Reconstruction controversy marks Salvador quake anniversary
San Salvador — President Jos'e Napole'on Duarte marked the first anniversary of last October's devastating six-second earthquake, in which 300,000 people were left homeless, by unveiling completed projects to aid the quake victims. Last Saturday, the President inaugurated 128 of the 1,000 houses to be built with the support of the Guatemalan and Italian governments in Apopa, a town five miles north of the capital. Part of the government's reconstruction plan is to encourage development north of the capital - an area supposedly more stable seismically than the capital which is crisscrossed by fault lines.
Although experts say the government and private-sector groups effectively administered emergency relief aid, they say the government has lacked an overall, coherent reconstruction plan that could aid the poorest sectors, who were most affected by the eathquake.
President Duarte rejects the charge that he has done little for the poor. He says the government is making vacant government land outside the capital available to quake victims. ``We are giving the poor people land, water, sewage, and housing. The price is only $10 a month [for 20 years], which is very low,'' he says.
But even $10 a month is out of reach for those living in poor shantytowns, says Oscar Barraza, a staff member with the Council of Marginal Communities (CCM), a grass-roots advocacy group trying to improve squatters' conditions. These communities have grown up on whatever land is available, often perching precariously on the banks of rivers and ravines. Some of these communities were started by victims of a 1965 earthquake.
United States financing after last year's quake - $50 million channelled by the US Agency for International Development (AID) - has helped repair destroyed schools, clinics, and public utilities. But housing experts say that the $31.5 million earmarked for loans to the poor went instead to help middle class homeowners and small businesses rebuild. These experts say the aid could have been used to address the more complex needs of tenement dwellers and marginal communities.
``A disaster [such as the Oct. 10 quake] could allow the political will to deal with the historical problems of the inequity of land ownership, the distribution of wealth, and the role of the poor in shaping the national debate,'' says Manuel Sevilla, executive director of the Foundation for Development and Minimal Housing (FUNDASAL), a private nonprofit organization with close links to the Roman Catholic Church. ``Unfortunately, that opportunity was completely lost.''
``Even without land expropiation there are methods to effect strutural changes, '' Mr. Sevilla says. But he adds that the ruling Christian Democratic Party would not confront the conservative, powerful private sector.
``The earthquake just uncovered and heightened the social problems that already existed,'' says Dina Dubon, who heads the social promotion programs of the Catholic Church's Social Secretariat.
Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas agrees: ``The earthquake revealed something we already knew: the unjust organization of our society, the cause of so many evils,'' he said, referring to ``the problem of housing and the ownership of land in the metropolitan zone.''
The shortcomings of the government's earthquake reconstruction program are apparant in the San Jacinto, La Vega neighborhoods on the southern edge of the capital. Multi-family tenements, called mesones, made of cheap adobe crumbled into mounds of rubble during the earthquake.
Meson dwellers made up more than half the 300,000 left homeless by the earthquake. Although most have received corrugated tin and wood from the government or church to build temporary shacks, their predominate mood is one of insecurity. Many landlords are pressuring them to leave, and although the government prohibited evictions for the first three months after the quake, the former dwellers say they now have little protection.
``People are getting thrown out in the street, and the government doesn't do anything,'' says meson dweller Alberto Galdames, who earns a meager living making fireworks before holiday seasons. ``The only thing the government does is put out ads in the newspapers saying how much aid they're getting from abroad. But where is all that aid? We never see any of it.''
Of the $75 million that AID says it will be giving the Salvadorean government for fiscal 1988, $12 million of the total credit line of $44 million is earmarked for mesones. But receiving the loans depends on organizing a cooperative of all the tenants in a meson - something housing experts say isn't easy to do.
Earthquake victims and some shantytown dwellers have begun occupying land to pressure the government to meet their needs. The latest occured on Oct. 4, when 106 families, some affected by the earthquake, took over a large vacant lot owned by a governmental entity in a northern suburb of the capital.