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Assistance to El Salvador

May 30, 1988

Don W. Lewis made a number of misleading assertions in his column "U.S. Military Assistance to El Salvador Negates Benefits of Economic Aid" (Op-Ed Page, May 16).

Lewis stated that "in November, 1987, the foreign policy caucus of Congress reported that U.S. aid to El Salvador had exceeded that country's own national budget." The Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus to which he referred reported no such thing; such information, however, was contained in a report by three caucus members to the 130-member group.

The report's assertion was incorrect. In fiscal year 1987 (not 1988, as Lewis states), El Salvador raised some $580 million by itself through taxation and other means. The U.S. provided El Salvador $457 million in economic assistance--only about two-thirds of which was applied to the country's budget. The rest funded relief agencies, credit institutions and other private groups that provide services directly to the Salvadoran people.

Although still lower than the government of El Salvador's own contribution, the U.S. contribution to the budget was unusually high because of two extraordinary factors. First, the level was skewed by a one-time donation of $128 million to help the country recover from a devastating 1986 earthquake. Second, the devaluation of the Salvadoran currency by half in 1986 effectively reduced El Salvador's contribution to the national budget when expressed in dollars.

Lewis supplied incorrect statistics to support his claim that American economic assistance is being misspent. For the record, El Salvador's annual inflation rate is 24%.

His claim that 1 million Salvadorans are "internally displaced" is wildly inaccurate. In fact, the true figure is closer to 320,000.

I must take grave exception to the negative portrait he paints of the United States's role in El Salvador. Lewis would have readers think that all the U.S. does is supply material support to an army bent on killing civilians.

On the contrary, the United States's role in El Salvador has been extremely positive. A whopping three-fourths of all U.S. assistance to El Salvador is economic or humanitarian. That money has gone to fund such programs as a human rights training course for soldiers and policemen, a project to improve the Salvadoran justice system, temporary jobs and housing for Salvadorans displaced by the war and a safety net of basic medical and educational services.


Bureau for Latin America

and the Caribbean


Washington, D.C.

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