US President George W Bush has unveiled a social aid programme to alleviate the plight of the region's poor, two days before a tour of Latin America.
Mr Bush said "terrible want" still exists in Latin America
Millions of dollars will be spent on education, housing and health care.
In a speech, Mr Bush described poverty in the region as "a scandal" that had caused some people to question the value of democracy.
The Bush administration has been criticised by opposition Democrats for neglecting Latin America.
Correspondents say Washington is adjusting to the election of increasing numbers of left-wing administrations in Latin America, including some that are openly critical of the US.
Speaking at the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Mr Bush vowed to boost aid to Latin America, saying "helping our neighbours build a better and productive life" was a US priority.
The region has "made great strides toward freedom and prosperity but despite the advances tens of millions in our hemisphere remain stuck in poverty," he said.
Despite the progress Mr Bush said "terrible want" still existed, adding that nearly one in four people in the region live on less than $2 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.
The president said the US initiatives include an additional $75m for Latin Americans to learn English in their countries or in the United States, $385m dollars for housing, and funding for medical assistance via military teams.
Mr Bush will start his trip in Brazil on Thursday. His week-long tour will also take in Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico.