Washington — Panama’s strong economic growth and commitment to development has brought more than half a century of collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to an end.
The progress Panama has achieved is a development success story, USAID said in a June 13 press release.
“To reach the point that our partner countries can execute their own development efforts without our assistance means we did our job,” said Mark Feierstein, USAID assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, at a closure ceremony June 13. “We’ve had a great partner in the Panamanian government, private sector and civil society, which has led to this success.” USAID is scheduled to shut down the program in September.
Over the past 71 years, the United States has invested $1.2 billion in economic aid to Panama.
During the time USAID has been in Panama, the country’s gross domestic product increased tenfold, from $2 billion in 1961 to $20 billion in 2012. Foreign direct investment rose from $168 million in 1970 to $3.8 billion in 2011, USAID said. And extreme poverty has decreased from 23 percent to 7 percent since 2002.
USAID’s accomplishments in Panama include building more than 100 schools; preserving the Panama Canal watershed; establishing outreach centers to give at-risk youth a place to go for sports, job training, and computer and English classes; providing higher-education scholarships; constructing roads; establishing the ministries of Housing and Agriculture; and forming local organizations, according to a USAID press release.
USAID also worked with the U.S. Republican Party to provide training for staff of Panama’s public defender’s office, its judicial branch and civil society groups in support of justice and transparency reforms. It worked with Panama’s government to develop a new criminal code and to strengthen electoral processes. As a result, “Panama now has a strong record of over 20 years of free and fair elections,” according to a statement from the USAID mission in Panama.
From 1960 to 1982, USAID helped Panama increase its housing stock, improve water and sanitation systems and expand roads. It advised agriculture producers in better growing methods, increasing their incomes by more than 50 percent.
In 1991, USAID and Panama created Fundación Natura to manage three trusts that provide long-term funding to preserve Panama’s environmental resources. USAID also helped the country develop its National Institute of Renewable Natural Resources.
Some USAID projects will continue through 2013. The Opportunities for Youth program will continue to be implemented by USAID's partner, Washington-based Creative Associates International. The Sustainable Community Forestry Project will go on being implemented by Chemonics International, another Washington-based company.
In all, USAID has developed partnerships with more than 80 companies and nonprofit groups working in Panama.