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Archives for Latin America and the Caribbean

Video: Working for Equality for People with Disabilities in Haiti

The January 2010 earthquake in Haiti increased the challenge of supporting people with disabilities.  Not only were there more people with disabilities, many local disabled peoples organizations were severely impacted.  However, the earthquake also brought increased international awareness to the many barriers to inclusion that existed prior to the earthquake.

Immediately following the earthquake, USAID funded a spinal cord injury center. Recognizing the earthquake as an opportunity to make long-term change for people with disabilities during the reconstruction process, we recently made four new awards to address four different aspects of inclusion and provision of better and more accessible care.

 

Prevention & Youth are the Solution

The word of the day in Central America is prevención. A wide range of actors in the region—particularly in the “Northern Triangle” (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador)— design and implement strategies and programs that focus on the prevention of crime, mainly aimed at youth.

The premise behind prevention is that rising criminal activity and violence linked to the drug trade is creating conditions for young people to be attracted to the flashy—but dangerous—world of drug trafficking.

The fast money and flashy lifestyles of drug traffickers glorified in the popular telenovelas are luring young people to become pawns in the bloody turf wars of organized crime and drug cartels. The economic downturn that hit the region, with its related high levels of unemployment and underemployment, has also pushed young people into a life of crime and drug consumption.

In Guatemala, its youth face a difficult situation. There are several risk factors on the road to their development. Generally, Guatemalans take pride in claiming that this is a “young country.” With a population of almost 15 million people, 2 out of 3 Guatemalans are 24 years old or less.

But these figures also represent an immense challenge for this Central American nation, particularly within the context of low rates of economic growth and traditionally low quality in health and education. The country’s inability to generate enough opportunities to absorb thousands of young people entering the labor market annually plus historical institutional weaknesses in justice and security paint a complicated scenario. In addition, Mexico and the isthmus have become both, the main transit route for narcotics heading North, and the main theater of operations for the bloody turf wars over control of the drug trade.

These factors have made the “Northern Triangle” one of the deadliest regions in the world. In Guatemala, the vast majority of victims are younger than 25 years of age. Similarly, 89% of aggressors are aged between 18 and 35 years.

The fact that youth are the main protagonists in the daily violence, both as victims and perpetrators, has led some researchers to refer to this phenomenon as the “criminalization of youth.”

To that end, the Guatemalan government has begun an unprecedented consultation process in order to enact a public policy on youth crime and violence prevention. This exercise in citizen participation seems promising. And, the government’s commitment on prevention is being matched by the donor community in Guatemala. International cooperation in this country also views prevention as a big part in the solution in the fight against public insecurity.

As Vinicio Gamarro, a sixth grade teacher in the village of Naxombal, asserted, young people need “to do good things so they won’t think about violence.”

Vetha Quej, a 20 year-old concurs with Gamarro. At a meeting of community leaders, civil society organizations, youth, and international donors working on violence prevention among youth at the local level, Vetha said that young people like her need “work instead of violence.”

To address these needs, USAID helps provide Guatemalan youth with productive options to turn away from gangs and other criminal organizations. Programs focus on youth employability, technical training for at-risk youth, internship programs, and a range of activities that teach young men and women values and life skill through sports and arts. It is precisely this type of pursuits that will give youth hope for a better future.

Q & A: Youth Movement to Fight Violence in Honduras

Members of Jovenes Contra la Violencia. Photo: MJCV

We interviewed Jorge Santiago Avila Corrales, a 25-yr old honor roll student at the National University of Honduras, about security concerns and the role of youth in Honduras.  He is the country coordinator of the Movimiento Jovenes Contra la Violencia (the Youth Movement Against Violence).

Jorge Santiago Avila Corrales is the country coordinator of the Movimiento Jovenes Contra la Violencia. Photo: MJCV

1.     Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world. How has it affected you?

