Commanding Relief Efforts

Appointed as U.S. ambassador to Honduras in 1996, James F. Creagan was instrumental in organizing massive lifesaving efforts in Honduras during and immediately following Hurricane Mitch in November. Along with Honduras Archbishop Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, Creagan was recently awarded the Caritas Christi Medal by the Archdiocese of Boston. Register correspondent Liz Urbanski Farrell spoke to him with other press in the ambassador's residence in Tegucigalpa about the ongoing need for aid.

Urbanski Farrell: Now that food and drinking water are being supplied and the storm is over, what is the biggest need in Honduras?

Ambassador Creagan: We need about $300 million for Honduras. One of the things we're going to do with the money, about $50 million of it, is to provide [drinking] water and sewage in these different housing projects that need it.

Housing is a real problem. We need about 60,000 permanent housing units just to take care of … those displaced by Mitch and who are unable to find solutions. We put $6 million into [temporary] shelters, because we had to. It's a bad solution, but it's the only one there is. …

After the hurricane we gave $100,000 to [the Pan American School of Agriculture at] Zamorano because that school is providing seeds and training and so forth to farmers all over. This is for new seeds for the new crops, fertilizer, and actually a better variety of beans that produce double or triple of the old variety, and a lot of things. …

We want to put $25 million into a fund that other nations will contribute to … and with that fund there will be enough money to pay the World Bank and the Inter-American [Develoment] Bank the service on Honduras' debt.

With Serbian attacks on Kosovar Albanians threatening hundreds of thousands of people in Europe, how do you hope to gain Congress' attention for Hurricane Mitch relief?

Emergency support is needed for Kosovo. A different type of aid is needed for Honduras and those countries affected by Hurricane Mitch. We need to be careful, with all the tragedy in Kosovo, that we not forget an area of the world impacted by natural disasters, where man has helped man, and leave these folks in, frankly, very poor circumstances — to send aid only to a place where people have been expelled by a man-made disaster, created by man's inhumanity to man.

Honduras' government earned a 1.7 on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index survey on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the most corrupt and 10 being the most trustworthy. The scale, compiled from 12 different surveys of industrialists, politicians and economists, ranks Honduras as the third most corrupt government worldwide, out of 85 nations.

How has the U.S. government worked with Honduras to closely monitor the more than $200 million in aid?

Church and other nonprofit aid organizations like CARE, the Red Cross and the United Nations' World Food Program have administered much of the aid so far.

President [Carlos] Flores [Facusse] said in a meeting with Cardinal [Bernard] Law [of Boston] that corruption is always a problem. Flores … knew he wanted international aid in a big way because he knew there was no way he could do it, but he knew corruption, or the perception of corruption, would ruin it.

So he turned to [Tegucigalpa] Archbishop Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga and said, “I'd like the Church to handle the relief. We don't want the military to handle the relief … because there will be certainly at least charges of corruption, and my government shouldn't do it for the same reason. So let's have the church do it and not just the Catholic Church, but larger nonprofits and other churches.” Well, the archbishop accepted, and we [the U.S.] jumped on that as well. …

There are several different mechanisms for monitoring, auditing and keeping people honest, and it won't be a hundred percent, but it'll be pretty darn good.