USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Latin America and the Caribbean

Photo of the Week: Empowering Afro-Colombian Communities

USAID works with the private sector in Cali, Colombia to promote Afro-Colombian employment and inclusion. Photo is by Lawrency Rubey, Deputy Mission Director of USAID/Colombia.

Protecting the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

While indigenous peoples represent approximately five percent of the world’s population, they make up 15 percent of the world’s poor, according to a 2009 United Nations (UN) report. An estimated one-third of the world’s 900 million extremely poor rural people are indigenous peoples. Facing the consequences of historic injustices, indigenous peoples also continue to be over-represented among the world’s illiterate and unemployed.

Today, USAID celebrates the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (IDWIP) as part of the agency’s commitment to inclusive development that empowers and elevates the protection of indigenous peoples and communities globally.

Photo credit: USAID/Guatemala

Photo credit: USAID/Guatemala

The U.S. Government’s announcement in 2010 that it would support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples spoke to a stronger commitment to protecting the human rights of indigenous peoples and ensuring their needs could be better addressed through policies and programs that would uniquely benefit their communities. As part of this commitment, USAID is appointing a Special Advisor for Indigenous Peoples this year to ensure that its development programs are addressing the needs of these historically marginalized groups.

Lessons from Guatemala

Current USAID programs that address some of the most pressing needs in the indigenous world focus on human rights including issues of access to justice, land tenure and capacity for political participation. In Latin America, USAID funds resource centers for at-risk youth, creates partnerships with universities to increase indigenous enrollment, trains healthcare workers who speak indigenous languages, and funds democracy programs that aim to increase indigenous representation in local political leadership.

In Guatemala, where an estimated 51 percent of the population is of Mayan descent, USAID programs that benefit indigenous peoples have emphasized protecting human rights and access to justice. Indigenous peoples in Guatemala experience disproportionate degrees of violence, particularly among women who find themselves not only victimized, but unable to find justice in an overburdened and often inefficient legal system.

Between 2009 and the end of 2012, USAID in Guatemala funded the Project Against Violence and Impunity (PAVI). One of the most ambitious and effective initiatives of the $7.1 million dollar project was designed to strengthen the justice sector in Petén, Guatemala’s largest state and home to a majority indigenous population.  While the program assisted the Public Ministry in developing more effective judicial processes, it effectively built links between the justice sector and civil society to reduce and prevent violence and strengthen services to assist victims, including people who served as witnesses in trials.

PAVI brought together victim service providers in the capital to ensure that assistance for crime victims met high quality standards. As a result of this collaboration, victim service providers adopted agreed upon guidelines for actions, behaviors, and conduct towards victims, victim-sensitive criteria for judicial performance, and justice administered with respect toward victims. The guidelines were also designed to be culturally relevant and appropriate for indigenous peoples. The PAVI quality standards have been adopted by Guatemala’s National Civil Police and civil society organizations such as the Human Rights Ombudsman in the city of Cobán.

USAID’s earlier strategies for assisting indigenous Guatemalans in accessing justice also included substantial support for the exhumations and reburials of victims of atrocities stemming from Guatemala’s 36-year-long civil war, as well as psycho-social services for indigenous survivors.  You can learn more about USAID programs that assist indigenous Guatemalans.

La Idea Initiative Seeks Entrepreneurs with Business Partnerships in Latin America

Last month, I sat in front of a crowd of over 240 aspiring entrepreneurs in Bogota, Colombia, to help facilitate a three-hour session on how to apply to start and scale up innovative businesses with the support of La Idea and the La Idea Business Competition. I was thrilled to be joined by our La Idea partners Susan Amat, Founder and CEO of Venture Hive; Arnoldo Reyes, Head of Market Development for Ebay/PayPal for Latin America and the Caribbean region and Paula Cortes of Accion International. We were blown away by the participants’ excitement about La Idea and their spirit of entrepreneurship.