I am saddened by the fact that my brother is one of these statistics, since I lost him due to violence, and to know that the situation in Honduras is as it is. On the one hand, it makes me worry that future generations will have a very short life expectancy; on the other hand, I know that we young people are talented and have lots of good ideas, so we can effect change and highlight the good things about our country.

2.     You have chosen not to become a perpetrator of violence. Who or what helped you make good decisions as a youth?

My parents have played a fundamental role; with their examples and guidance I have moved forward. Although we had scarce economic resources, they always instilled in me good values and principles.  As the oldest of five siblings, I always had to be an example. Even living in the “hot spot” of Comayagüela, my desire for self-improvementkept me away from troubled groups and towards making decisions that brought me to where I am today.

3.     What led you to get involved in the Movimiento Jovenes Contra la Violencia?

I joined the Movement in order to implement a methodology to develop youth dialogues. I really liked the Movement’s inclusion of young people from different social strata, religions, and ideologies, and I liked that I, a simple youth from a marginal neighborhood, could coordinate an activity like that.  This shows that a youth fighting against violence can be anyone who wants to change his or her life and country, regardless of his or her background.

4.     With approximately half of Honduras’ population under 25 years old, how does the Movimiento make a difference in Honduras?

A young person makes the difference when he or she begins to dream and to fight to bring those dreams to reality. As young people, we have a lot of things to propose and we are intelligent.  In the Youth Movement against Violence, different talents come together and we channel them toward a common objective; our differences are secondary when the problem of violence is the main concern.

5.     The Movimiento has had many accomplishments. What are one or two of your favorites?

Bringing together Honduran youth to show that we are capable of great things when we fight together; we can reach

Screenshot of video. Click to view on YouTube

Jovenes Contra la Violencia recently held a video contest to help spread their message. In this winning video, Ewin raps about how peace can be transformative for Honduran youth.

great achievements. But definitely the greatest success is being able to give a voice to Honduran youth, bringing their proposals in front of decision makers and having credibility in society as a youth organization that is truly achieving a change in peoples’ attitudes nationwide. However, each of the activities that we have realized has been my “favorite”: the television program; the human chain in which hundreds of youth participated; our recent participation in the SICA [Central American Integration System] Presidents’ Summit this past June; and the concert “Singing No to Violence”; in sum, all of our activities are very appealing in that they have been planned by us, ourselves, with concrete goals and objectives.

6.     Honduras has a lot of challenges, especially in economic growth, democracy, and security. With the help of the Movimiento, what do you hope to see change in the next few years?

First, I would like to see a personal change in the lives of all Hondurans, where they accept that changing from a negative direction to a positive one is the responsibility of all and that youth are not the problem, we are a part of the solution. I also hope that more and better opportunities arise for work, education, health, living conditions, social and human security, and occupation of free time for youth, and that in this way we will focus on the prevention of violence. With prevention, economic improvement for Honduran families, and true democracy, violence will diminish considerably.

Promoting Peace and Growth in Colombia by Addressing Land Issues

Last week I had a chance to spend a day in Cartagena, Colombia with Assistant Administrator Mark Feierstein, USAID Colombia Mission staff, host government personnel and implementing partners. Together, we looked at USAID’s technical assistance programs which support the Government of Colombia’s efforts to restitute land, formalize property and implement rural development.

Colombia is slowly emerging from decades of violent internal conflict and instability, which exacerbated existing social and economic disparities. Over the course of the conflict, armed groups, including the FARC guerillas, right-wing paramilitary forces, and private militias of drug lords used violence and intimidation extensively to force people from their lands and homes. As a result, there are 3.9 million officially registered Internally Displaced Persons in Colombia and over 9.8 million acres of land were abandoned due to forced displacement.

