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3 in Congress Call U.S. Salvador Aid Wasteful

November 16, 1987|MICHAEL WINES | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Three members of Congress on Sunday issued a broad attack on American policy in El Salvador, charging in a report that the half-billion dollars in annual U.S. aid to that nation is largely wasted on government corruption and a stalemated war with Communist guerrillas.

The U.S. aid program has actually worsened Salvadoran economic and military problems, which "now threaten the political strength and credibility of those in the moderate political center" of the nation, aides to Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.), Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) and California Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) said in the report.

As a result, the U.S.-backed government of Salvadoran President Jose Napoleon Duarte is rapidly losing its power to settle the guerrilla war as called for in a five-nation Central American peace accord signed in August, the study states.

130-Member Caucus

Hatfield, Leach and Miller are members of the 130-member House and Senate Caucus on Arms Control and Foreign Policy, a group of moderate and liberal lawmakers that published the report.

The new study follows a 1985 report issued by the same congressional caucus that drew similar conclusions about the misuse of American aid in El Salvador.

The State Department was given a copy of the report this weekend, but a spokesman said the department would have no comment until the document had been studied. The department contended in 1985 that the caucus' first report on El Salvador was "obviously inaccurate" and manipulated spending data.

The latest report calls for tight new accounting controls on American aid and recommends that the Reagan Administration allot more money to economic and social programs and less to the military.

Military Aid Cutback Urged

Military aid should be reduced until Congress is convinced that the Duarte government is "making every effort to achieve a political settlement" in the war, the report states, and aid to Salvadoran police should end until the courts are able to prosecute human rights abuses vigorously.

"The perception here is that the problem was solved in 1984" when Salvadorans elected Duarte in a widely publicized democratic election, said Caleb Rossiter, a foreign policy consultant to the caucus. "The State Department considers it (El Salvador) a great success, because it hasn't been taken over by the Marxists.

"But with the rebels as strong as they were in mid-1985 and the economy a shambles despite U.S. aid, we have to face up to the problems," Rossiter added.

The 34-page document, based in part on research performed in El Salvador last February, concludes that 64% of the $1.3 billion in American aid allotted since fiscal 1985 was spent on the war, including some money disguised as purely economic assistance. The figure does not include nearly $130 million in U.S. aid for relief to earthquake victims.

No Visible Effect

The huge infusion of U.S. money has had no visible effect on a war-battered economy, the report contends. Income per person dropped 2% in 1986 and 38% since the guerrilla war began in 1980.

The report quotes unnamed Salvadoran citizens as expressing the belief that a "substantial part" of U.S. economic aid is wasted or stolen. It relies on recent accounts of government corruption in the Wall Street Journal and the Christian Science Monitor to bolster the allegations, but quotes U.S. aid officials as saying that corruption is "isolated."

The military assistance has given El Salvador a formidable air force and a sophisticated ability to spot and attack large rebel forces, the report states, but it has failed to reduce war casualties, and the rebels have turned to urban terrorism as their ability to patrol rural areas unmolested has declined.

Spirit of U.S. Law Ignored

In several instances, the report contends, the Salvadoran government ignored the "spirit" of U.S. laws on the spending of economic and food aid and used the money to support military programs.

The report alleges that Salvadoran military officials withheld economic aid from villages until peasants conducted civil defense patrols against the rebels, and it contends that government military commanders secretly controlled spending on economic aid programs officially run by civilian agencies.

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