Two key US Senators have proposed a major reform of US aid to Colombia that would make the US a stronger partner for peace and justice work in Colombia.
Their 62-page “United States-Colombia Strategic Alliance Act of 2022″ proposal focuses on such things as rural development, women’s empowerment; protection for labor and peace activists; and the environment rather than on the US’ customary support for military programs.
It now begins a long and uncertain journey through the US Congress. The sponsors are two Democratic leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: Committee Chair Sen. Bob Menendez (NJ) and Western Hemisphere Chair Sen. Tim Kaine (VA).
“This legislation underscores the importance of Colombia as our strongest partner in the region, and will support Colombia’s efforts to implement its landmark peace accords, protect human rights, and promote rural and economic development,” said Kaine in a written statement.
Unknown is whether Menendez and Kaine will be joined by key Republicans.
Republicans are making a strong effort to win electoral support from Colombian-Americans, especially in Florida.
Both New Jersey and Virginia, homes of Menendez and Kaine, are also among the most heavily populated by Colombian-Americans.
The proposal includes:
- Creating a private, nonprofit $200 million fund for business investment and grants. At least $100 million of that must go to “small- and medium-sized businesses owned by women;” at least $70 million must go to “small- and medium-sized businesses in Colombia working to close the digital divide;” and agricultural projects will be given priority. Among the fund’s board of directors will be an NGO expert experienced in community development in Colombia.
- Providing $100 million over 5 years to “support the work of human rights defenders, anti-corruption activists, and other civil society actors in Colombia.”
- Establishing a 5-year, $60 million program for “improving English language proficiency among primary and secondary school teachers [and] in business and technology.” It will “target teachers from schools in low-income communities and underrepresented communities, including Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities.”
- Establishing a 5-year, $50 million program for “training of 10,000 new K-12 public school educators, including in underrepresented and Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities.”
- Creating a US-Colombia Labor Compact to help “protect internationally recognized labor rights”and “address and prevent violence again-st labor organizations and trade unions.”
- Creating a two-year, $20 million program “to support the ability of rural cooperatives in conflict-affected areas of Colombia to bring products into national and international markets.”
- Providing $20 million over three years “to protect the biodiversity of Colombia and address deforestation.”
- Developing a “multi-year strategy…to combat corruption and the misuse of public resources.” Among its priorities is “to support investigative journalism, protection of journalists reporting on public and private sector corruption.”
- Providing $1 million to “empower and inspire women and girls from Latin America and the Caribbean to advance careers in science and technology.”
- Evaluating “the impact of United States diplomatic engagement and foreign assistance programming in support of the peace process in Colombia.”
- Providing $9 million for cybersecurity work.
- Creating a strategy for “assisting internally displaced persons, refugees, vulnerable migrants, and people affected by natural disasters.”