The current administration of President Juan Manuel Santos believes that an integrated program of securing access to rural land combined with comprehensive rural development will create the conditions necessary for lasting peace. In the next ten years, the Government of Colombia intends to resolve 360,000 restitution cases, restoring rightful ownership of land to those who were violently displaced or who abandoned their land due to the conflict. During my visit, I met with villagers who were forced from their homes 12 years ago on 12 hours’ notice—women like Aura who was forced to flee Las Brisas in Toro County with her three small children.

To help families like Aura’s, President Santos signed the Victims’ Law and Land Restitution Law to settle the country’s outstanding historical debts and establish a legal framework to support the process of land restitution and address root causes of the conflict. The law provides comprehensive assistance and reparations for over 3.6 million victims and includes an ambitious program of land restitution for those whose land was violently seized by illegal armed groups or who had to abandon their land due to the conflict. Simultaneous to the restitution efforts, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is implementing an ambitious project to strengthen the land rights of smallholder farmers, indigenous, and Afro-Colombian communities by issuing formal titles guaranteeing individual and collective rights.

As a result of these reforms, Aura’s community filed a legal case and she will soon receive financial compensation for herself and each of her children. She also will receive a rural plot of land and plans to rebuild a home and raise cattle in the area she once lived in.

Stories like Aura’s illustrate how USAID plays a role in keeping America’s long tradition of helping those who are less fortunate than us. Even modest amounts of assistance from the U.S. to the Colombian Government to support of land tenure programs help build peace and security in the country.

Video of the Week

In this short video, Diego Bustamante talks about his experience working as a counterpart with USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI). Diego highlights the innovative approach OTI used in Colombia from 2007 through 2011 that led to the Colombian government adopting OTI’s strategy, which helped to reduce conflict and improve government legitimacy in former guerilla controlled areas.

The video was made to showcase OTI’s work at the Frontiers in Development Conference in Washington, D.C. on June 11, 2012. The video was shown before a panel titled, “Helping Democracies Deliver.”

Mexican Diaspora Leader Gives Back Green

The Impact Blog interviewed Luis Aguirre-Torres, CEO of GreenMomentum and recipient of the White House’s Champion of Change award. He partners with USAID in his homeland of Mexico to help foster green companies. 

You have been extremely successful in helping companies become green, why is it important for you to give back to your native country of Mexico?

After several years of living abroad, I found myself in a position to give back to the country that gave me an education and inspired me to continue moving forward. I have a personal believe that the future is something we work towards and not something that simply one day magically appears. Before I always imagined a better future than what the present turned out to be; today, I understand that the future will only be different if we take an active role in making it happen. What better place to reinvent the future than my country of origin.

What is the Cleantech Challenge and how did it come about?

The Cleantech Challenge was originally conceived as a green business plan competition. However, today it has become an open forum for investors, entrepreneurs, government and development agencies to share ideas on how to develop clean technology, how to finance it and how to accelerate its implementation. It was first conceptualized after a conversation with the Director of the UNEP a few years ago, when he challenged me and my team to do something different that could impact the Mexican economy. A few weeks later, the Cleantech Challenge was born.

What would a surge in green companies in Latin America mean for the region?

We are currently seeing a surge in green companies in Mexico. This has been echoed by other countries like Colombia, Chile and Argentina, among others. For all these countries, it represents an opportunity to become part of the world’s new green economy. As it has happened in other countries, it could also lead to a surge in investment opportunities and the development of new government policies. This could accelerate economic growth through the creation of new business and job opportunities, having therefore a direct impact on the competitiveness of the region as a whole.

Do you think Latin America faces unique challenges regarding greenhouse gas emissions compared to the rest of the world?

Latin America faces a series of challenges regarding climate change. It has to develop new and more reliable mechanisms for financing the implementation of adaptation and mitigation programs. Specifically, it has to find a way of fighting climate change without negatively impacting economic growth and increasing the region’s competitiveness.

The White House just honored you with a Champion of Change award, what does this mean for you?

