17-Feb-2011 - After the WikiLeaks revelations, perhaps Congress should demand State Department employees dedicate more time to promoting U.S. exports and less time to writing cables about Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's sexual escapades.
On the recent anniversary of the earthquake that leveled Haiti last year, killing about 300,000 people and destroying thousands of schools and hospitals, I read a statistic that left me astonished: Venezuela has promised more funds than the United States for the reconstruction of Haiti.
In effect, the Office of the Special Envoy of the United Nations to Haiti, former president Bill Clinton, stated in its report on the first anniversary of the earthquake, that Venezuela has committed to providing $us 1.3 billion to the reconstruction of Haiti while the United States offered $us 1.1 billion. (In concrete disbursements, Venezuela has forgiven a greater part of Haiti's foreign debt, while both countries have disbursed about $us 120 million each to date, according to Clinton's office).
If these amount surprise you, and you think that all the prophecies about the decline of U.S. influence in the world will materialize if Washington can't even be the largest donor in its own neighborhood, prepare yourself, for it will get even worse:
The new Republican majority in the House of Representatives is attempting to cut $100,000 million dollars this year from domestic and foreign aid packages, to help reduce the Unites States' gigantic budget deficit.
Congressional sources tell me that the Republicans will cut foreign aid programs by somewhere between 10 and 30 percent.
The United States Global Leadership Coalition, a pro-foreign aid group headquartered in Washington, D.C., estimates that the Republican proposal would reduce the Foreign Affairs Budget - which funds everything from Department of State salaries to AIDS vaccines in Africa - by over 13 percent, an amount which, this organism affirms, would be 'devastating'.
Some ultra-conservative Republicans, such as the spoiled Tea Party, and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, have stated they want to eliminate the U.S. foreign aid budget completely.
House Republicans are attempting to eliminate at least 2170 jobs created over the past few years in the Department of State to compensate for previous job cuts, according to a Politico.com article. Ironically, almost all of those jobs were created by former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell, who argued that the United States needed 'diplomatic troops' to improve security worldwide.
"Wouldn't these cuts weaken U.S. influence throughout the world?" I asked Ileana Ros Lehtinen, Republican congresswoman for Miami and new president of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, during a recent interview.
Ros Lehtinen, who is more pro-foreign aid than many of her Republican colleagues, told me that "if we are going to cut the U.S. budget domestically, how can we not do so with the foreign aid budget? Our debt is out of control and we are passing an astronomical deficit on to our grandchildren. We cannot continue like this."
Almost all Democrats fear that budget cuts will deal a harsh blow to U.S. diplomacy. They quote Robert Gales, Secretary of Defense, who said in September in reference to Afghanistan and Iraq, that "development is much cheaper than sending soldiers".
Democratic Congressman for New York, Eliot L. Engel, minority leader of the House Subcommittee for the Western Hemisphere, told me in an interview that cutting foreign aid cuts when there is a need to fight against drug cartels in Mexico and Central America, and at a time when China, Iran, and Venezuela's influence is increasing throughout Latin America, "is something that will turn against us".
My opinion: Although the United States continues to be the country that gives the most foreign aid in dollar terms, by far, it is one of the industrialized countries that gives the least in terms of the size of its economy: it only donates 0.2 percent of its GNP for foreign aid, as compared to Sweden which donates one percent.
What is even more significant - and this is something you won't hear on Fox News or other conservative media - is that the United States only destines one percent of its federal budget to foreign aid.
After the WikiLeaks revelations, perhaps Congress should demand State Department employees dedicate more time to promoting U.S. exports and less time to writing cables about Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's sexual escapades.
But the drastic cuts in foreign aid proposed by the Republicans would be the equivalent of slow-motion diplomatic suicide for the United States. The fact that Venezuela has promised more aid to Haiti than the United States should speak for itself.
Source: Los Tiempos - Date: 17-Feb-2011. This is a translation. Read this Opinion Piece in Spanish Here.
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