A Day 50 Years in the Making:Beyond politics and partnership, highway to progress and prosperity emerges
Posted on April 30, 2009 by Rodney Bent, Acting Chief Executive Officer
Tuesday was one of those remarkable days that bring a smile to your face and a special satisfaction for all the hours of work put in at MCC. I was able to share in the excitement and promise afforded by our MCC investment in El Salvador—the start of construction on the Northern Transnational Highway (NTH). From what I heard time and again from the wide variety of those present to witness this historical event in Metapán, it was more than just another ribbon-cutting ceremony; it was a celebration of a dream 50 years in the making.
Despite the heat, a crowd of over 500 gathered to witness a ceremony kicking off construction of the first segment of the NTH, as marked by the delivery of the official construction initiation orders. The highway is a major component of El Salvador’s $461 million MCC compact and represents a timely economic opportunity for the hundreds of thousands of people who reside in the Northern Zone. The construction of this road will effectively cut travel time, reduce transportation costs, facilitate domestic and regional trade, create numerous jobs, and, on the whole, improve access to economic and social opportunity.
It was an honor to stand with El Salvador’s President Elías Antonio Saca at the ceremony. Like all of us, he recognizes that constructing the NTH is a valuable investment not only in the Northern Zone but also for the whole of El Salvador. The NTH reflects a top development priority Salvadorans themselves determined as vital for sustainable poverty reduction and economic growth. I smiled with delight as one Metapán resident asked me in disbelief, Is the construction really starting next week? He recounted that a similar promise was made in 1980, when the much-anticipated construction stopped because of the outbreak of war. And, that wasn’t even the first time. Attending yesterday’s ceremony was J. Edgard Guevarra, the engineer who actually developed the original feasibility study and designs for the NTH in April of 1969. Still hard at work, Mr. Guevarra could hardly believe that forty years later a new version of his northern highway was about to be built. Even though construction is just starting, benefits are already accruing. We were joined by Lucia Viuda de Recinos, who barely held back tears when describing that for the first time in her 65 years of life she has a solid and safe home thanks to the resettlement plan associated with this road project. The MCC investment in the NTH is about progress and prosperity, not politics and partisanship. I am proud that MCC could provide the financial assistance to enable the Government of El Salvador to make good on an historic promise to the residents of the Northern Zone. As President Saca said, “The only promises that matter are those that are kept.” Even amid the transition in power here, the transition to prosperity is what really matters. MCC’s funding for the construction of this major thoroughfare—and for other compact projects—is not tied to who is in power; it is tied to El Salvador’s ongoing commitment to effectively practice the sound political, economic, and social policies necessary for growth to take root and flourish.
Posted on April 27, 2009 by Rodney Bent, Acting Chief Executive Officer
The issue is a top Administration priority. Secretary of State Clinton, who chairs MCC’s Board of Directors, states the problem succinctly: ”“Food insecurity and high food prices pose a threat to the prosperity and security in many developing countries.”” President Obama lays out the way forward, ”“America will support new and meaningful investments in food security that can help the poorest weather the difficult days that will come.”” And, last week, MCC welcomed Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer to our headquarters to participate in a timely discussion on food security and its connection to the role of gender in development. Ambassador Verveer’s keynote reaffirmed fundamental realities: ”“Gender equality…constitutes both smart development and smart economics…We delude ourselves if we think…we can foster agriculture production, income generation, and better nutrition without empowering women…unless we take gender differences into consideration in our policy responses, we will not successfully address the food crisis in the short term nor create sustainable food security for the longer term.””
MCC agrees, and joined like-minded colleagues, including Ambassador Verveer, for an insightful conversation on the importance of gender integration in food security. Presentations from Women Thrive Worldwide-who partnered with us to make the event possible-and the International Food Policy Research Institute provided a rich framework to better understand the vital role gender plays in long-term economic development and sustainable food security. A country’s sustainable growth is inextricably tied to providing all its citizens-men and women alike-with the tools they need to contribute to the productive lives of their households and communities. Integrating gender into U.S. development assistance makes full use of every human being’s potential to create opportunities for themselves and their families. Be sure to read the transcript.
MCC’s event on the nexus between food security and gender is the first in a series that we are planning to keep the spotlight shining on this global development priority. Check back for details on upcoming events related to food security, to be posted soon to our website.
