Colombia - Military Spending

State resources for military and police spending in Colombia are determined according to the same procedures followed for all other spending items in the national budget. Spending items are public, voted on by Congress, incorporated into the national budget, and subject to control by the Comptroller General’s Office (Contraloría de la República) and other civilian oversight agencies. Annual budgets are prepared based on the objectives and programs defined by each administration’s national development plan. The first time that defense and security objectives appeared in this planning document was in the first year of the presidency of Ernesto Samper Pizano (1994–98).

Budget preparation for defense takes place in the first half of the year, with input from the Ministry of National Defense Planning Office, the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit, and the National Planning Department (DNP) in the case of procurements. Before July 20 of each year, a spending bill goes to the Congress, and prior to September 15 the Senate (Senado) and the House of Representatives (Cámara de Representantes) decide on specific appropriations. After final congressional and then presidential approval, the spending bill takes effect on January 1. Modifications to the federal budget are permissible, and defense and security items frequently receive additional appropriations in the second half of the fiscal year.

It would be an overstatement to say that all social programs were eliminated from the Army’s purview in the 1960s. They were however, significantly reduced after the forced resignation of General Ruíz in 1965. There are several reason for this. Civilians reduced the military’s share of the overall budget. In 1962 their share was 25.8%. In 1965 it wasreduced to 24.9%. It would not rise again until 1968. With reduced money available the Army needed to prioritize its spending. In 1967-1968, a harder-line attitude surfaced within the military that emphasized military rather than social solutions to the insurgency.

Early in his administration, President Gaviria made significant gestures of reconciliation to these guerrilla forces. Negotiations reached a high point in June 1991 but then the situation deteriorated as guerrilla violence increased. By November 1992, things were so bad that a frustrated President Gaviria seemed to abandon his efforts to achieve broad negotiated settlements. He declared virtual war against the terrorists, murderers, and kidnappers, against that handful of deranged fanatics who have not read in the newspapers the sorry story of the end of communist totalitarianism. Colombian defense spending in 1993 was more than twice their 1990 level.

Spending on defense and security in Colombia grew steadily during the 1990s, because of redoubled efforts against the guerrillas and illicit drug activities. In 1999 dollars, Colombia spent on average US$2.15 billion annually during the 1990s, placing fourth after Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico in defense spending among Latin American countries. As a percentage of gross national product (GNP), Colombia’s defense spending increased from 2.3 percent in 1990 to 3.2 percent in 1999, contradicting a global trend of reductions in defense outlays. Defense spending in 1999 as a percentage of GNP was higher than the developed-country average (2.3 percent), the developing-country average (2.7 percent), and the Latin American average (1.5 percent). Defense spending in Colombia in 1999 was second in Latin America only to Ecuador, which in the same year spent 3.7 percent of GNP on defense and security. As a percentage of overall government spending, defense and security outlays throughout the 1990s remained constant at 15.9 percent.

The Government of Colombia to some to understand that this is its war to win. Colombian defense spending has continued to significantly rise. From 2001 to 2005, Colombian spending on defense grew more than 30 percent after inflation, from US$2.6 billion to more than US$3.9 billion. In 2006 the portion of GNP dedicated to defense and security amounted to 4.0 percent, nearly double what it was in 1990, and 12.6 percent of the overall national budget went to the same sector.

Between 1999 and 2005, Plan Colombia, which contributed to improving national capabilities against drug trafficking and terrorism, was jointly financed by US$3.4 million from Colombia’s national budget and US$2.8 million by the U.S. government. In 2007 Colombia spent US$5.7 billion on national security and defense. Of this total, 71 percent went to the Military Forces and 29 percent to the National Police. Spending was broken down as follows: 53 percent on personnel, including pensions; 14 percent on internal transfers; 23 percent on operating expenses; and 10 percent on procurements. This distribution indicated excessive spending on operations and pensions, with relatively little invested in acquisitions, modernization, or research and development. Of the 10 percent spent on procurement, 64 percent went to armaments and war matériel, 11 percent to maintenance and transport, 9 percent to communications and intelligence functions, and 7 percent to new infrastructure. The remaining 9 percent was spent on information, health services, human resource training, and welfare.

Colombia’s funding in 2006 for the military and police totaled $4.48 billion, a real increase of more than 30 percent since 2001 that now accounted for 11.6 percent of the overall national budget. The government has compensated for its defense budget shortfalls with additional funding, including funds derived from departmental or municipal governments, the armed forces’ own security-related businesses, the “wealth tax” that raised more than US$800 million between 2004 and 2006, and annual U.S. military aid in the form of “foreign military financing” and financial assistance from counternarcotics initiatives. In 2007 the Colombian government announced a new tax on wealthy Colombians. The expectation was that this wealth tax will generate up to US$3.6 billion between 2007 and 2010 to carry out President Uribe’s Democratic Security goals.

Colombia has put more than money on the line to ensure its security. In July 2002, at the end of the Pastrana administration, 181,000 uniformed military and 97,000 police were active. By February 2007, those ranks had grown to 251,000 military and 134,000 police, for an increase of 38 percent during the Uribe administration. For the next stage of consolidation, Colombia planned to add over 16,000 army, navy and air force personnel and 20,000 police.

Join the mailing list