La Idea connects entrepreneurs within the Latin American diaspora throughout the Americas to each other and to local and regional small business support centers, to provide resources and connections to help entrepreneurs take their businesses to the next level. It promotes partnerships between businesses throughout the Americas and launched the La Idea Business Competition, an opportunity for innovative social entrepreneurs with breakthrough ideas to turn their business visions into reality.

Bogota, Colombia is not the only place where La Idea has convened eager entrepreneurs to learn more about its Business Competition. At business advising events it organized throughout the U.S. and Latin America, entrepreneurs have learned about a variety of ways to grow their businesses and partner across borders. Photo credit: La Idea

Entrepreneurs convene in Bogota, Colombia to learn more about its Business Competition and ways to grow their businesses and partner across borders. Photo credit: La Idea

Through the competition, ten businesses—which must represent a collaboration between a U.S.-based entrepreneur and a Latin America-based entrepreneur—will receive a coveted spot in the Finalist Showcase televised by Univision Media, where they will pitch their business ideas live in front of a panel of celebrity judges. Winners will receive a prize of $50,000 and tailored support services to help get their businesses off the ground.

In order to attract even more great business ideas, La Idea recently extended the deadline for applications to 5:00 pm EDT on September 20, 2013. More details on the application process and eligibility are available at

In the United States there are over 2.3 million Latino entrepreneurs opening businesses at twice the national rate—making them the fastest growing entrepreneurial segment in the country. Moreover, many countries in Latin America are on the rise. La Idea hopes to unleash the potential of Latino entrepreneurs to promote economic development that transcends borders. By supporting Latino entrepreneurs in the U.S. and throughout the Americas, La Idea aims to translate their knowledge and capital into tangible improvements in Latin America, as well as build on the emerging strength of networks and markets in Latin America.

La Idea is a public-private partnership between the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, Boom Financial, Inter-American Development Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Small Business Administration, Univision News, WellSpace, Accion, and FHI 360. It builds on the unique strength of each of the partners, including the U.S. Department of State and USAID’s experience coordinating similar business competition plans focused around diaspora communities.

These business plan competitions have included the African Diaspora Marketplace (ADM), Caribbean Idea Marketplace, and Libya Diaspora Marketplace (LDM). Each of which tapped the power of diaspora communities in the United States—and their strong ties to their countries of origin or heritage—to develop innovative enterprises that support USAID’s development objectives and grow small and medium-size businesses as drivers of economic growth.

Already, the winners of these competitions are making good on their businesses’ potential for development impact. Sproxil, a winner of the 2011 African Diaspora Marketplace, was recognized by Fast Company earlier this year as the seventh most innovative company of 2013 for its product that fights prescription drug counterfeiting in Africa. I cannot wait to see who wins the La Idea Business Competition and the innovative businesses they will bring us for 2014 and beyond.

To learn more about application and eligibility requirements for the La Idea Business Competition, visit and join the La Idea community on Facebook

River Blindness Eliminated in Colombia

Today, Colombia celebrates a great milestone. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), out of 38 endemic countries worldwide, Colombia is the first to eliminate river blindness, a disease transmitted through infected flies that can cause chronic skin lesions, irreversible blindness, or severe visual impairment.

In Naciona, Colombia, a child is measured for treatment with the drug Mecitzan®, donated by Merck. The village of Naciona's close proximity to the river meant that, in the past, residents were exposed to the bites of flies that carried river blindness. Now, thanks to the work of the national program and the Carter Center OEPA Colombia has eliminated river blindness nationwide. Photo Credit: Carter Center

Approximately 123 million people are at risk of infection of river blindness and at least 25.7 million people are currently infected of which 1 million suffer from blindness or visual impairment. River blindness is traditionally controlled via mass drug administration given to affected communities. Fortunately, since 1987, the drug needed to control this disease has been donated free of charge by Merck.

In Colombia, river blindness affected a single community in the municipality of Lopez de Micay in the Cauca State. A remote location reachable only by a 10-hour trip in a small motorboat. In 1996, Colombia began an intensive public health campaign to break the transmission cycle by administering treatment for river blindness to this entire community. These efforts were sustained until 2007 when it was determined that the cycle of transmission had been broken. Mass drug administration was halted in 2008.