Posted on April 17, 2009 by Liliana Ayalde, U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay
The commitment to transparency and the fight against corruption intensified this week in Paraguay. I was honored to witness a milestone moment as the U.S. Government, through the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the Government of Paraguay signed a $30.3 million Stage II Threshold Program. This second program aims to institutionalize key reforms in public administration and supports anticorruption activities in the judiciary, law enforcement, customs, and healthcare. It builds upon the successes of Paraguay’s first ”“umbral”“ or threshold program.
This latest agreement is one more symbol of the friendship between Paraguay and the United States as we work toward the shared goals of prosperity and opportunity. It also reflects the constructive and active engagement that the U.S. Government has with the peoples of the Americas. It involves effective cooperation across a number of U.S. agencies, as USAID will be managing the implementation of this threshold program, with help from the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Treasury Office.
President Fernando Lugo, who participated in the ceremony, signaled strong political will to stamp out corruption by reaffirming his government’s commitment to anticorruption measures. ”[We] will not do business out of corruption and will not dialogue with the mob. But instead will actively promote the destruction of this cancer. So a new country will be born free of illicit dealings because that’s what the people chose on April 20,” referring to Paraguay’s 2008 election day.
It was a standing room only event, with top officials from the Government of Paraguay, representatives from the diplomatic corps, and members of the press in attendance. The people of Paraguay realize that promoting transparency and accountability are keys to fighting corruption and fundamental to job creation and economic growth. Now, through its MCC Stage II Threshold Program, Paraguay has another effective tool to strengthen its institutions against the risk of corruption and to pursue results-oriented programs to reduce poverty and stimulate sustainable economic growth for the good of all Paraguayans.
Posted on April 16, 2009 by Vince Ruddy, Resident Country Director, El Salvador
Holy Week, or Semana Santa, is normally a quiet time for most countries in Latin America. This week-long celebration of Easter brings families together, while closing most government offices and businesses, as people enjoy much-needed vacations or time to attend religious ceremonies, rest, and reflect.
El Salvador is usually no exception. However, last Monday, FOMILENIO was abuzz with activity as the very first road construction contract was signed for the Northern Transnational Highway. High-level officials, including the Technical Secretary of the Presidency, the Minister of Public Works and Transportation, and FOMILENIO’s Executive Director, interrupted their vacations to meet with representatives of MECO S.A., a Costa Rica-based construction firm, to celebrate the long-awaited initiation of this historic project. The conference room was full of television, radio, and newspaper reporters.
At the press conference, the participants provided the media and the public at large the details of this important project. Spanning about 290 kilometers (180 miles), the Northern Transnational Highway is slated to extend from the Guatemalan border in the northwest corner of El Salvador, all the way across the northern part of the country to the Honduran border in the east. For more than 50 years, Salvadorans have dreamed of having this strategic transport corridor, necessary to link small towns and cities throughout the Northern Zone, and also to link them with the rest of the country. These goals seem all the more important when one considers how the Northern Zone suffered disproportionately during El Salvador’s civil war, not only in terms of physical infrastructure development but also in terms of human and social development. In many ways, the Northern Transnational Highway is a symbol of peace, and a concrete example of how MCC funds can be used to stimulate economic growth and poverty reduction.
This is why news of the first road construction contract made local headlines and nightly news programs. The first 23 kilometer road segment covered by this contract includes two important bridges, including one of approximately 150 meters, or 460 feet, over the Río Lempa, the largest river in the country. This segment stretches from the bustling border town of Metapán to Santa Rosa de Guachipelín, a small municipality on the shores of Río Lempa. The ability to cross this river quickly and safely from Santa Rosa Guachipelín to Metapán year-round, instead of having to travel a far longer and circuitous route (see photo), is a major benefit.
Several reporters directed their questions to the topic of job creation-a high priority given the challenges confronted by El Salvador and others in the region experiencing the aftershocks of the global financial crisis. In addition to estimates of over 300 jobs on this first segment, Mr. Denis Monge, a representative from MECO, talked about opportunities for women. He indicated that MECO would make hiring women a priority. He pointed out that this goal is particularly important in the Northern Zone, since women are heads of households and principal income earners in a disproportionately high number of families, a result of decades of emigration, where many people, especially young men, have left the country in search of greater economic opportunities.
Stay tuned for news about the groundbreaking on this first road segment, scheduled for later this month.