The Washington Post | 4/19/2010 12:00:00 AM
Despite billions in U.S. aid, Colombia struggles to reduce poverty
April 19--Eight years after President Álvaro Uribe took office and began harnessing billions in U.S. aid dollars to pummel Marxist guerrillas, Colombia is safer for this country's 45 million people and for the foreign investors who have flocked here.
What social scientists here call lackluster results in fighting poverty have become a campaign issue ahead of May elections, in which Colombian voters will elect a president to succeed Uribe, Washington's closest ally on the continent. Unless a 43 percent poverty rate can be steadily reduced, experts on the conflict contend, Colombia could regress even as the United States continues to provide military assistance.
"There is not only significant poverty, but some of the poverty is stunning in its extreme," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who has traveled extensively in Colombia since 2001. "It really is at the root of so much of the unrest that occurs."
That poverty, and Colombia's big gap between rich and poor, is particularly evident in towns along the Caribbean coast, such as this community of dirt roads and forlorn farms. Here in Algarrobo (population 12,000), a wealthy and influential family, the Dávilas, received $1 million in grants through an Agriculture Ministry program that provided tens of millions of dollars to affluent farmers nationwide. Critics here say it made no difference that the Davilas own one of the most productive and lucrative oil-producing palm groves for miles.
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