In order to receive certification of elimination, Colombia had to undergo a 3-year post-treatment surveillance period where data is collected and analyzed to determine if river blindness is still present in the community. In addition, Colombia had to submit a country dossier to WHO describing the entire history and achievements of their country program.

After a visit by a team of international experts and an extensive review, WHO verified the elimination of river blindness in Colombia and was announced earlier today by Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos.

This milestone could not have been achieved without the work of many organizations. Merck’s drug donation program has been key in the success of controlling and beginning to eliminate river blindness from the world. The leadership and technical assistance from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Carter Center’s Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas (OEPA) to the six affected countries in the Americas has been essential to reach this milestone.

For USAID, river blindness elimination from the Americas was a specific target set when the Global Health Initiative was launched in 2009. Since then, USAID has worked in close coordination with the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, and currently funds PAHO and OEPA’s work.

In the Americas, Ecuador is expected to be the next country to receive verification of elimination and Guatemala and Mexico are soon to follow. In the western hemisphere, only one remote area at the border between Brazil and Venezuela continues to be affected by river blindness.

The efforts and success seen in Colombia serve as a model for countries globally and paves a way toward a world free of river blindness.

Photo of the Week: Making handicrafts in Guatemala

This member of a woman’s cooperative in Totonicapan, Guatemala, makes handicrafts. The handicrafts project is part of a larger environmental project that provides support for ecotourism and alternative income generation that helps in overall natural resource and biodiversity conservation in the Western Highlands. Photo is from Dani Newcomb, USAID/Guatemala.

Learn more about Guatemala, our Mission of the Month! Follow @USAIDGuate  on Twitter and follow #MissionofMonth for interesting factoids.

Demographic and Health Survey Show Positive Results in Haiti

A newly released nationwide health survey of Haiti shows continuing positive trends on key health-care indicators in particular those of Haitian women and children. The latest survey, undertaken by the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population, was conducted in 2012 and compares with the prior survey done in 2006. It shows steady improvements among key indicators despite significant health challenges in Haiti due to the 2010 earthquake and cholera outbreak. Of note were improved indicators for child vaccination and malnutrition, infant and child mortality, women’s health and contraception use. The report indicated no increase in HIV prevalence, which remained steady.

Patients get laboratory work done at a USAID-supported health clinic in Ouanaminthe, Haiti on May 15, 2013. Photo credit: Kendra Helmer/USAID

The Morbidity, Mortality, and Service Utilization Survey measures progress and setbacks in health outcomes over the years. The results were announced July 9 by Dr. Florence Guillaume Duperval, Haiti’s Minister of Public Health and Population. The survey has been administered in Haiti five times since 1994.

The previous survey was administered in Haiti between 2005 and 2006; this latest survey was conducted from January 2012 to June 2012. Over 13,000 households participated in the current survey, representing rural and urban areas in all of Haiti’s 10 departments, including camps for people displaced by the January 2010 earthquake. The results were eagerly anticipated by health experts concerned of possible setbacks brought on by the devastating quake, which killed more than 230,000 people and displaced more than 1.5 million.

However, the survey results show that many health outcomes have improved in Haiti. The data collected in the survey show improvements in women’s health, improved nutritional status among the population, and an increase in use of contraceptive methods. Currently, more than two-thirds of pregnant Haitians have made the recommended number of antenatal visits, an increase from 50 percent in 2006; the prevalence of anemia among women has declined from 55 percent in 2000 to 49 percent in 2012; and the use of modern contraceptive methods among married women has increased from 22 percent to 31 percent between 2000 and 2012.

Health data for children also showed positive results. Childhood vaccinations increased from 53 percent in 2006 to 62.5 percent in 2012. With regard to nutrition, the survey showed that 22 percent of children under 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition, a decrease from 29 percent in 2006. The survey also revealed a decrease in acute malnutrition from 10 percent in 2006 to 5 percent in 2012 and a decrease in percent of children underweight from 18 percent to 11 percent.

