US food for displaced Salvadoreans diverted by corruption and bad management
San Vicente, El Salvador
The Salvadorean government agency responsible for distributing the bulk of AID food to displaced people is riddled with corruption and suffers from mismanagement, it is charged here.Skip to next paragraph
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Further, the United States Agency for International Development (AID) and the US Embassy are described as having used the Salvadorean agency to pressure residents of camps for displaced people into leaving them.
The charges against the National Committee for Displaced People (Conades), its coordinating office in the department of San Vicente, and US officials are leveled by many sources connected with the program, including Salvadorean military officials. The charges include:
* The decision by senior AID officials to cut off food in San Vicente to displaced people in an effort to force them back into the conflictive zones they have fled.
* The use of donated AID food intended for displaced people, to feed the Salvadorean Army.
* The fabrication of food deliveries to cover the private use of AID foodstuffs by Salvadorean government and military officials charged with the distribution.
AID officials have denied the charges, while conceding that ''isolated abuses'' have occurred. They claim that the displaced people in San Vicente and Chalatenango who say they have been denied food are not telling the truth.
''I know that AID has claimed that the people in the displaced-persons camp in San Vicente have been given food supplies, while the displaced people say they have not,'' say David Bonilla, the director of the Roman Catholic relief organization, Caritas, in San Vicente.
''We went to the camp, however, and spent several hours looking at the dates inscribed on the Conades cards needed by displaced people to receive the food. Without calling AID a liar, I'm afraid the cards back up the claims by the displaced people and not what the US and Salvadorean government officials are saying.''
Maria Santos Miranda, sitting inside her cramped mud hut in the displaced-persons camp, says, ''We received food supplies three times in 1983, and have received them once in 1984.'' Conades is meant to provide food deliveries to the displaced population on a monthly basis.
Mrs. Santos holds out her card for inspection. According to her card and dozens of others inspected in the camp, the dates of delivery in 1983 were April 28, Aug. 11, and Oct. 5. The 1984 delivery was, according to these cards, on Feb. 9.
The decision to cut back food delivery to the displaced people in San Vicente was made by senior AID officials, according to one Salvadorean government official involved in the food distribution program and military officials in San Vicente.
The former director of the food distribution program in San Vicente, Lt. Col. Juan Pablo Galvez, allowed the undelivered food to be sold or used to feed Army troops, according to these sources.
''When Galvez was ousted in November,'' says one Salvadorean military official, ''the soldiers stopped eating AID food. But before that you could see truckloads of it headed out to feed troops in the field.''
Private and church relief officials have said for some time that AID food was being used to feed the Salvadorean Army.
The quantity of food supplied to each displaced family in San Vicente during 1983 is not specified on the Conades cards, although the cards have a box where the quantity should be recorded. Displaced people say the food rations in 1983 were very small, and well below the amount they should have been allotted.
''I assume they didn't write in the numbers because they didn't give us what we should have gotten,'' says Emilia Martinez, who lives in the camp.
In Chalatenango, displaced people, who occupy an abandoned granary and sleep in what were formerly pigsties, say Conades officials write down on their ration cards figures that are usually double the amount of food given them.
''They assume that because we are all poor, none of us can read the numbers on our cards to understand how they are cheating us,'' says one.
''It's true that we haven't been able to hand out the allotted amount of food ,'' says the Conades director for the department of Chalatenango, David Rivera Medranos. ''But that is because it is not sent to us from the capital.''
Medranos denies that Conades has falsified the quantities of food deliveries.
The displaced people say that rather than deliver the food, as AID regulations specify, the displaced people - mostly small children, women, and elderly men - must walk 11/2 miles to the Conades office in Chalatenango to get the food, then carry it back.
Medranos says this has been his policy because ''the displaced people got used to walking, and it would be hard to break them of the habit.''
He say preparations are being made to begin a delivery system. Medranos also claims that canvas beds or mats are not provided to the displaced people, most of whom sleep together in an abandoned warehouse on a cement floor, ''because they're Indians, and Indians are more accustomed to sleeping on the ground.''
But the displaced people say the cement floor makes sleep nearly impossible.
AID will expand its aid program to Conades in 1984. About $40 million worth of AID humanitarian assistance funds will be directed toward displaced people. Some $10 million will be given to Conades to begin a displaced-persons relocation program in June or July.
The plan calls for 20 percent of the displaced persons living in the camps, estimated at 100,000, to be relocated. The program, say sources familiar with it , will be modeled on the Israeli relocations in the West Bank.