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Raising the Standard of Living in Foreign Countries: USAID’s Housing Guarantee Program

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is a crucial player in delivering assistance and aid to foreign countries. With a mission to reduce poverty, strengthen democratic governance, and help global communities emerge from crisis, USAID has spent the last sixty years implementing a variety of programs and initiatives to achieve such goals. One of the early programs of USAID was the Housing Guarantee Program (HG).

Peter Kimm with children at home under construction in Costa Rica | Peter Kimm’s Personal Collection
Peter Kimm with children at home under construction in Costa Rica | Peter Kimm’s Personal Collection

Responsible for providing loans for trade union sponsored projects, HG began with a specific focus on Latin American regions and the establishment of U.S.-style saving and loans associations in foreign countries. While this approach did achieve some success, under the leadership of Peter Kimm USAID’s Housing Guarantee Program developed and expanded significantly.

Beginning his career with USAID in 1966, Kimm first felt a call to action following President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, which inspired him to join the Association for International Development, a volunteer opportunity with a Catholic NGO. From there, he went on to work with the American Institute for Free Labor Development, which would act as his first exposure to USAID and the Housing Guarantee Program. Through leadership, policy change, and the implementation of new legislation, Kimm helped to extend the reach of the program to not only include Latin America, but the entire globe. Simultaneously, Kimm shifted focus to upgrading urban slums into affordable housing for impoverished people in these foreign communities.

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Peace Between Egypt and Israel in Jeopardy: The Return of Sinai

In 1979, Israel and Egypt signed a historic peace agreement committing to diplomatic and commercial ties. Peace seemed imminent for these two countries in conflict, but one issue remained in place for the next three years––the Sinai peninsula. The matters of contention revolved around a settlement that was then occupied by Israeli and American extremists, as well as the ownership of the resorts in the Sinai town of Taba.

           
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin acknowledge applause during a Joint Session of Congress after President Jimmy Carter announced the results of the Camp David Accords | U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection | 1978
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin acknowledge applause during a Joint Session of Congress after President Jimmy Carter announced the results of the Camp David Accords | U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection | 1978

As a small resort town located in the South of Sinai, Taba’s ownership was a very contentious issue, generating nationalistic responses from both Egypt and Israel. Both sides presented their arguments for ownership, but in the end, an international arbitration panel awarded Egypt sovereignty. In February of 1982, Egypt and Israel signed an agreement for the handover of Taba that included $37 million in compensation for the former Israeli owner of Taba’s main hotel, The Sonesta.

The United States coordinated a negotiation team to resolve the conflict between Egypt and Israel. Originally Israeli Prime Minister demanded that they be led by Secretary of State Al Haig, but he was occupied with resolving the disputed Falkland Islands. Ultimately, the team included Foreign Service Officers Robert M. Perito and Walter Stoessel, amongst others. Perito, in particular, proved integral to resolving issues over Taba’s sovereignty, the demarcation of boundaries, as well as the claims of Egypt’s violation of its peace agreement with Israel.

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