Timothy Bertotti

As Interviewed by Edison B., March 31, 2012

Timothy Bertotti: In His Own Words

In 1961, President Kennedy was campaigning against Richard Nixon for presidency. As he was stumping in Michigan he had a debate on TV, and he was very tired. At 2 o’ clock in the morning, he filled a commitment to the students at the University of Michigan to speak to them. He made a speech that challenged people to get busy to do something for the government. When he won the election, he showed that he wanted to start the Peace Corp.
On March, 1961, he commissioned a petition to congress that started the Peace Corps.

Peace Corp. rebuilt after the war. Kennedy started the Marshall plan, which went in to rebuild after the world war. He later named it the United States Agency of International Development (USAID).

The Peace Corp. doesn’t make large programs to help a country, but lets a volunteer get to know a country, and learn the language, and feel better about helping a foreign country. USAID makes large programs to help a foreign country, but doesn’t necessarily show anybody how the country was, or how difficult it is to live in this country.

Peace Corp. has some strange rules, one of which forces staff to only be in Peace Corp. for two years. So I left when AID was recruiting for Southeast Asia, and I decided to go to Vietnam.

Has there ever been any situation where a country, or even the leader of a country, has attempted or succeeded to kick AID out?

There are two that come to mind, one was in 1966, and then prince, later became a king. He got mad and kicked USAID out of his country. The other was Suharto in Indonesia, and his words, “To hell with AID, get out!” And for whatever reason and political loops he pushed us out.

Over the years, security has gotten better, and we’ve been more sensitive about security, because a lot of people have been killed over the years. During the Indochina era, we lost several officers, more than any other era, and we were sent to the field without any real protection. We were basically told what the security situation was, and then you lived it. Then occasionally, things will happen in a country that you have no control over, so there have been some scary situations over the years, and we have lost people, sometimes by mistake and sometimes it’s inevitable.

In terms of country settings, my most effective work was ironically in Bolivia, but it doesn’t show that much in the economy, but I was at a point in my career where I was doing more. Probably the most interesting was my tours in South East Asia, Laos, Cambodia and especially Vietnam. I have never been directly involved in health, but our health and agricultural projects at certain points were world changing. We made some tremendous strides in eradicating certain diseases and improving certain crops. We have a lot to be proud of as a country and as an agency despite some of the mistakes.

Most people have a big misconception of Foreign aid, and it’s good to clear it up when you can. Number one, it only represents a very small percentage of the budget, far less than one percent. Lately, it’s like point five percent, (chuckles) more like point zero five percent. Secondly, (there is a misconception) that all the money is dumped into the country, and that isn’t always true, (it goes to) suppliers from US so there are jobs generated, even in our own country. Thirdly, (people think that)it is money down the drain, and that’s false too. Though there have been situations where we’ve had projects that have failed and had to leave, over all, it has been extremely successful, and it has potentially staved off wars in many countries.