Childhood mortality has decreased in Haiti over the last 15 years. Survey results show that infant mortality has decreased from 79 to 59 deaths for 1,000 live births. In addition, mortality for children under 5 has also decreased from 112 deaths to 88 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Among other results, the survey revealed that the HIV prevalence among those ages 15-59 have remained the same:  2.7 percent among women and 1.7 percent among men.

USAID is working closely with the Government of Haiti to continue to improve health outcomes for all Haitians. “The information in this survey forces us to continue to work together, to strengthen our interventions and our methods so that progress in the health sector in Haiti is sustained,” said Marc Desjardins, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, during the July 9 event.

USAID’s goal is to improve access to health care services and build the Government of Haiti’s capacity to manage and oversee its health programs. Currently, about 50 percent of the population has access to a vast network of USAID-sponsored health facilities throughout the country that provide core health services such as maternal and child health, family planning, and nutrition. In addition, diagnostic and treatment services for tuberculosis and HIV and AIDS services can be accessed at these health facilities. HIV and AIDS services include access to antiretroviral therapy, prevention of mother-to-child transmission, palliative care, and voluntary testing and counseling. USAID programs aim to reduce risky behaviors and maintaining people living with HIV and AIDS on treatment.

Much remains to be done in Haiti. For example, despite high levels of knowledge of family planning, only 35 percent of married women are using any method and 31 percent are using a modern method. However, the positive health trends revealed by this data shows that Haiti continues to move forward despite the earthquake, the ongoing cholera epidemic, and many other challenges that threaten health outcomes. These results are a testament to the hard work and strong commitment of all of those who work to build a better Haiti.

This survey was funded by USAID, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Global Fund the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria through the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP), and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

The fifth Morbidity, Mortality, and Service Utilization Survey combined with the Multiple Cluster Indicator Survey (MICS) was conducted by the Haitian Childhood Institute [l’Institut Haïtien de l’Enfance (IHE)] in collaboration with the Haitian Statistical and Information Technology Institute [l’Institut Haïtien de Statistiques et d’Informatique (IHSI)]. This survey was supported by the Ministry of Public Health and Population [Ministère de la Santé Publique et de la Population (MSPP)], benefited from the technical assistance of the Demographic and Health Surveys program (MEASURE DHS), which is implemented by ICF International.


  • Read the full DHS report.
  • See photos of USAID’s health-related programs in Haiti.

Mujeres Adelante: Leading Change Against Violence

This originally appeared on DipNote

“¡Eres maravillosa!” (You’re wonderful!)

Repeating this mantra in unison as they received their certificates, each of the 14 women civil society leaders – lawyers, social workers and psychologists, academics and student leaders – from Central America and the Dominican Republic, affirmed one other’s work to eliminate gender-based violence (GBV) in the region. For the participants of Mujeres Adelante (Women Moving Forward), the past two weeks had been a whirlwind of meetings with local, state, and federal government officials, coalitions and advocacy organizations, as well as NGO service providers. This final affirmation was a reminder of how important the issue and each participant’s individual contribution to its elimination truly is.

“Mujeres Adelante” participants. Photo credit: State Department

The 2013 class of Mujeres Adelante included participants from El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, and the Dominican Republic. For each of them, the two weeks in the United States — first in Seattle, and then in Washington, DC. — were both a respite from the daily and very real threat of working on GBV and an occasion to strengthen the women’s ongoing commitment to the issue. Approximately 30 percent of women in the Americas have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse at the hands of a partner, or sexual abuse by a non-partner. Strikingly, and unique to Central America, two out of three women murdered are killed for a gender-related reason. This program provided the participants an opportunity to highlight the scourge of GBV in their home countries, and access new tools they could use upon their return home.

“Working [on GBV] is incredibly difficult,” one participant said. “Sometimes, we don’t get to the victim in time to help her. Sometimes, there is a lack of will [by authorities] to respond, and always, there is a lack of resources.  That is why alliances like these are so important, so we can work together better.”