This has been a great experience. I feel humbled and forever grateful to those who from the beginning believed in this project. The recognition from the White House means the world to us, not only because it validates our efforts during the past four years, but also because it has allowed us to share it with the American people and the rest of the world. It has inspired me to continue working and to work towards newer and bigger things.

To read more, visit the White House’s Champions of Change webpage.

Progress in Haiti

Thomas C. Adams serves as Haiti Special Coordinator at the U.S. Department of State, and Mark Feierstein serves as Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The government of Haiti recently addressed the double bind their country often faces when the international media covers the development that is occurring in Haiti, identifying either how development is slow in coming or that the development that is occurring is harmful. We anticipate an upcoming AP article may reflect this same perspective. Haiti is working tirelessly to overcome adversity that existed even before the earthquake and to begin to build a stable and sustainable foundation for economic prosperity and societal stability.

Like many other Haiti donors, the United States government has been a proud partner of the government and people of Haiti. We have approached our work in a fundamentally different way. We have followed the lead of the government and people of Haiti, and we have sought for our development assistance not only to provide aid, but long-term sustainable investment as well. Our investments fall into four areas prioritized by the government: agriculture, health care, infrastructure and rule of law/security. And, while the assistance the United States is providing today is not always immediately apparent, the investments we are making will be lasting.

Haiti has a long way to go. Yet, there are successes. We want to share a few that sometimes go unreported.

  1. More than 1.1 million Haitians have moved out of temporary tent camps. The U.S. government, through USAID, has worked with the government and people of Haiti to repair damaged homes, build transitional shelters and provide rental support. These efforts alone have benefited more than 328,000 people.
  2. The government of Haiti ensured more children are attending school, paying the tuition of 850,000 primary school students and enabling 142,000 new students to attend school this past year alone.
  3. In the North, one of the poorest regions of the country, the government of Haiti is leading one of the largest and most ambitious regional development efforts in the country’s history. Haiti has lead the U.S. government, the Inter-American Development Bank, and businesses — including domestic and foreign — to invest in the future of the region. The Caracol Industrial Park, for example, began operations at one factory in April. A modern power plant that provides electricity to the Park’s factories and surrounding communities is up and running. There is a new vocational training center, a modern university provided by the Dominican Republic, and an improving community-based health care system. An airport expansion, construction of a new settlement with more than 1,280 hurricane and earthquake resistant houses with electricity, potable water, and flush sanitation in every home, and engineering drawings for a new container port are underway. These projects are part of Haiti’s vision for a more prosperous and stable future that harnesses the economic potential of Haiti’s impoverished regions, which the Haitian government put forward, and which donor partners and development experts endorsed.
  4. With more than 60 percent of Haitians reliant on agriculture for income, the United States has expanded agricultural programs, deploying the strategy of Feed the Future, the U.S. government food security initiative. To date we have worked with more than 9,700 farmers, introducing improved seeds, fertilizer and technologies. These efforts have resulted in a 118 percent increase in rice yields, 368 percent increase in corn, 85 percent increase in bean yields, and 21 percent increase in plantain yields. Our goal is to support 100,000 farmers in our three geographical regions of focus.
  5. The U.S. government, through USAID, is funding the services of an experienced management firm to help improve the commercial and operational sustainability of Haiti’s electric utility in Port-au-Prince. In a country where only 12 percent of the population has legal access to electricity, the firm is also seeking to expand services to another 60,000 active customers by next April, which will increase the active customers in Haiti by a third. Since November 2011, the USG has been rehabilitating five electrical substations in Port-au-Prince, ensuring that available power in the system reaches households and businesses. To date, the U.S. government has signed contracts in the energy sector worth $52 million that are in different stages of implementation, half of which focus on the Port-au-Prince area.

