What Did House Committee Include for Central America Funding?

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On July 1, the House Committee on Appropriations voted to approve a State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPs) spending bill for fiscal year 2022, which included over $860 million in funding for Central America. The inclusion of some important restrictions and increased Congressional oversight on military cooperation as well as new language to counter environmental destruction and displacement caused by U.S.-funded infrastructure and energy projects reflect months of pressure from constituents, faith-based organizations, immigrant rights organizations, groups focused on US-Latin America policy and frontline organizations in Central America. However, the changes adopted by the House committee fall short of the demands for a fundamental shift in U.S. policy in the region. As the Senate prepares to vote on its parallel spending bill, it is clear that stronger pressure is urgent.

As has been the case since the second Obama administration, the president’s request and Congress’ approach to Central America have a heavy emphasis on “programs and activities that address the key factors that contribute to irregular migration, particularly of unaccompanied minors, to the United States” in such areas as “global food security, global health, humanitarian, development, democracy, border security, and law enforcement programs.” But the Biden-Harris administration's plan to "marshall private sector investment, including through public-private partnerships," brokering deals with major corporations such as Nestlé, indicates that the plan will maintain the same extractive model of economic development that dispossesses communities of their lands and resources, exacerbates mass inequality and makes a dignified life unachievable for the most historically oppressed communities in the region

This economic model is then enforced through U.S. spending to support military and police forces that will protect national and transnational corporations in the face of organized resistance from Black, Indigenous and campesino communities, resulting in widespread human rights abuses against land defenders, human rights activists, and organized labor movements.

In light of this crisis, Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) led a Congressional sign-on letter to the leaders of the House Appropriations Committee earlier this year calling for the full withholding of Foreign Military Financing, International Military and Education Training (IMET) and International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) financing to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

It appears that the Committee responded most strongly to the demand regarding Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program which "provides grants for the acquisition of U.S. defense equipment, services and training .. [in order to] enable key allies and friends to improve their defense capabilities and foster closer military relationships between the U.S. and recipient nations," naming specifically that no such funding will be provided to Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador. This restriction is carried over from last year, with FMF to El Salvador having been dropped in December 2020 in response to President Nayib Bukele's illegal use of military and police forces in order to consolidate his own political power.

In addition, the committee also examined State Department funding for International Military and Education Training (IMET) and added congressional oversight requirements that require the State Department to justify any requests for training in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. This additional oversight on IMET was added for the first time this year, and reflects a concern about the overall militarization of public security in the region, at least on the part of some members of the committee.

Oversight, however, falls far short of questioning what business the U.S. has in training Central American militaries in the first place. But perhaps more significantly, leaving assistance to police forces in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in place means that rampant human right violations will likely continue. Though the House Appropriations Committee upped the percentage of funds from 50 to 75% to be conditioned on the governments of those countries meeting requirements such as “providing effective and accountable law enforcement and security for its citizens, curtailing the role of the military in public security, and upholding due process of law,” few in Central America would argue that similar conditions, which have been in place since the Obama years, have accomplished much except to justify the continuation of the funding itself.

Despite barring FMF for El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras and adding some additional oversight to IMET, members of the House committee chose not to include the more wide-ranging restrictions needed to truly ensure an end to U.S. complicity in human rights abuses carried out by the military and police in these three countries. This signals an unfortunate but clear commitment in Congress to continuing the devastation caused by both the War on Drugs and the War on Migrants, including by promoting the militarization of borders within the region.

Similarly, while members of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee heard related demands to withhold military cooperation for these three countries within the Pentagon budget, no such restriction was included in the House bill that was approved by the committee on July 13, 2021.

With regards to economic development assistance, over 130 U.S. and Central America-based organizations sent a letter to appropriators urging major shifts away from the promotion of major infrastructure or energy projects that contribute to environmental damage, violate labor laws, disregard community land rights including indigenous land rights, or are opposed by local residents. This language was adopted for the first time this year in the accompanying report for the State and Foreign Operations bill approved by the committee.

Though the language is non-binding, this is positive development, especially given the role that these infrastructure and energy projects have played in fueling conflicts that have led to the violent persecution of land defenders as exemplified by the Jilamito and Agua Zarca dams in Honduras, both of which were cited in the organizations' letter regarding the harmful impacts of U.S. economic development aid in the region.

Referencing concerns about U.S. financing for public-private partnerships, for example, regarding water treatment plants in El Salvador, the organizations also urged Congress to withhold financing for any mechanisms that would promote increased private sector control over natural resources and essential public services. For years, Honduras solidarity organizations have denounced U.S. support for the privatization of education, primarily through international banks.

The committee, however, failed to act on this call, reflecting the depths of both Republican and Democratic commitment to promoting a neoliberal economic agenda in Central America and worldwide.

The ball is now in the Senate’s court as the Senate Appropriations Committee prepares its own spending bills. CISPES and others will be calling on the Senate Appropriations Committee to ensure that, at a minimum, the few but important restrictions on harmful aid to Central America that the House Committee is proposing are also included in their bill, while continuing to call for more wide-ranging restrictions on financing for both military and police as well as for corporate-driven policies that have detrimental impacts like land dispossession, increased inequality, and violence towards human rights and environmental defenders.

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