Launched in October 2012 by the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, in collaboration with the Seattle International Foundation and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Mujeres Adelante is a network of Central American and Dominican women leaders who work to:

  1. Raise awareness of the pervasiveness of GBV as well as awareness of women’s rights and available resources;
  2. Increase governments’ accountability for preventing, responding to and addressing GBV;
  3. Share best practices on service provision and advocacy efforts; and
  4. Facilitate ongoing networking, skills and capacity-building of women in their home countries.

The United States has made preventing and responding to gender-based violence a cornerstone of our commitment to advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment. The United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally and the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security recognize that gender-based violence is a human rights abuse and a manifestation of the low status of women and girls around the world. Working together, we can ensure that women and girls live up to their true potential and live lives free of violence – and are able to contribute fully to their families, communities, and economies.

Learn more about USAID’s Mission of the Month: Guatemala and our work in eliminating gender-based violence

Photo of the Week: Distributing Food Assistance in Guatemala

During July, we are spotlighting USAID Guatemala as our Mission of the Month. USAID is working to address two challenges in Guatemala: historic inequality that remains ingrained in Guatemalan society, and weak government that lacks the capacity to address insecurity and poverty. Through partnerships with donor organizations and strong support to improve food security in areas with extremely high poverty and child chronic malnutrition levels, USAID programs focus on improving the health, education, nutrition and local governance of Guatemalan communities.

Pictured here is former U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala Stephen McFarland, who is providing food assistance to a family in the department of Santa Rosa. Photo is from U.S. Embassy Guatemala.

Partnering to Control and Eliminate Cholera in Hispaniola

In October 2010, the Haitian Ministry of Health and Population announced the detection of cholera in the Artibonite Department, located north of Port-Au-Prince. After enduring a devastating earthquake in January 2010, the cholera epidemic hit like a knock-out punch.

Cholera is a diarrheal disease caused by a bacteria that spreads rapidly through contaminated water. When people get cholera, they get very sick, very fast, and the risk of death is high if left untreated. A matter of hours can make a difference.

Personnel distribute USAID hygiene kits at a Cholera Treatment Center in Verrettes in the Artibonite department of Haiti. Photo by Kendra Helmer/USAID

In Haiti, cholera attacked a population with no previous exposure and therefore no immunity against the bacteria. Before this outbreak, Haiti had not been affected by cholera in over a century. Over the last two and half years, 658,053 people have contracted cholera in Haiti, and 8,120 have died.

The World Health Organization estimates that 1.4 billion people are at risk of getting cholera every year, and annually 2.8 million cases of cholera occur globally. Since cholera spreads via contaminated water, it thrives in post-disaster environments. Even in the United States, post Hurricane Katrina, emergency personnel attended to many people infected with a bacteria closely related to cholera.

The increased risk of infectious diseases is a recurrent public health concern in post-disaster situations. In the U.S., we have the infrastructure needed to detect and respond to outbreaks, to stop their spread. In Haiti, USAID is working to strengthen the Ministry of Health’s capacity to detect and control infectious diseases and provide timely life-saving care. USAID is committed to assisting the Government of Haiti to combat this epidemic.

When tackling an outbreak of this magnitude, it is essential to work with key partners to leverage each other’s strengths. Today, USAID became an official member of the Coalition on Water and Sanitation for the Elimination of Cholera in Hispaniola. To add to the ongoing efforts of the Pan American Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, UNICEF and other strategic partners, USAID has pledged to support the Government of Haiti’s plan to eliminate cholera from Hispaniola.

USAID’s current work already contributes to this goal through many different avenues that focus on cholera prevention as well as treatment and control. Since contaminated water is the source of cholera, USAID works via its implementing partners to ensure that Haitians have access to safe drinking water at their homes, health centers and schools and makes safe water products available for water decontamination. Since the beginning of the outbreak, USAID programs have mobilized thousands of community workers throughout Haiti to conduct awareness activities that focus on hygiene and sanitation practices that help prevent cholera.

