WASHINGTON – President Bush, facing criticism he has ignored Latin America, has approved new initiatives to offer better health care, expand education, spur small businesses and increase home ownership in the region.
"Poverty, inequality and social exclusion in the Americas (are) unacceptably high," National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said Monday.
Bush was to announce the programs in a speech later in the day. The president will leave Thursday on a weeklong trip to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico.
Hadley said Bush's efforts in Latin American have been overshadowed by the global War on Terror, the fight against illegal drug trafficking and trade issues.
"It's something we have not done well enough, getting out the full scope of the president's message," Hadley said
Since taking office, Bush has doubled U.S. foreign assistance to Latin America to about $1.6 billion a year, his national security adviser said. The money includes development assistance, military assistance and counter-narcotic assistance. Colombia is the largest recipient of U.S. aide outside the Middle East and Afghanistan, with most of the money earmarked for anti-drug efforts.
"The benefits of democracy, free markets and economic integration have been slow in reaching many in the region, especially the poor, the disadvantaged and the indigenous," Hadley said.
He said that about one in four people in Latin America lives on $2 a day or less.
"Too many have inadequate access to education, health care and housing and jobs and the president is committed to further efforts to address these issues," Hadley said.
Peter DeShazo, who oversaw Western Hemisphere affairs for the State Department until last year, said Bush's trip is intended to offset "the widespread perception that the U.S. has shown little attention" to the region.
DeShazo, speaking at a briefing of the Center for International and Strategic Studies, said Bush's visit "underscores that the administration is willing to work with democratic governments" whether they are on the left, like Brazil's Lula da Silva or on the right, like Mexico's Felipe Calderon.
DeShazo currently is CSIS' Americas program director.