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September 23, 09

NEWS / Inter-American Network Fights Regions Poverty, Social Inequality

Clinton praises effort to improve lives of Americas’ most marginalized

By Eric Green
Special Correspondent

Washington — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the United States is committed to the success of an inter-American network to fight inequality and poverty in the region.

Speaking at a September 22 conference in New York to launch the Inter-American Social Protection Network, Clinton said the initiative “will help lift up the people of the hemisphere.” Under the network, she said, governments will make it possible for “people to invest in their futures even when their incomes are just a few dollars a day.” The network, she added, is not “charity … but an investment in every nation’s greatest resource, our people.”

The network aims to spur the exchange of best practices in social protection, such as lessons learned from innovative “conditional cash transfer programs” in a number of countries in the Americas, particularly Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, Chile’s Solidario, Colombia’s Familias en Acción, and Mexico’s Oportunidades.

The network was endorsed by the Western Hemisphere’s heads of state at the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

According to the World Bank, Clinton said, conditional cash-transfer programs have reduced national poverty rates by 8 percent in Ecuador and Mexico, nearly 5 percent in Jamaica and 3 percent in Brazil. In Colombia, the cash-transfer program has led to higher birth weights and improved child nutrition.


Chile is working with several Caribbean nations on social protection programs, while New York City adapted its program (Opportunity NYC) from the Mexican model. The cash-transfer program provides financial grants to people who take positive actions to improve their lives, such as going for regular medical checkups and staying in school.

The New York conference was hosted by the Organization of American States (OAS), which says the network is designed to identify and promote effective, efficient ways to expand access — especially for the region’s most vulnerable communities — to food, health, education, housing, and employment.

Charles Shapiro, senior adviser for economic initiatives in the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said that the network promotes the efforts of Western Hemisphere nations to “wrestle with how we can better help those who are the poorest, the most excluded, and who most need help.”

The region’s nations, he said, “need to be about more than just worrying about political issues and worrying about how to increase trade to [also] worrying about how to help those people who are really not participating in a globalized economy — the people who work and live in the informal economic sector,” and who lack educational opportunities. The network, he added, can help get small- and medium-sized businesses involved in trade “so that it is not just the big companies” that reap the profits from exporting their products to foreign markets.

Each country in the network has to decide individually how to deal with its social problems, but the plan can provide “some ideas and show what’s worked and here’s how people” have tackled the problems of poverty and inequality, said Shapiro, whose diplomatic career includes serving as U.S. ambassador to Venezuela.

Shapiro, who attended the New York conference, praised as a success the Mexican Opportunidades model, begun in 1997, in which 5 million Mexican households participate. Opportunidades offers conditional cash-transfer programs to Mexico’s poorest families if their children undergo regular medical checkups, their children attend school, and if mothers attend monthly discussions at health clinics on such subjects as child-rearing practices. The Mexican model has helped reduce the country’s school dropout rate and produced healthier children, Shapiro indicated.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at the September 22 conference that students in his city improved their school attendance and passed more exams when they received cash rewards for participating in Opportunity NYC.


The United States and other OAS member states will work with nongovernmental organizations, the private sector and other bodies such as the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank to promote the hemispheric social protection network.

The OAS says that in recent years, the countries of the Americas have made considerable strides in reducing poverty. Between 2003 and 2008, poverty levels in Latin America fell from 44 percent to 33 percent of the population, while the segment of people who live in extreme poverty — earning less than $1 a day — dropped from 19 percent to 13 percent.

Despite such progress, about 70 million people in the region still regularly suffer from hunger, and millions of citizens lack access to the most basic services, said the OAS.

Forming the Inter-American Social Protection Network shows the continuing commitment by the Western Hemisphere’s leaders to improve the lives of the region’s poorest people, the OAS said.


Tags: secretary of state,


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