The U.S. Government Is Working in Partnership

Dozens of countries, multilateral organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private sector entities are supporting Haiti. Together, we all pledged more than $12 billion in March 2010 in humanitarian and recovery funding over 10 years — a testament to the wide-spread commitment Haiti’s partners share to its future prosperity. The United States pledged $1.15 billion or about 12 percent of the total funds. The government of Haiti and its partners are striving to ensure each dollar invested yields maximum results and complements, rather than overlaps, with other investments. The U.S. government development strategy can be found at: www.state.gov/s/hsc/. In addition to direct assistance, the United States funds efforts in Haiti through multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the World Bank. We are the largest donor in the health and agriculture sectors; the IDB is the largest donor in the education sector, as well as one of the lead donors on water, sanitation and hygiene programs (WASH). Today, because of coordination with the government of Haiti, the IDB and the government of Spain, more Haitians have access to clean water than before the earthquake — yet there is still much more progress that needs to be made.

The U.S. Government is Focused on Productive Infrastructure for Haiti’s Renewal

If you don’t look closely, numbers can be deceiving. The United States used existing funds from 2009 and 2010 and redirected existing programs to jumpstart recovery assistance, rehabilitate the electric grid and upgrade neighborhoods and health clinics before emergency supplemental funds were made available by Congress. Infrastructure projects don’t begin or get completed overnight, and with good reason. So while the United States is on track to disburse all $475 million we committed to housing, energy and ports, disbursements for these types of complex projects are slower. To build a new port, power plant, hospital or housing complex — all of which the United States is in various stages of implementing — in a collaborative, responsible manner requires feasibility studies, consultations and planning with relevant government entities and communities at the local and national level, environmental studies, and plans for staffing and operations and maintenance. For Haiti to become an economically prosperous nation, we need to support sustainable projects. To do so means providing assistance in a deliberate manner.

Disbursements of U.S. Development Assistance to Haiti
$ in thousands for all items

Humanitarian Relief Assistance
Available funding through 03/31/2012: $1,289,024
Obligations: $1,289,024
Disbursements: $1,289,024
Percentage of available funding disbursed: 100%

Recovery and Reconstruction Assistance
Available funding through 03/31/2012: $1,891,743
Of which is the March 2010 New York pledge: $1,170,196
Obligations: $1,129,985
Of which is the March 2010 New York pledge: $649,842
Disbursements: $988,320
Of which is the March 2010 New York pledge: $463,102
Percentage of available funding disbursed: 48%
Of which is the March 2010 New York pledge: 40%

Total
Available funding through 03/31/2012: $3,180,767
Obligations: $2,419,010
Disbursements: $2,277,345
Percentage of available funding disbursed: 72%

You can see how we are investing in Haiti by going to www.foreignassistance.gov and for information on specific contracts you can visit https://www.fpds.gov/fpdsng_cms/.

The U.S. Government is Committed to Transparency and Accountability

The State Department and USAID regularly provide information to the public and consult with Congress. In the last nine months alone, we have held more than 50 briefings for Members of Congress and their staffers, submitted strategies and reports, and have made ourselves available to answer inquiries via letters, emails, phone calls and meetings. And, for U.S. development projects, USAID provides Congress with a progress report every two weeks.

Importantly, we consulted extensively with the government of Haiti and other stakeholders in Haiti in the design of our assistance strategy, to ensure it reflected the priorities of Haiti. As part of this process, we have shared how much funding is available for investments in each sector and the impact the government of Haiti could anticipate from these initiatives. In the North, we have built community kiosks in different townships to share information in French and Creole about the investments the United States is making to receive feedback and remain accountable to local communities. Our commitments are public and tangible, supported by performance benchmarks that allow the people of Haiti and U.S. taxpayers to hold us accountable for our successes and failures.

We have also taken great strides to make the contracting process more transparent and accessible, especially to Haitian-owned companies. Online, any one can readily find the scope of work and information about the projects, excluding company’s business confidential information, to ensure full and open competition for contracts (by avoiding competing companies knowing the costs structures of their competitors).

