July 21, 2003-- Alert from the Latin America Working Group

Urgent: LAST CHANCE to Support House Vote to Switch Colombia Military Aid to HIV/AIDS Programs

Vote Tomorrow, Tuesday July 22

Calls and Faxes Needed Immediately!


Your representative will be voting TOMORROW, July 22, on an amendment to the 2004 foreign aid bill which would reduce military aid to Colombia and transfer that money into global HIV/AIDS programs. The amendment will be offered by Reps. McGovern (D-MA) and Skelton (D-MO).


While many important foreign aid programs, including the global HIV/AIDS initiative, are having their budgets cut this year, the Bush Administration wants Colombia aid to be fully funded at over $500 million. The vote on the McGovern-Skelton amendment is likely to be close; the last vote in the House to cut Colombia military aid lost by only seven votes. In order to win, we need your help right away!


ACTION: Please call or fax your representative before the end of the day today-- Monday, July 21-- and ask him or her to support the McGovern-Skelton amendment to the 2004 foreign aid bill, which would reduce military aid to Colombia and transfer it into programs to combat HIV/AIDS.


The Latin America Working Group has several resources on our website to help with your action:


  * For a sample letter to fax to your member of Congress today, see http://www.lawg.org/colletter703.htm.

  * For tips on making a phone call on this vote, please see http://www.lawg.org/colphone703.htm.

  * To reach your representative by phone, call the US Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, or call your representative's office directly by looking up the phone number on www.house.gov.

  * To find your representative's fax number so that you can fax them a letter, see www.house.gov.

  * If you don't know who your representative is, see www.house.gov/writerep.


And don't forget -- your feedback is very important! Let us know what you're doing so we can update our allies in Congress. You can also request more information -- we are happy to get you voting records, talking points, or other tools. Please contact Elanor Starmer at estarmer@lawg.org or 202-546-7010 with any feedback or questions.




Background on the Foreign Aid Bill, Colombia Military Aid & HIV/AIDS Funds: The 2004 foreign aid bill contains over $500 million in aid to Colombia, the vast majority of which is military and police aid. Since last year, military aid to Colombia can be used for both counter-drug efforts-- mostly the aerial fumigation of drug crops-- and counter-terrorism/counterinsurgency. Since 2000, the United States has given over $2.5 billion to Colombia.


Fumigation is not an effective drug policy. When we spray the fields of small farmers with herbicide and then don't give them resources to grow alternative crops, farming families are forced to move and plant coca again. Coca cultivation in the Andes has actually increased since we began massively fumigating in 2000-- and farmers have lost their food crops and livelihoods in the spraying. Fumigation hurts people in Colombia, and it doesn't help stop drug abuse in the United States.


Military aid is fueling the conflict. By sending counter-drug and now counter-terrorism aid directly to the Colombian military, we are throwing fuel on the fire of a conflict that takes thousands of civilian lives every year. The Colombian military has documented ties to brutal right-wing paramilitary groups who are on the US terrorist list and regularly massacre civilians. It makes no sense to send anti-terrorism aid to a military that collaborates with a terrorist group. And the billions of dollars flowing to the Colombian military had not made Colombia safer: in 2000, 14 people a day died violently in Colombia, and that figure has now grown to 19 a day, as brutal guerrilla groups and paramilitary forces continue to attack civilians.


Funding for HIV/AIDS prevention is badly needed. Some 42 million people live with HIV/AIDS. During 2002, 3.1 million people died of AIDS and an additional five million were infected. In his State of the Union message, President Bush committed the United States to spend $15 billion over the next five years--an average of $3 billion per year--on global HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. Yet his budget for this year requested only $2 billion. This transfer is only one part of the additional funds needed for HIV/AIDS--but it is certainly money better spent.


The votes get closer each year. Because the foreign aid bill must be debated and passed each year, there have been a number of amendments to the bill since 2000 that would have reduced military aid to Colombia-- and the votes have gotten closer each time. The most recent vote on Colombia was offered this April, when President Bush included $105 million in additional military aid for Colombia in the Iraq war supplemental bill. That amendment, which would have cut out most of the Colombia aid, lost by only 7 votes. To see how your representative voted on the amendment, see http://clerkweb.house.gov/cgi-bin/vote.exe?year=2003&rollnumber=106. If they are in the "aye" category, they supported cutting military aid to Colombia. If they voted well, thank them when you call!


Elanor Starmer

Program Associate, Colombia and Central America

Latin America Working Group

T: 202/546-7010 F: 202/543-7647 estarmer@lawg.org


Latin America Working Group

Action at home for just policies abroad www.lawg.org