President George W Bush on Monday pledged more social aid for Latin America and said the White House will hold a conference to discuss better ways to help the region.
Bush, who starts a week-long Latin American tour on Thursday, said the conference will take place "in the coming months" and will include members of the private sector, non-governmental organizations, religious groups and volunteer associations.
The conference will seek to find more effective ways to deliver aid and build the institutions needed for a strong civic society, he said.
Bush, whose administration has been criticized by opposition Democrats for not paying enough attention to Latin America during his six years in office, starts his trip in Brazil Thursday.
He will also visit Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico.
Speaking before the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Bush vowed to boost aid to Latin America in education, housing and health, saying "helping our neighbors build a better and productive life" was a US priority.
The region has "made great strides toward freedom and prosperity," he said, "but despite the advances tens of millions in our hemisphere remain stuck in poverty."
"Amid the progress we also see terrible want," he said.
"Nearly one of four people in Latin America lives on less than two dollars a day. Many children never finish grade school, many mothers never see a doctor. In an age of growing prosperity and abundance, it's a scandal and it's a challenge," he said.
Bush said the US initiatives include an additional 75 million dollars for Latin Americans to learn English in their countries or in the United States, 385 million dollars for housing, and unstipulated amount for medical assistance through military teams.