- The Washington Times - Monday, October 31, 2005

LOS ANGELES (AP) — When Hispanic groups across the country ask for donations for victims of Hurricanes Wilma and Stan, they often promise contributors one thing: The governments of Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador will not get their hands on the money.

Many Hispanics in the United States are afraid that corrupt officials in Latin America will skim donations, and they hesitate to contribute, some volunteers say.

The two storms that slammed Central America last month brought into sharp focus a trend among U.S.-based development organizations and Hispanic community groups: When disaster strikes, many groups send money directly to community organizations in the affected countries.

“If we were to mention the Guatemalan Consulate, our people wouldn’t donate anything,” said Marta Barrera, a Guatemalan immigrant who is sending cash and leading collection efforts at St. Elizabeth Catholic parish in Oakland, Calif. Miss Barrera’s church is sending $5,000 directly to its private-sector counterparts in the Central American nation.

The approach gained popularity after Hurricane Mitch, the 1998 storm that killed at least 9,000 Central Americans and led to widespread accusations of government corruption and misuse of international aid.

During reconstruction in El Salvador, donors criticized the governing party for distributing clothes with party logos to victims. In Guatemala, developers hired by the government purportedly failed to do the work, leaving thousands homeless.

Officials in those countries repeatedly have denied charges of corrupt handling of international aid.

Philanthropy analysts say changing donation practices involving Latin America are part of a worldwide trend, as scandals such as the U.N. oil-for-food debacle in Iraq and problems with food donations to Africa have made donors more skeptical of governments.

“We are in an era where individual giving is suspicious of government reliability in general,” said Richard Marker, a philanthropy professor at New York University and a national philanthropy consultant.

Hurricane Wilma pummeled the tourist destination of Cancun and killed more than two dozen people in Mexico, Haiti and Florida. Hurricane Stan killed more than 800 people and left thousands homeless in Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador.

In response, Hispanic groups in Los Angeles funneled thousands of dollars to Fray Bartolome de las Casas, a human rights group in Mexico. The San Francisco-based Share Foundation has raised $52,000 from churches nationwide for rebuilding projects in El Salvador. The money is going directly to faith-based organizations there.

The International Development Exchange is sending money to a network of groups that help Guatemala’s indigenous population.

“We can attest that they have generally been reliable on how they use the money,” said Yael Falicov, the organization’s Latin American program director. “They are creative and efficient, much more than the government.”

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