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US Government Spends Millions Building Roads Overseas
US government agency pays for free roads in an unfree country hostile to US interests.

Nicaragua project
A little known US government agency has spent hundreds of millions of US taxpayer dollars to build roads in foreign countries -- including those openly hostile to American interests. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Wednesday released an audit of the Millennium Challenge Corporation program that was supposed to build 1132 miles of road in Armenia, Cape Verde, Georgia, Honduras, Nicaragua and Vanuatu. Only 387 miles were actually built.

"The Millennium Challenge Corporation, a US government corporation, was established in 2004 to provide aid to developing countries that have demonstrated a commitment to ruling justly, encouraging economic freedom, and investing in people," GAO said in its September 12 report to the House and Senate Appropriations committees.

Millennium Challenge originally offered Nicaragua $175 million in infrastructure aid ($93 million for roads) under an agreement that took force May 26, 2006 -- a few months before Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega re-took the presidency. Ortega, a Marxist, ruled Nicaragua from 1985 to 1990, and then-President Ronald Reagan made removing him from office a priority. His 2006 return was made possible by the installation of Sandinista judges in key positions, giving Ortega influence on the electoral process. Early on, Ortega allied with countries at odds with US policy.

"The revolutions of Iran and Nicaragua are almost twins," Ortega said in a 2007 meeting with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

It was not until 2008 that the Millennium Challenge noted police would raid the premises of Ortega's political opponents. The agency decided to scale back aid to $113 million ($58 million for roads) citing a "decline in political rights and civil liberties." The roads project was described as stimulating economic development by cutting the cost of transportation for Nicaraguan road users, and the government agency was unwilling to pull the plug on the entire endeavor.

"Despite this partial termination, the Millennium Challenge Account-Nicaragua successfully implemented the portions of the compact that had already begun," the agency explained in a statement.

GAO raised questions about whether the road projects were sustainable. A more detailed 2010 investigation by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) looked closely at the road project in Vanuatu.

"The completed roads may not meet beneficiary expectations," USAID's inspector general reported. "Vanuatu's public works department, responsible for sustainability of the roads, had limited capacity to perform road maintenance. Although the government of Vanuatu budgeted about $5 million for road maintenance as required by the compact, it may not be enough to sustain the roads. As a result, the roads may not be properly maintained annually."

The report found the island nation only spent about a quarter of the amount needed to keep the roads in good order.

While Millennium Challenge has been funding free roads in foreign countries, the US Department of Transportation has been converting domestic freeways into toll roads. Under a project that began last month, the center lanes of Interstate 95 in Virginia, which were free for anyone to use in off-peak periods, are being converted into toll lanes. Construction on the project, which rearranges existing lane space, is backed by $300 million in federal taxpayer financing.

A copy of the GAO report is available in a 1mb PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Results of Transportation Infrastructure Projects in Seven Countries (US Government Accountability Office, 9/12/2012)

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