When U.S. funds become 'deadly aid'

August 13, 2012

America’s United States Agency for International Development (USAID) fund is set up to provide financial assistance to developing nations. But this assistance can sometimes have negative social consequence in those countries, a fact that often goes over-looked. 

"Deadly Aid," a recent article in Foreign Policy, describes how some USAID money has led to displacement, mass murder, slavery and drug rings around the world. The article details how that same money, which added up to approximately $47 billion in 2011, can "play a significant role in either abetting or addressing human rights violations.”

The authors cite this example, for instance, of USAID money going to fund a Colombian palm oil company — owned by a former drug lord:

When Colombian paramilitary leader Carlos Mario Jimenez, known as "Macaco," tried to reduce his expected prison time in 2008 by turning over his ill-gotten gains to prosecutors, he included on his property list the assets of a major palm oil cooperative. The revelation came as little surprise: The drug-running militias had famously displaced thousands of small farmers across the country through years of massacres, killings, torture and threats, and there had long been rumors that their proxies were developing palm oil projects on the stolen land. Now it was clear that the suspicions were correct.

What came as a shock, though, was that the specific palm oil projects Macaco was delivering had received funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of an "alternative livelihoods" strategy meant to wean farmers off growing coca leaf. The U.S. agency, however, had neglected to look beyond the formal list of members of the cooperative to see the violence and human rights violations associated with the projects. 

Naomi Roht-Arriaza, law professor at the University of California-Hastings School of Law, co-authored the story. “What surprised me most in my research was that social impact evaluation wasn’t even a part of the conversation,” Roht-Arriaza told WBEZ, “but that’s now starting to change.”

Monday on Worldview

Roht-Arriaza pulls back the curtain on the negative social impacts USAID sometimes creates with some of its programs.