When someone falls ill of cholera, it is important to recognize signs of dehydration and have swift access to treatment. USAID trains mothers and caregivers to recognize these dangerous signs and use oral rehydration products. If medical attention is needed, USAID’s extensive network of health facilities, present throughout the country, has the necessary resources and training to manage this disease.

USAID will continue to work in partnership with the Government of Haiti to improve the health of all Haitians and will coordinate extensively with members of the Coalition to leverage our efforts to eliminate cholera from Hispaniola.

How Better-Trained Farmers are Slowing Brazil’s Deforestation

This originally appeared on the Mercy Corps’ Blog.

In Pará, Brazil, farmers are turning a profit and the government is on track to slow deforestation thanks to local nonprofit Imazon, which got them to work together.

By 2003, Brazil was on the verge of an environmental catastrophe. As its economy expanded, cattle ranchers needed more land to graze their livestock, and few laws prevented them from burning down thousands of square kilometers of untitled land in the Amazon, causing vast environmental damage. In the worst regions, like Pará, widespread poverty meant that stopping deforestation was at the bottom of the government’s list, despite massive efforts by groups like Greenpeace and Imazon.

Imazon has trained Brazilian cattle farmers to use their pastures more efficiently, reducing the need to cut down trees to clear land. Photo credit: Lou Gold/Flickr

A wave of environmental laws passed by the federal government from 2004 to 2008 seemed to complicate things for local governments and economies, even as deforestation rates fell. Many municipal governments couldn’t fully meet government targets under the new regulations but faced economic sanctions if they didn’t. A beef embargo prevented farmers from selling their meat to mainstream supermarket chains like Carrefour and Walmart if their municipality ended up on a blacklist for failing to reduce illegal deforestation to government-mandated levels. The government confiscated herds and sawmills from the law’s offenders. When Paragominas, a municipality in Para where Imazon worked, was placed on the list, 2,300 jobs and all the municipality’s federal agricultural credits disappeared within a year.

Imazon found itself helping save the local economy. It created a training program for the local government to learn how to use satellite technology to track deforestation. Since most of the affected land wasn’t titled, Imazon also helped farmers formalize their land titles and trained them in improved farming techniques, like rotating crops and limiting overgrazing, to make their land more productive and reduce the need to cut down more rainforest.

It worked. Farmers trained in better methods required less land to turn a profit, so they cut down fewer trees.

In just a few years, Imazon’s program in Paragominas helped to reduce illegal deforestation by more than 80 percent. When farmers in Paragominas implemented Imazon’s training techniques, most saw their incomes increase, even as they stopped clearing additional land. Inspired by the success of the program, the state government decided to launch its own Green Municipalities Program in 2011, essentially promoting Imazon’s collaborative approach in Paragominas at a state level. Now, more than 94 of Para State’s 143 municipalities have signed onto the Green Municipalities Program, and both the state government and Imazon are straining to meet the demand.

However, a new breakthrough came when Imazon attracted the attention of the Innovation Investment Alliance (PDF), a new partnership between Mercy Corps, USAID and the Skoll Foundation. This April at the Skoll World Forum, the partners announced their first grant of $3.4 million, complementing an earlier $2.6 million from Skoll. The funding will support Imazon to scale the successes in Paragominas across the state of Para. The project has ambitious goals, as the government has promised to reduce deforestation by 80 percent over the next seven years. By systematizing the training process, the Alliance hopes to leave the state government capable of responding to the growing demand from farmers and municipal governments who have seen Imazon’s programs work in Paragominas.

The question is how Imazon can show their methodologies work. Mercy Corps will help Imazon to test its approach in 10 municipalities serving as guinea pigs, drawing from its own network of experts in impact analysis.

But Imazon’s biggest success may be its ability to get locals on board with its ideas. 94 municipalities have already signed on to reducing deforestation through the Green Municipalities Program, and Cameron Peake, Mercy Corps’s director of social innovations special initiatives, says she’s impressed at how the nonprofit has persuaded the local farmers and government that environmental sustainability, economic growth, land rights and good governance can actually go together.

And that achievement, for one, is too valuable to put a number on.

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