Foreign Aid Success: Self-Help Programs Help Mexico's Poor
Carter, Tom, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
If drinking coffee or eating ice cream and chocolate made it possible to help some of Latin America's poorest people, save the environment and slow immigration along the Mexican border, these acts might be recognized as good deeds.
It is U.S. government policy. Washington coffee drinkers and ice cream and chocolate eaters support Mexican and Bolivian farmers every time they pick up a pound of Aztec Harvest organic coffee, eat select flavors of Ben & Jerry's ice cream or munch on a Repunzel Swiss chocolate bar with El Ceibo cocoa from Bolivia.
These items, found in certain Washington area coffee bars, Fresh Fields grocery stores and wherever Ben & Jerry's is sold, are a few of the products of the 27-year-old Inter-American Foundation (IAF), created as a more efficient, market-oriented alternative to the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID).
Unlike the much-maligned AID, IAF does not fund government projects. Projects are created at the local level, not initiated in Washington, and are market- and goal-oriented. Specific goals, often financial, are identified before IAF funding is granted, and if the goals are not met, funding can be revoked.
Projects are designed to be relatively short term. As a product is marketed, sold and the project becomes viable, IAF decreases its aid and eventually ends its involvement.
Even conservative Republicans, who generally define foreign aid as synonymous with money "down a foreign rat hole," are not out to kill this agency.
"We have strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill," said Adolfo Franco, general counsel and spokesman for IAF. "But the pressures on the budget are great. The challenge for us and everyone in the development field is that foreign assistance has been reduced."
Mr. Franco said some of IAF's strongest Republican support comes from Rep. John Edward Porter of Illinois and Sens. Mark O. Hatfield of Oregon and Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas.
"We only work with experienced organizations, groups with a track record. It is self-help. We help those who have shown the capacity to help themselves," said David Bray, project manager for IAF Mexico projects.
The Inter-American Foundation, an independent government agency that began operating in 1969, has spent $409 million over the years on 3,811 projects, ranging from forestry management and timber production to educational and cultural projects to creating community based health clinics.
It is governed by a nine-member board, appointed by the president.
In 1995, IAF was given $20 million in taxpayer funding, a 37 percent decrease in the money it received in 1994. But that money was used to leverage an additional $35 million out of private sources. This funding is currently spread out in 850 different projects throughout Latin America.
Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican and foreign aid's most avid critic, said in an April 9 letter to Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican, that IAF had spent more than $1 billion since its creation. He urged IAF to secure private funding, or "modest congressional support will evaporate. . . ."
STATES WANTED HELP
"This is a good buy for the United States," said Mr. Franco.
"The people come to us with the idea," said Mr. Bray, one of 70 country specialists supervising projects in every country of Latin America but Cuba. "An idea is evaluated and, if we think it will work, we help."
Mr. Bray said the Inter-American Foundation became involved in coffee production when Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero Indians, the traditional coffee growers in southern Mexico, sought IAF help.
Coffee, Mexico's traditional top cash-earning export crop and once a state-supported industry, was being privatized under the market reforms of Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. …