Mexico Slow to Accept U.S. Aid
After worshiping at Friday’s noon Mass at the Old Plaza Church near Olvera Street, Natalie Lopez walked past the courtyard shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the church office to donate money for the victims of Thursday’s devastating Mexican earthquake.
“I feel bad for them,” Lopez explained with a hesitant smile. “I have a family in Mexico, in Guadalajara. In Guadalajara they feel the earthquake too. I passed by the church, and I thought I would come by and leave $5.”
Across Los Angeles, the nation and the world, myriads of individuals, relief organizations and government officials launched efforts Friday to help the injured and homeless of southern Mexico.
Mexico, however, sought Friday to maintain its cherished economic independence in the face of disaster and said that at least for the time being, Mexico intends to decline most American disaster aid.
Ambassador Jorge Espinosa de los Reyes, meeting with Secretary of State George P. Shultz, made only two requests for U.S. help, asking for Bureau of Mines technicians skilled in locating bodies buried deep underground and American demolition experts to assist in removing damaged buildings. Shultz said both groups would be sent as soon as possible.
Espinosa de los Reyes told Shultz that Mexico was not yet ready to accept most of the help that Americans offered to Mexican earthquake victims. However, he said the government might accept some help later once it knows the extent of the disaster.
“Right now, the Mexican government has the situation under control,” the ambassador told reporters in Washington, with Shultz standing at his side. “Let’s assess the need of the people--let’s really see the extent of the damage, and let’s see what Mexico needs from abroad.”
“Then,” he continued, “we will be able to accept foreign aid from any country, from any friendly institution or private citizen in order to assist those who are in need. But there is no need to rush on this matter until we have precise knowledge.”
Others Approve of Help
Other Mexican officials, however, gladly gave out a Bank of America account number for Americans wishing to contribute money.
Mexico is normally reluctant to accept American aid because it does not want to compromise its independence from its powerful neighbor to the north. Mexico’s cool response was frustrating to the State and Defense departments, which regularly mobilize disaster relief projects.
One State Department official said the U.S. government maintains warehouses in West Virginia and Panama stocked with blankets, water purification kits, tents, medicines and other supplies that can be moved anywhere in the Western Hemisphere on short notice.
“If they asked us to move, we would be more than happy to do so,” the official said.
Could Feed 1 Million
U.S. Ambassador to Mexico John Gavin said in Mexico City that the United States could provide food for up to 1 million people and emergency shelter to most of Mexico’s earthquake victims if the Mexican government requests aid.
Shultz said the Mexican ambassador “expressed to me his appreciation for the instinctive outpouring that comes from the American people who want to be of assistance,” Shultz said.
The outpouring of aid efforts, however, continued unabated in Los Angeles and throughout the world, and some Mexican representatives indicated that the help would be accepted.
Eduardo Ibarrola, assistant to the Mexican consul in Los Angeles, endorsed the concept of American contributions at a press conference with Los Angeles City Councilman Art Snyder and with Ralph Wright Jr., public relations director for the Los Angeles Red Cross Chapter.
Antonia Garcia-Lopez, wife of Mexico’s consul general in Los Angeles, said that the consulate is channeling donations to a fund in Mexico.
Red Cross Aid
Barbara Haller, a Red Cross spokeswoman in Los Angeles, said the agency has received no formal request for help but it has received “a request via ham radio from the Mexican Red Cross for specific supplies, and we are prepared to send those.”
The American Red Cross has also initiated the transfer of $250,000 in aid funds to the Mexican Red Cross, Haller said.
Archbishop Roger Mahony, who heads the Los Angeles archdiocese of the Catholic Church, sent $100,000 of church funds to Cardinal Ernesto Corripio Ahumada, the archbishop of Mexico City, according to Theresa Giggard, secretary of the communication center at the Los Angeles archdiocese office.
Mahony has also sent a letter to all parishes in the Los Angeles archdiocese asking them to begin contribution drives for the earthquake victims. Several parishes have begun to collect contributions, Giggard said.
Radio stations including KALI and KSKQ-AM have launched relief fund-raising efforts. KSKQ-AM was collecting “vitamins, disinfectants and any other medical supplies” they can spare to the station, said spokesman Raul Alarcon. The supplies will be turned over to the American Red Cross for transport to Mexico, he said.
Spanish-language KMEX-TV Channel 34 also announced Friday that it is planning a telethon to raise funds for earthquake victims.
The Los Angeles City Council on Friday adopted a resolution introduced by Snyder calling for its Governmental Operations Committee to meet Tuesday “to consider the various means of assistance that the city may be able to offer Mexico City.”
However, Snyder, whose councilmanic district is predominantly Hispanic, stressed that “right now what they need is money.”
“I’m issuing a plea to each and every resident of our great city, please send a check to the American Red Cross, " Snyder said at a press conference.
Many Want to Give
The State Department said it received a heavy volume of calls from American citizens wishing to help earthquake victims. Department spokesman said the callers were advised to contact the Pan American Health Organization because there was no government-to-government program.
At the United Nations, Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar Friday ordered the chief of the U.N. Disaster Relief Organization to travel from Geneva to Mexico to determine the extent of the quake disaster and relief needs.
In Orange County, the United Way announced at a Santa Ana City Hall press conference that it would commit up to $100,000 to the earthquake victims.
Liga International, a Santa Ana-based medical aid group, scheduled two private planeloads of doctors and volunteers to fly to Mexico today to help the injured.
Los Amigos, a downtown Santa Ana Latino business and professional organization, said it had already collected $7,000, and the Santiago Club, another business association, said it would donate $1,000.
Operation California, a international relief group based in Los Angeles, sent what Director Richard Walden called a “disaster assessment delegation” and $2,500 worth of medical supplies for earthquake victims to Mexico on Friday.
“Most of the supplies are burn medications and packs, hypodermic syringes and sutures,” said Walden as he and members of his staff loaded a twin-engined Cessna at Santa Monica Airport. “We understand that some victims are being sutured with common sewing thread.”
American and Mexican rock star Apollonia Kotero, who has grandparents and other relatives in the Mexico City area, was on hand as the group left. She has offered financial help and said she is planning “to get a musical concert organized to raise money for earthquake victims.” The concert will be sometime in mid-October, Kotero said.
David Holley reported from Los Angeles with Times staff writers Roxane Arnold, Jerry Cohen, Marcida Dodson, Dina Lisa Heredia, Rosa Hernandez, Ray Perez and photographer Boris Yaro also contributing to this story. Norman Kempster reported from Washington.