Plan Colombia & Plan Mexico: Foreign Aid Vote Just Weeks Away!

In just three weeks, the House of Representatives will decide how to spend our tax dollars in Colombia and Mexico. Will they continue with the notorious Plan Colombia and the more recently established $1.4 billion Mérida Initiative in Mexico?  Both aid packages send the vast majority of funds directly into the hands of two militaries responsible for some of the worst human rights violations in our hemisphere.  While such abuses are most often committed in the name of fighting the war on drugs and insurgent groups, they often target civilians and human rights leaders who are working for social change from the grassroots.

 

Pressure has been mounting--from New York Times columnists to former Latin American Presidents to the thousands of people across the country who took part in the Days of Prayer and Action--pressure to dismantle the archaic theory that spraying pesticides and arming notorious foreign militaries will help us with our drug problem.  The White House's new drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, has indicated that he'd like to stop using the "war on drugs" phrase to describe the Obama Administration's counternarcotics strategy.  Yet, the Administration's proposed budgets for Colombia and Mexico show that changes in terminology have not meant changes in policy. Now it's on us to push Congress beyond words, to make 2010 the year we stop funneling billions in military aid to Colombia and Mexico.  

The next two weeks offer a unique window of opportunity to do just that.  Your members of Congress are home in the district starting today, June 23rd - Friday, July 3rd.  Please consider setting up a meeting with your Representative. If he/she is not available, set up a meeting with the District Director.

 

For brief reports and resources from CRLN partner organization, Witness for Peace on Plan Colombia, Plan Mexico, the results of Days of Prayer and Action nationwide, as well as tips on how to set up a meeting with your Representative in the district, see below.

 

Good luck! And let us know how your meetings go!


District Meetings

 

We've prepared a list of talking points to inform your visit and a packet of recommended policy changes to leave behind with the staff (below).  According to Congressional staffers, such in-person meetings have by far the most chance at influencing your representative's positions-- schedule your meeting today!

Packet to leave with your representative:

 

 

Six Steps to an Effective Congressional Meeting:

  1. Get the phone number of the representative's office nearest you.  Go to http://org2.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=ub8kXTTrhF6EmbdMtwwrmTnNl2PZQTLC to access the website of your representative (if you don't know who it is, just enter your zip code).  Once at their website, scroll down to see the addresses and phone numbers of the district offices.
  2. Call the district office.  First identify yourself as a constituent.  Then tell them that you would like to arrange a meeting with the representative this week or during the week of June 29 (meet with one of her/his staff if she/he is not available) to discuss U.S. aid to Colombia and Mexico.  If they ask, you can mention that your concerns are with the 2010 spending bill currently under debate in Congress.  
  3. Recruit other constituents to go with you.  You can go by yourself, but it may be more effective and more fun to gather 2-4 others.  It's ideal to get a diverse group (i.e. a unionist, member of a faith community, student, etc.) so as to show that people of differing occupations/ages/races support the same request for change.
  4. Prepare for the meeting.  Click here for some handy tips on preparation from our friends at the Latin America Working Group.  
  5. Hold the meeting.  Please refer to our list of talking points to inform what you say during the meeting.  Do not feel however, that you need to conform to the language of these points or that you should try to cover all of them.  Instead, pick the two or three points that most appeal to you and speak on them using your own words, viewpoints, and experiences.  Be sure to leave behind our packet of information and policy change proposals.   For further tips, click here for more sound advice from LAWG.  
  6. Follow-up.  Maintaining post-meeting contact with your representative or her/his office is key to building a relationship and actually influencing policy change.  LAWG has once again provided some sage recommendations on how to do so.  

 

Here is a list of Illinois Representatives, their District Directors & Phone numbers:

 

Bobby Rush (D-1st): Rev. Stanley Watkins, 773-224-6500

Jesse Jackson (D-2nd): Rick Bryant, 708-798-6000

Dan Lipinski (D-3rd): Joe Benomo, 312-886-0481

Luis Gutierrez (D-4th): Salvador Cerna, 773-342-0774

Mike Quigley (D-5th): Kimberley Walz, 773-267-5926

Peter Roskam (R-6th): Brian McCarthy, 630-893-9670

Danny Davis (D-7th): Ira Cohen, 773-533-7520

Melissa Bean (D-8th): Nick Jordan, 847-517-2927

Jan Schakowsky (D-9th): Leslie Combs, 773-506-7100

Mark Kirk (R-10th): Eric Elk, 847-940-0202

Debbie Halvorson (D-11th): Marylin Turner, 815-726-4998

Jerry Costello (D-12th): Frank Miles, 618-233-8026

Judy Biggert (R-13th): Kathy Lydon, 630-655-2052

Bill Foster (D-14th): Sue Klinkhamer, 630-406-1114

Timothy Johnson (R-15th): Jeremy Circks, 309-663-7049

Donald Manzullo (R-16th): Pam Sexton, 815-394-1231

Phil Hare (D-17th): Pat O'Brien, 309-793-5760

Aaron Schock (R-18th): Carol Merna, 309-671-7027

John Shimkus (R-19th): Deb Detmers, 217-492-5090

 

