USAID reprograms Central America funds for use inside Venezuela

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green with Carlos Vecchio, Venezuelan ambassador to the United States at the signing of the development objective agreement. Photo by: Mark Green via Twitter

WASHINGTON — Some U.S. Agency for International Development funds originally intended for Central America will be reprogrammed for use inside Venezuela instead.

USAID Administrator Mark Green this week signed a development objective agreement that outlines the use of the money. Carlos Vecchio, ambassador to the U.S. from the interim Venezuelan government of Juan Guaido — whom the U.S. considers to be the legitimate leader of that country — joined him in Washington for a signing ceremony. It is the first such bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Venezuela in over 65 years, the State Department said.

Green said funds for the new agreement will amount to $98 million, some of which include the $52 million for use inside Venezuela he announced last month at the U.N. General Assembly, while $64 million is newly announced. In all, USAID said it will allocate $116 million for use inside the country, with $18 million of that being obligated outside the new agreement.

“This new funding will build upon our existing support for local human rights defenders, civil society organizations, independent media, and electoral oversight,” Green said at a sign-in ceremony Monday. “When circumstances allow, the funding will also support the efforts led by interim President Guaido’s administration to repair a health care system that has been utterly destroyed by [Venezuelan President Nicolas] Maduro’s mismanagement and corruption, and it will help us begin critical work in food security so that we can rapidly deploy much needed agricultural resources when democracy returns.”

The $116 million allocated includes money from the Development Assistance, Economic Support Fund, and global health-USAID accounts. USAID will program the money through its standard procurement process, an agency spokesperson said.

The majority of that money was freed up when U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this year announced that U.S. foreign assistance to the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras would be cut off until they stopped the migration of their citizens to the southern border, according to an agency spokesperson. While the administration has said in recent weeks that foreign assistance that serves U.S. interests will resume, it has not provided further details on when that may happen.

The new funds announced Monday for Venezuela bring the U.S. contribution to the crisis response to more than $632 million. Much of this money has been allocated to the regional response because humanitarian access inside Venezuela remains extremely challenging. Few international NGOs have been allowed to operate with the consent of Maduro’s regime, and supplies stockpiled by the U.S. outside Venezuela’s borders have been blocked at the border.

Some of that assistance has instead been distributed to Venezuelans inside Colombia, which is currently hosting an estimated 1.4 million of the estimated 4 million Venezuelans who have fled.

Although most of the funds will be spent inside the country, the new agreement will also allow the interim Guido government, which is recognized as Venezuela's legitimate government by many Western nations, to strengthen its foreign service “to increase the level of pressure in [the] international community,” Vecchio said.

“It is important also for us to set high standards of transparency in the way we will handle this agreement and we would like to work ... closely with the U.S. authorities in order to set clear metrics to achieve the goals that we have set together,” Vecchio said.

A USAID spokesperson said the agency is still determining specific allocation amounts for different sectors, and said it will also include planning for Venezuela’s recovery.

“This agreement lays the foundation for the work to come, the work to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, but also to restore democratic institutions and citizen responsive governance,” Green said. “That’s the only way this crisis will end, by restoring liberty and democracy.”

About the author

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    Teresa Welsh

    Teresa Welsh is a Reporter with Devex based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining Devex, Teresa wrote about Latin America from McClatchy's Washington Bureau and covered foreign affairs for U.S. News and World Report. She worked as a reporter in Colombia, where she previously lived teaching English. Teresa earned bachelor of arts degrees in journalism and Latin American studies from the University of Wisconsin.