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United States Agency for International Development

United States Agency for International Development

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is a government entity responsible for administering official development assistance (ODA) to recipient countries. Created in 1961 to unify previously separate economic assistance activities, the kind of assistance provided has varied over time to reflect changes in U.S. foreign policy interests and concerns, congressional and executive priorities, special-interest-group pressures, and lessons learned about the processes of fostering economic growth, protecting human health, developing agribusiness and marketing, expanding financial access and services, reducing poverty, and enhancing democracy in developing countries.

With headquarters in Washington, D.C., USAID's strength is in its field presence, currently working in one hundred developing countries and in partnership with many other organizations—private voluntary organizations, universities, American businesses and consulting companies, local and indigenous organizations, trade and professional organizations, and other donors. Organizationally USAID is structured into functional and regional bureaus for managing its development activities, one of which is the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).

An early, major USAID implementation in LAC was the Alliance for Progress, a program stressing economic growth, social change, and democratic political development. Regional economic growth accelerated during the 1960s, and health and education indicators improved significantly. Poverty reduction efforts were not as successful, mostly because political resistance to redistributive measures (through agrarian reform, tax reform, and comprehensive economic planning) was substantial in many countries. Additionally, USAID's programs and projects for enhancing democracy yielded disappointing results.

The U.S. Congress in 1973 passed the New Directions legislation, calling for USAID to give highest priority to programs and projects that directly reduce poverty, improve the lives of the poorest, and expand the poor's capacity to participate in development activities. Some resulting programs were successful, but many were bureaucrati-cally and administratively cumbersome, resulting in unexpectedly high costs per beneficiary.

The LAC-wide economic crisis of the 1980s, and its perceived threats to U.S. interests, resulted in several programs focused on the region, or parts of it, such as the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), and more recently the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) initiative. This concern initially produced a sharp expansion of assistance to the region, from $340 million annually in fiscal years (FYs) 1977–1979 to $1.6 billion annually in FYs 1985–1987. This level of support did not hold, however, and began to decline in the 1990s. USAID's economic assistance to LAC in FY 1992 was approximately $1.3 billion, but by FY 1994 it had fallen to about $700 million. The amount has continued to decline, and for FY 2006 the total program funds were $852 million, but this included $216,297,000 for the Andean Counterdrug Initiative, $143,675,000 for Economic Support Funds, and $113,159,000 of PL 480 Title II monies. The Development Assistance (DA) monies are only $223,847,000.

In 2007 USAID has bilateral programs in sixteen countries of LAC, regional programs in each of the three subregions, and a regional program in Washington. In LAC the top strategic priorities seek to advance democracy and human rights, increase economic prosperity and security, combat narcotics trafficking, and address social and environmental issues.

See alsoAlliance for Progress; Caribbean Basin Initiative; Economic Development; United States-Latin American Relations.


USAID. "USAID History." 2007. Available from

USAID. "Latin America and the Caribbean." 2007. Available from

USAID. "This is USAID." 2007. Available from

USAID. "USAID Primer: What We Do and How We Do It." 2007. Available from

                                     Bob J. Walter

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