 

Days of Prayer and Action Success--The Call for Change Gets Louder

 

Clear evidence of the mounting movement to abandon "war on drugs" policies came this April with an unprecedented groundswell of participation in the Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia.  Many thanks to the thousands of you who joined this push to revamp U.S. Colombia policy so as to mitigate rather than stoke the country's desperate displacement crisis.  The results surprised us:

 

  • 172 faith communities and nearly 25,000 people of faith prayed and spoke for change in Colombia policy during worship services in April.
  • About 1,800 students and members of many organizations gathered to raise awareness in 84 doll-making parties.
  • An overwhelming 18,913 paper dolls were crafted to represent Colombia's displaced.
  • The dolls were then powerfully displayed in 8 public actions in major cities across the U.S. and Colombia.  Over 2,000 people participated in these rallies, marches, and public doll deliveries.  Click here for photos and here for videos.  
  • Participants requested 20,983 postcards and sent 3,985 faxes and emails to deliver the call for change to President Obama.  

 

During your meeting with your representative, you can point to this sizeable grassroots response as a sign of mounting concern with our current "war-on-drugs" policies.  Included in the above packet are a summary of the Days of Prayer and Action success and pictures of some of the public actions.  You could also leave a paper doll with your representative as a visual reminder of the millions of displaced Colombians.  If interested, click here for a stencil to create your doll. 


Do Not Resuscitate: Plan Colombia

 

In deciding how much and what kind of aid to give Colombia this next year, Congress will be starting with the Obama Administration's 2010 foreign aid budget request, released last month.  While the request takes baby steps away from the military-heavy, fumigations-happy mentality dominating U.S. funding since 2000, it remains a far cry from the "change" mandate upon which the President and much of Congress were elected.  To abandon our trajectory of failure, Congress will need to do much more.  Here's the quick synopsis of the Administration's request:

 

The good:  $19 million was cut from counternarcotics funding, which includes the coca fumigations program that has utterly failed to curtail coca production but succeeded in destroying farmers' livelihoods.  While it is difficult to applaud a $19 million dent in a program that should be wholly scrapped, this cut at least provides a start.  

 

The bad: the overall ratio of military to social aid remains untouched: about two military dollars for every one non-military dollar.  Hundreds of millions more in military aid would continue to arm and train a military that continues to kill innocent civilians and collude with illegal armed groups.  Also, the Administration's request would inexplicably diminish aid for Colombia's displaced, those most in need of urgent assistance.  Please set up a meeting with your representative today to highlight these serious concerns.  

 

Do Not Resuscitate: Plan Mexico

 

A big thanks to the 3,091 of you who have asked Congress through our online action to halt the $470 million of additional Merida Initiative funding proposed for 2009.  The good news is that $50 million worth of military financing for Mexico was just extracted from the House version of the bill.  The bad news is that $420 million remains in the final bill, most of it for military aircraft to amplify Mexico's "war on drugs."   That bill now will likely pass both the House and Senate to become law, bringing total U.S. spending on the Merida Initiative to an incredible $1.3 billion, all approved within one year's time.  The new aid would actually cause Mexico to eclipse Colombia as 2009's number one recipient of military/police assistance in the Western Hemisphere, a position Colombia has continuously held since the early 90's.  

 

What is the Obama Administration doing to prevent further embroilment in this failed counternarcotics strategy in Mexico and Central America?  Nada.  Instead, the Administration's foreign aid budget request to Congress includes yet another $550 million for Merida in 2010, much of which appears to simply fund more helicopters.  Congress apparently needs to hear loud and clear that by failing to address the poverty and domestic demand fueling the drug trade, tossing millions more at military hardware will again prove tragically ineffective in stemming the flow of drugs or degree of drug-related violence.   Please set up a meeting with your representative to ask that they steer us away from this futile path and definitively abandon the antiquated "war on drugs" model.