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Doug Krizner: Around the world, the U.S. spends billions on development programs to improve the standard of living for poor people. Sounds good, right? Well not every country is buying. Take Bolivia, for example, which took a dramatic turn to the left one year ago with the election of Evo Morales. In Bolivia, critics of U.S. aid say it comes with strings attached. As Mary Stucky reports, U.S. money may be losing its influence.
Mary Stucky: Near the highland village of La Capinota are new farm fields. They’re a project of Food for the Hungry International, a Christian relief organization funded by the U.S. government.
These fertile fields yield three harvests a year and farmers like Rene Claure, earn, on average, nine times what they made before.
Rene Claure [voice of translator]: Now we have our land and we can afford to send our kids to school. We are content in this place thanks to FHI and USAID.
USAID is the United States Agency for International Development, which supports half a million people in Bolivia. Per capita, Bolivia is one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid in the world. Michael Yates is the director of USAID Bolivia.
Michael Yates: These are all the kinds of activities that provide improved opportunities for Bolivia’s poor. So again these are not the kinds of things it’s easy to have problems with.
But in Bolivia, some do have a problem with the conditions required for U.S. aid.
For example the U.S. wants to eliminate the production of coca, the primary ingredient in cocaine. But coca is sold openly in markets like this one in the Chapare, the subtropical region of Bolivia.
As a result, USAID cut off funding for development projects in the Chapare for much of last year.
But that didn’t stop the projects. They got funding from other governments: Spain, Germany and Venezuela. Local Mayor Rimer Agreda says U.S. money is nice but assistance from other countries is better.
Mayor Rimer Agreda [voice of translator]: The Americans, they’re so rigid in the way they want to condition their assistance. They’re trying to satisfy their own interests and their own government policy.
Meanwhile, back in La Capinota, they don’t much care where the money comes from. They just want a new irrigation system.
In La Capinota, Bolivia, I’m Mary Stucky for Marketplace.
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