We are working hard to ensure the United States is the best partner it can be to the government and people of Haiti, while investing the American taxpayers’ resources wisely and sustainably. Our goal is to continually improve our processes and programs, maintain the integrity of our investments, work in a coordinated manner with all stakeholders, and above all else measure our impact by whether the lives of Haitians are improving.

Photo of the Week: Spotlight on Panama

This week USAID announced that it will close its Mission to Panama in September, a reflection of Panama’s own great advances in development. Our assistance program to Panama began in 1940 with technical assistance for the establishment of a rubber plantation. Since then, we have provided $1.2 billion in economic assistance to Panama.

Our development initiatives in Panama have facilitated public-private partnerships and strategic development alliances leveraging local and external resources. As a result the sustainability of our joint activities will continue long after our Mission closes.

View the complete the photo series of our work in Panama.

Ask the Expert: Enrique Roig, Coordinator for Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) at USAID

We interviewed Enrique Roig from our Latin America and Caribbean Bureau to discuss his work on citizen security in Central America.

Enrique Roig, Coordinator for CARSI at USAID Photo Credit: La Prensa

Can you describe the security situation in Central America? Violence levels in Central America are among the highest in the world – there are an estimated 900 gangs with a total of 70,000 members in the region. The region is marked by surges in murder rates, transnational gangs and narcotics traffickers, and rising levels of crime. Citizens are most concerned about security, even ahead of economic issues. Despite efforts to focus on social inclusion and anti-poverty programs, income inequalities remain some of the most extreme in the world. A great part of the region’s population lacks access to healthcare, social services, and educational opportunities. The burgeoning youth bulge is also of grave concern since unemployment is extremely high.

We often hear the term, CARSI. What is that? The  U.S. government’s Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), launched by President Obama, is the interagency approach to combat citizen insecurity and violence in the region. In particular, USAID supports community-based approaches to crime and violence prevention, as well as rule of law programs.

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Haitian President Joins in on Festivities at USAID-Rehabilitated Gymnasium Inauguration

The inaugural basketball game at a USAID-rehabilitated gymnasium drew thousands of Haitians ranging from the country’s president to pop stars to people displaced by the earthquake.

The Gymnasium Vincent in Haiti. Photo Credit: Nicole Widdersheim/USAID

The stands were packed at last week’s game at Gymnasium Vincent with dancing, cheering spectators. Most of them came from nearby neighborhoods, including a few of the remaining displaced persons from the Champs de Mars camp next to the stadium.

Jugglers and karate experts warmed up the audience, and celebrated Haitian musician MikaBen sang the Haitian national anthem. President Michel Martelly presided over the festivities, and new Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and his cabinet stopped by to check out the game, which pitted the Haitian National Police (HNP) team against Sogebank. The game marked Martelly’s one-year anniversary as president. On the court, it was the pulsating rhythms of several rara bands playing in the stands that kept the evening’s program moving.
The Gymnasium Vincent has significant symbolic value for Haitians. It served as a training ground for Haitian Olympians and is the home of national and capital sports associations. Like many other public buildings in the Port-au-Prince area, it was severely damaged by the 2010 earthquake. Following his election, Martelly advocated for reconstruction of homes, hospitals, government buildings and the Gymnasium Vincent.

Speaking at the game, Martelly said, “I am proud to have led this initiative with the support of USAID. When I remembered that years ago this place used to hold great games, I feel proud to have done all this for the benefit of the youth.”

With support from Martelly and his office, USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives invested about $1 million in rehabilitating the gymnasium through a contract with the Haitian firm CEEPCO. In the future, USAID hopes an increasing number of Haitian firms win our awards competitions.

The stadium’s central location will serve as a sports hub for the community, where youth from communities such as Belair, Martissant, Turgeau and Bas Delmas can practice their favorite sports. The venue is also ideal for hosting nationally televised sports and civic events. And in a city with few large enclosed structures, it can also serve as a hurricane shelter.

See photos of the event and gymnasium rehabilitation, and read more about USAID’s work in Haiti.

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