Department used to finance its antinarcotics operations. That is, he requested USD $29,000,000 less than last year.

The funds for economic development, which include alternative development, implementation of the Agreements, human rights, and other programs, were increased slightly in the current proposal: from USD $221,000,000 in 2023 to USD $225,000,000 in 2024.

In addition, this year Biden requests USD $38,500,000 for the Armed Forces, USD $9,000,000 for world health programs, USD $10,000,000 for demining and stopping the proliferation of land mines, and another USD $2,000,000 for military education.

If we compare the 2023 request with the one for 2024, Biden requested a nearly 4% cut in funds for Colombia. But if you consider what Congress finally approved (USD $487,000,000), the cut would be a little less than ten per cent.

In spite of that, we are still working with preliminary numbers; we will have to wait until the end of the year to learn the exact amount. To put it in context, when the Republican President Trump was in power, his average annual requests were some USD $390,000,000 (USD $50,000,000 less than Biden is requesting now).

But afterwards, Congress, in its legislative processes, added many millions more. Also, what the Congress approved for this year, 2023 (USD $487,000,000) was a record high level of assistance to Colombia for at least a decade. In other words, Biden’s request agrees with the average amount this country has received for more than 20 years, ever since the beginning of Plan Colombia in 2000.

The reduction of 4 per cent, in any case, is very small to conclude that Biden is using that to send a message to the new Gustavo Petro administration. Even so, any reduction in assistance to the country we assume to be the greatest ally of the United States in the region, is something to think about.

Above all, because this year Biden increased his request for spending for international operations in the State Department.

To a certain extent, the small reduction could be for pragmatic reasons. The whole reduction of USD $18,000,000 in 2024 comes out of the funding for the war on drugs, especially from the eradication of illegal crops.

Since Petro has slowed down forced eradication of coca crops in some parts of this country, the State Department could be anticipating that funds for that project will not be as much needed.

In a general description of foreign aid for 2024, the Biden administration says it wants to finance “new opportunities in countries like Brazil and Colombia to reduce fossil fuel emissions, support sustainable supply chains, improve resilience of their economies and their ecosystems, and help to prevent the propagation of new pathogens, reducing the risk of future pandemics.”

In the case of development assistance, the State Department states that the financing requested “is for continuing support of the implementation of the Peace Agreement, access to legal services, citizen participation and human rights, generating of legal economic alternatives to the cultivation of coca’, supporting the socioeconomic integration of the Venezuelan immigrants and Colombians returning to their communities; and conserving the biodiversity and forests of Colombia.”

The component of support for the Armed Forces, says the United States, intends to aid in their taking more effective control of the entire national territory and border areas.

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