It was a bright morning, and I was at my primary school in Jamaica when a helicopter flew over and landed nearby. Tins of butter were off-loaded for distribution to needy communities. Despite my lifelong love for aviation, what was indelibly printed on my mind was not the aircraft’s dramatic landing, but the handshake stamp on those tins, colored in blue and red. Many years after, I realized the handshake meant the assistance had been provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Who would have known then I would spend the greater part of my professional life working with USAID across 12 Caribbean countries? After two decades of experience, I am convinced development aid should include a mixture of tangible and intangible assistance to support growth in the region. The blue and red handshake has become a symbol not just of my professional career, but of the evolution of USAID development assistance to the region. Since 1973, USAID has provided more than US$1.1 billion (nominal value) to the region to foster economic and social development.
In the 1970s, programs focused on basic needs, such as the “butter drop” and infrastructure projects like housing, rural development, road networks, alternative energy supply, water and sewage, and tourism development. By the 1990s, programming transitioned to stabilization and structural adjustment to promote export-oriented economies, investment, private sector-led growth, and democratic reforms.
USAID’s early support resulted in legacy projects that still benefit people across the Caribbean and demonstrate the lasting support of the United States.
For example, the Caribbean Development Bank’s Basic Needs Trust Fund, originally seeded by USAID to support community activities, is still going strong after 40 years affecting the lives of more than 3 million people. Other examples include the UWI Sagicor Cave Hill School of Business, the Caribbean Electric Utility Services Corporation, and the OECS Pharmaceutical Procurement Service. Citizens and visitors alike still traverse roads constructed with USAID funds, like the 40-mile road in Dominica between Roseau and the Douglas-Charles Airport, and the seven miles of road in Grenada from St. George’s to Point Saline Airport.
In the new millennium, USAID has supported a range of sectors including small business enterprises and the health sector, particularly in HIV/AIDS prevention and the COVID-19 response. USAID also supported training for K-3 teachers in six Eastern Caribbean countries in new pedagogical approaches to reading and life skills training to vulnerable youth. USAID supported environmental protection and adaptation to climate change including the US$3 million public-private LIDAR partnership, which captures data critical for disaster risk planning.
When disasters occurred, USAID has been there. Just after Hurricane Ivan, USAID provided over US$40 million to Grenada to resuscitate the economy. More recently in 2017-2018, $9.7 million was provided to support recovery efforts in Dominica and Antigua & Barbuda following Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
And of course, after the devastation of Hurricane Dorian just over two years ago, USAID led the United States’ response effort in Abaco and Grand Bahama. USAID contributed nearly $25 million and sent a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) of over 100 people at its peak. Together with our colleagues in the US Coast Guard, the US Embassy in Nassau, and across the United States government, we helped bring people and resources where they needed to be. We distributed clean water and provided shelter to people who needed it. Our funding helped erect a field hospital on Grand Bahama and distribute food and supplies across the northern Bahamas. We were inspired by the resilience and courage of the Bahamian citizens and residents who stood tall in the aftermath of that terrible storm.
The Biden Administration remains committed to working through USAID to support our partner countries in the Caribbean. I am confident that most countries would rather look to the United States for development support based on the proven track record of enduring US development and our shared historical and cultural connections.
On USAID’s 60th anniversary in November, we celebrate that widely recognized, “blue and red handshake” that signals “USAID is here”. Our work over the last six decades represents the United States’ commitment to supporting lives, strengthening communities in the Caribbean, and growing together as neighbors, partners, and friends.
About the author
Mansfield Blackwood is the Partner Country Systems Advisor at USAID/Eastern and Southern Caribbean. He has worked with USAID for more than 25 years and is considered an expert in regional affairs as well as general development needs.
USAID is the world’s premier international development agency and a catalytic actor driving development results for the last 60 years. USAID’s work advances U.S. national security and economic prosperity, demonstrates American generosity, and promotes a path to recipient self-reliance and resilience.