US economic aid in El Salvador: the untold story

While questions of military aid to El Salvador are being heavily focused on, US economic and humanitarian assistance has touched the lives of thousands of Salvadoreans in a direct and positive way. It has helped prevent massive food shortages and malnutrition.

For example, the US has provided more than 560,000 tons of Food for Peace wheat, corn, rice, dried milk, and other staples to El Salvador, to feed its people. Other economic assistance has created emergency jobs, enabling thousands of poor families to survive.

The Agency for International Development, the US government agency that provides economic and humanitarian assistance to poor countries, has provided shelter, medicines, jobs, and food to a half million displaced persons in El Salvador.

Under one AID health program, 160,000 displaced persons received 370,000 inoculations against communicable diseases.

In addition, scores of roads and bridges destroyed by leftist guerrillas have been restored so that production, commerce, employment, and basic services could continue. A repaired bridge often means a small farmer can get his crops to market.

This kind of assistance to El Salvador has made the difference between economic survival and economic collapse.

US economic and humanitarian assistance to El Salvador is three times greater than military assistance under the Reagan administration.

The US economic assistance program aims to arrest the steep economic decline and resulting massive unemployment El Salvador has suffered over the past three years. Another aim is to repair and restore vital public services destroyed or damaged by guerrillas. The economic aid program also aims to continue the agrarian reform to enable small farmers, for the first time, to own the land they till. The program also helps relieve the worst of the suffering caused by violence, economic hardship, and displacement of thousands of Salvadoreans.

All this is no simple task. Guerrillas have been successful in destroying towers and substations in the electric power distribution systems, resulting in frequent power outages, particularly in the eastern third of the country.

Parts of this region have been without power for eight months over the past two years. No electricity means no power for factories, schools, hospitals, businesses. It often means no water supply. The romance quickly goes out of these bold guerrilla actions when doctors cannot complete operations or properly treat patients, or when entire communities are without safe drinking water for long periods of time, or when jobs and income disappear because businesses and industries are closed for lack of power. To alleviate as much of this hardship as possible, US economic assistance has placed generators in about 50 locations in El Salvador, especially in hospitals, schools, and in small communities most affected by these attacks, so that basic life support systems can continue to function.

In the long-term, these programs are aimed at self-sustaining, broadly-based, and equitable growth within a democratic framework. But, in the short term, US economic and humanitarian assistance programs in El Salvador are helping the people to survive.

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