U.S. Senators Mel Martinez (R-FL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) today introduced legislation that will provide $2 billion in assistance over a five-year period to the countries of Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and Mexico. This funding, which is in addition to current U.S. assistance programs in the region, will be specifically directed toward building the institutions of governance to improve the economic conditions, reduce poverty, and develop renewable sources of energy to strengthen the social and economic infrastructure of countries in the region.
"The U.S. remains committed to strong and cooperative relationships with our neighbors in the Americas. Continuing support of social, economic, and democratic programs will provide a positive investment in the people of those nations and foster productive dialogues," Senator Martinez said. "This important effort will improve the security of the U.S. and the entire hemisphere and I urge all of my colleagues to support this initiative."
"This is more than good neighbor policy, this is good economic, national security and environmental policy for us here at home," said Menendez. "On so many issues, we are closely tied to the other nations of our Hemisphere. The development of a strong middle class in Latin American countries helps create a vibrant marketplace for American businesses, help reduce the demand for undocumented migration to the United States and helps create economic stability that matters to us here at home. For too long, we have been disengaged from our neighbors in this region and this is the type of investment that would foster benefits for us in both domestic policy and foreign policy."
To help sustain economic growth in the region over the long term, the bill also directs the government to consider establishing a Social Investment and Economic Development Fund for Latin America. The proposed fund, which would be under the direction of an independent board, would pool contributions from the U.S., other governments, foundations, and the private sector, and would encourage collaboration between the public and private sectors on development projects in the region.
Recognizing that the United States and the countries of Latin America have common economic, security, and environmental interests in reducing their dependence on fossil fuels, the bill provides funding to encourage the development and use of renewable sources of energy in the region. Significant assistance is also provided to programs that promote the sustainable management of forests in the region, as the destruction of tropical forests and rain forests has been recognized as a major contributing factor in global climate change.