Aid Distribution Has Been Fair, Archbishop Says

Denies Reports of Widespread Corruption in Salvador

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MADRID, Spain, FEB. 4, 2001 ( There has been no widespread corruption in the distribution of aid to victims of the Jan. 13 earthquake in El Salvador, an archbishop says.

Archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle of San Salvador, on a tour to seek relief aid, was in Madrid to report on the state of his country. Denying Spanish newspaper reports that there was widespread corruption in distribution of aid, he said: «The government requested the use of the Church´s channels of distribution, because the mayors are not as efficient as the parish priests.»

–Q: What is the situation in El Salvador?

–Archbishop Saenz Lacalle: There are 1.1 million people affected, and 1,800 dead and disappeared. Many of the victims are living in camps in tents; 150,000 homes have been destroyed.

At present, a plan for the construction of houses is being organized specifically, so that this will not happen again, as the majority of those destroyed were made of adobe very fragile. Diocesan Caritas is offering the construction materials free; those affected must only start working.

–Q: Was there corruption in the distribution of aid?

–Archbishop Saenz Lacalle: If there has been any, it has been very little. There is a group of very honest professionals in the National Emergency Committee, and there are international auditing firms. Needless to say, there has been no corruption through Caritas.

I think reporters were lying in wait, with sensational avidity, to get news of corruption. Moreover, the government requested use of the Church´s channels of distribution, because the mayors are not as efficient as the parish priests.

–Q: Is there still need of aid now that there has been an earthquake in India?

–Archbishop Saenz Lacalle: Of course. We cannot construct houses without help. People must be made aware that aid to developing countries is a question of justice, because in the present circumstances of the policy of profit, it is difficult for people, no matter how hardworking, to emerge from economic stagnation, due to the great profit is taken out from exploiting developing countries. Very little is paid for raw materials and the salaries of businesses ensconced there are very low.

Moreover, there is competition among the countries to offer low salaries in order to attract businesses. All this is a very unethical exploitation. I am not worried about India´s competition. In fact, I campaign in its favor, because I think that developed countries and businesses should have the sensitivity to allocate a small portion of their profits to help; in that case, there would be more than enough both for El Salvador as well as India. Moreover, they would be the winners, because they would be enriched in humanity.

Q: Will El Salvador renegotiate its [external] debt?

–Archbishop Saenz Lacalle: I read that Spain has agreed that the interest on the debt should be invested in construction and this is a magnificent formula. However, I do not think the Salvadoran government is interested in the cancellation of the debt, because this would place it in a difficult situation in the future. To date, it has always paid the interest, even during the civil war period.

–Q: What contributions have been made through the Church?

–Archbishop Saenz Lacalle: Many. For example, the Italian bishops´ conference sent $1.2 million; Caritas International, $1 million; Cardinal Law of Boston, $300,000. The archbishop of Miami chartered a whole plane, and Washington´s [archbishop] came in person. In New Orleans, they went to hotels to ask for sheets to send us. In Costa Rica, a radio dedicated a whole week to appeal for help, and they sent several containers of clothes and food.

–How have the people reacted to the catastrophe?

–Archbishop Saenz Lacalle: The supernatural view with which they are facing everything has been impressive. People who visit are in admiration of their faith and confidence in God; also, of their decision to begin to reconstruct. They are convinced that God was on the victims´ side and has helped them as a loving Father.

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