While President George W. Bush is in Latin America to push his controversial free trade agenda, there is another type of trade to be concerned about. U.S. military aid, training and arms sales to the region have all increased sharply since the beginning of the war on terrorism and threaten to exacerbate conflict, empty national coffers and sidetrack development programs.
Through the Foreign Military Financing program, military aid has drastically increased during the Bush administration. In 2000, U.S. military aid to Latin America was $3.4 million, a tiny share of worldwide FMF spending of $4.7 billion. By 2006, overall spending on Foreign Military Financing actually decreased to $4.5 billion, after peaking at $6 billion in 2003. But military aid to Latin America increased to over 34 times its year 2000 levels, to $122 million.
After the Summit of the Americas in Argentina, President Bush will visit Brazil and Panama. Argentina is the third largest recipient of military aid in Latin America, with a total of $6.3 million between 2000 and 2006. Panama, where the United States long controlled the canal area, is also a major recipient of military aid, with a total of $5 million for the same period. Argentina's population is ten times that of Panama, making the near parity in their military aid levels striking.
But, when looking at military aid to the region, it is most noteworthy that El Salvador tops the list of recipients, with almost $23 million in FMF since 2002. This relatively large amount of military aid can be explained at least in part by looking at Salvadoran support for the war on terrorism. El Salvador is one of the Bush administration's few remaining allies with troops in Iraq, and six Salvadoran Special Forces soldiers have been awarded the Bronze Star.
The administration has also sought to draw a parallel between El Salvador's transition to democracy and Iraq's rocky progress toward that goal. While in San Salvador last year, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld praised the country's progress, saying "when one looks at this country and recognizes the fierce struggle that existed here 20 years ago and the success they've had despite the fact that there was a war raging during the elections, it just proves that the sweep of human history is for freedom." He added, "We've seen it in [El Salvador], we've seen it in Afghanistan and I believe we'll see it in Iraq."
El Salvador, which emerged from a U.S.-backed civil war in 1992, is also the second largest recipient on military training though IMET, and it is 11th on the list of arms sales recipients, purchasing a total of $46.8 million in weaponry between 2000 and 2003. During the civil war, in which 75,000 people were killed over 12 years, Washington contributed $1.5 million a day in military and economic aid to support the dictatorship's fight against guerillas.