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USAID: Assistant Administrator Franco sees creative partnerships as new spark for LAC regional development

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USAID plans to increase efforts aggressively to form public - private partnerships in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region, Assistant Administrator Adolfo Franco told a major conference of Caribbean and Central American Action on Wednesday, Dec, 7 in Miami, FL.

He said the push for creative partnerships was a new directive from USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios.

"Essential to achieving our vision for prosperity in the hemisphere is the notion of partnerships.... especially partnerships in pursuit of President Bush's free trade agenda, partnerships with the business community to combat the stigma of HIV / AIDS in the region, and partnerships to assist the victims of natural disaster in the region," Franco said.

"The concept of partnerships and cooperation is central to USAID," Franco said. "The global development alliance under which we operate acknowledges that we can achieve much more if we work with partners from the private and non-profit sectors as well as with sovereign governments."

He mentioned that USAID has partnered with Microsoft to bring computer training to disadvantaged youth in Brazil. In the same vein it has created an alliance with businesses and tourism representatives to protect the region's fragile coral reefs.

Franco said that USAID's LAC bureau has worked with the U.S. Trade Representative to increase trade skills in CAFTA countries (Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua) as well as in Andean Countries (Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.). He said USAID plans to commit $507 million to increase trade skills in 2005, of which $75.7 will be allocated to LAC programs.

"Our work here in CAFTA and in the Andean region is expanding as we work with different governments, producers, associations, non-profit organizations, think tanks and especially corporations to promote an enlivened dialog around the trade process to stimulate opportunity," he said.

Franco said he believed public-private partnerships can also play an important role in the prevention HIV / AIDS, which he termed as "an explosion waiting to occur in our region."

"The rate of HIV / AIDS infection in the Caribbean is second only to that of Africa, and the numbers are particularly alarming in countries like Haiti and Brazil," Franco said. "We cannot allow the Caribbean to become the 'sick bay' of the Americas, with all the resulting impact on the economies of the region - from tourism to manufacturing to services."

Franco noted that President Bush has committed $15 billion over the next five years to combat HIV / AIDS globally. He said he is spearheading a special program with the American Chamber of Commerce to enlist employers to update HIV / AIDS workplace policies and to educate employees about the disease with a focus on the stigma attached to it.

Franco said he was encouraged by a new cooperative program in Mexico, where a large number of the largest employers in Mexico formed a National Business Council on HIV / AIDS.

"Last week I was in Brazil where I met with a similar group of businesses which are committed to ending stigma and discrimination in the workplace and educating employees on the disease. By supporting and encouraging this initiative, USAID can reach many more people with a stronger prevention message than if we worked solely in cooperation with governments or only through non-governmental partners."

Lastly, Franco discussed partnerships in conjunction with the rash of hurricanes earlier this summer.

"Hurricanes Charlie, Francis, Ivan and Jeanne left a legacy of destruction and chaos in their wake," he said. "Within hours, USAID met with partners and mobilized all of our resources and began to disperse emergency relief. President Bush took personal interest, and with the United States Congress made available more than $100 million for hurricane response in the Caribbean. I was recently in Haiti where I signed a memorandum of understanding with Prime Minister Gerard Latortue for $34 million for Gonaives."

He said USAID plans to commit $42 million for housing and infrastructure in Grenada. He added that USAID also contributed $50,000 to the people of Cuba, even though "...Fidel Casto thumbed his nose at the generosity of the American people and refused to allow us to do more to help victims on that prison island."

He concluded, "While much attention is focused on challenges in the Middle East and elsewhere, Administrator Natsios has instructed us to aggressively seek new opportunities and new partners to help achieve our development objectives. We cannot nor do we want to do it alone."

The conference was a three day session that included leaders from the U.S. and most of the countries in the Caribbean basin, including Governor Jeb Bush, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, Guatemala President Oscar Berger, Guyana President Bharrat Jagdeo, El Salvador President Antonio Saca, Nicaragua President Enrique Bolaños, Haiti Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, Jamaica Prime Minister Percival James Patterson and Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Patrick Manning.