Your aid dollars at work… suppressing voters

Colombia receives more U.S. military aid than all but Israel and Egypt. That aid is allocated in an unusual way: to specific brigades and bases of the Colombian armed forces. I wish I’d noticed that. Instead, I learn the fact in a new paper by Suresh Naidu and Oeindrila Dube.

With town-by-town variation in military aid, Dube and Naidu can look how annual changes affect local violence and politics. The result?

a 1% increase in US military assistance increases paramilitary attacks by 1.5% more in base municipalities, and lowers turnout for mayoral elections by .2% and .12% more in militarily and electorally contested regions

Their intuition: military aid indirectly helps paramilitary groups carry out political attacks and intimidate voters.

On the plus side, this at least suggests our aid is effective at something.

I wouldn’t say such evidence damns Plan Colombia. Fighting drug-funded insurgents is ugly but important. You don’t always get to pick your allies. But it suggests the U.S. might have a greater obligation to promote local democracy and safety alongside its military aid (and no, not by the military themselves).

Suresh is on the economics and political science job markets, and is easily one of the smartest and most creative scholars I know. Interview this man.