Mark Lopes, deputy assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Photo by: Embassy of Paraguay / CC BY

The U.S. Agency for International Development is just waiting for an official notice from Bolivia to pack up and leave the country.

“At this point, we are waiting [for] specifics from the government (…) We understand that President [Evo Morales] is quite clear [about expelling the agency] and we’ll certainly honor that,” USAID deputy assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean Mark Lopes told Devex in an exclusive interview.

But with the impending departure, what will happen now to the ongoing projects?

“The projects will not continue. They’ve asked us to leave. The projects will shut down,” said Lopes, although everything remains unclear until USAID is officially notified through a diplomatic note sent to the U.S. Embassy in La Paz. The communication is expected in the next few days and “and that will give us a better sense of [the] timeline,” the official added.

Evo Morales accused USAID of conspiring against his leftist government. “Never again, never again USAID, who manipulate and use our leaders, our colleagues with hand-outs,” Morales said in a speech on Wednesday.

Projects ‘should go on’ — USAID

Despite the order to leave the country issued by the government, USAID still hopes to continue the projects it has started in Bolivia.

“We certainly hope that the government of Bolivia will continue the funding that we are providing for basic health services, pre-natal/neo-natal care, nutrition programs and the ongoing efforts that we’re doing in the health and environment sector in Bolivia,” said Lopes.

The official pointed out that USAID is providing direct aid support to Bolivia’s Ministry of Health and remarked that the withdrawal of American assistance will force local authorities to make a transition. “They [will have to] compensate for the decrease in resources from the United States with other resources to make sure that services continue,” he said.

Lopes is also concerned that funding to UNICEF will be reduced when USAID exits the country: “Unfortunately, some of the work we’re doing [is] with them to help the government of Bolivia with their national health policy. That will have to end somehow.”

Abrupt transition?

USAID is requesting an estimated $13.5 million in aid to Bolivia for fiscal year 2014, of which $7.5 million would go to the global health program and $6 million to the development assistance account, excluding $1.07 million funding for global health implemented by the U.S. Department of State.

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2014 funding has decreased by about 36 percent from $21.1 million in 2012. Over the past years, the United States has gradually been cutting its aid to Bolivia by an average 23 percent from 2007 to 2011, and during this period the share of American assistance to the country’s total ODA went from 21 percent in 2007 to six percent in 2011.

USAID has 17 active contract transactions and three active grant transactions in Bolivia for 2013. The health projects are implemented by Bolivia’s Ministry of Health, UNICEF, PAHO, Prosalud and CIES, while the environment programs are carried out by the International Resources Group, Fundacion Natura and Chemonics.

The fate of these projects after USAID’s exit is unknown, but Lopes stressed that the agency will look at every contract and grant to wade through the legal and procurement issues that the “shocking” expulsion order has raised.

“We’ll look [at all these programs] case by case. Obviously this is an abrupt and surprising change (…) and we expect there would be an abrupt transition,” Lopes said, and admitted there are legal issues regarding closing grants and contracts.

The withdrawal of the U.S. aid agency will also mean pulling out nine American workers and discharging 37 Bolivian staff. USAID is trying to help its local employees find other jobs, while the expats will return home and await their next posting.

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About the author

  • John Alliage Morales

    As a former Devex staff writer, John Alliage Morales covered the Americas, focusing on the world's top donor hub, Washington, and its aid community. Prior to joining Devex, John worked for a variety of news outlets including GMA, the Philippine TV network, where he conducted interviews, analyzed data, and produced in-depth stories on development and other topics.