A Carter administration effort to ease restrictions on military aid to Latin American countries accused of violating human-rights standards was blocked yesterday by a House committee that approved a new $880 million military assistance bill.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee voted to eliminate the administration's request for a $250,000 training program for Guatemala and to strike out a waiver enabling other alleged human-rights violators to receive aid under U.S.-financed regional military programs.
Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, which supports a strong human-rights policy, called the votes "an absolutely symbolic test," and a congressional aide termed it "a good day for human rights."
Nonetheless, the committee left a somewhat mixed verdict on the strength of congressional support for human-rights sanctions in U.S. foreign policy.
On Wednesday, the committee voted 14 to 11 to reverse its Asian subcommittee and allocate $25 million in military assistance to the Philippines. The subcommittee had reduced the assistance to $17.1 million to protest President Ferdinand Marcos' autocratic policies, including his cancellation of elections and the continuation of the martial law regime he imposed in 1972.
Administration officials had maintained that the $25 million was needed as part of a $500 million U.S. aid commitment in exchange for continued U.S. base rights in the Philippines.
Sources said that yesterday's victory for human-rights forces had been made possible in part by a special alliance with critics of the Panama Canal treaties and of the U.S. aid that has continued to flow to Panama. Along with the other cuts, the committee voted to halve U.S. financing of military sales there, from $5 million to $2.5 million.
The Panama amendment was introduced by Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino (R-Calif.), who had spoken out against the recently concluded treaties.
In 1976 a number of Latin American countries said they would refuse to accept U.S. military aid if it was conditioned on a report on their human rights standards. The Pentagon has been concerned that this has cut longstanding U.S. ties to the military in Latin America, and the administration's aid bill this year offered several possibilities for resuming these contacts.
The administration sought $250,000 in military education and training for Guatemala. This was cut yesterday by an amendment introduced by Rep. Donald J. Pease (D-Ohio). Critics charged that the Guatemalan military has killed nearly 20,000 civilians.
The administration also sought a waiver of human-rights criteria for Latin American countries to participate in the Defense Department's regional military training center in Panama. This would have enabled countries now restricted from aid, such as Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Brazil, to assign personnel for training in the U.S.-financed programs. That proposal also was defeated.
In other action related to human rights, the committee let stand a subcommittee recommendation to eliminate U.S. credits for arms sales to Zaire.
Also accepted was a Pease amendment to eliminate $250,000 in military education and training funds for Afghanistan.
The bill reported out by the committee also would prohibit military aid to Jordan unless it cooperates with Middle East peace efforts. The provisions would permit aid only if the president determines that Jordan is "acting in good faith to achieve further progress toward a comprehensive peace."
Staff writer Karen DeYoung contributed to the article.