U.S. ambassador criticizes Zimbabwe government for hindering food aid efforts
HARARE, Zimbabwe – A U.S. diplomat barred from meeting victims of President Robert Mugabe’s mass eviction campaign, criticized the Zimbabwe government Saturday for interfering with aid efforts and warned of outrage in Congress over the worsening humanitarian crisis.Tony Hall, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. World Food Program and Food and Agriculture Organization, said the United States would donate $51.8 million worth of food for Zimbabwe and the neighboring drought-stricken countries of Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho and Swaziland.The 73,500 tons will be sufficient to feed 5 million to 6 million people for a month, he told reporters at Harare airport.”Despite our differences with the government, the United States will stand by the people of Zimbabwe because there is no place for politics when it comes to feeding hungry people,” Hall said at the end of a three-day visit.But he warned that the U.S. donation “only scratched the surface of an essentially political problem.”The World Food Program says up to a third of Zimbabwe’s 12 million people may suffer from food shortages, even though Mugabe’s government has played down the need for outside help.Hall said Zimbabwean bureaucracy was keeping 10,000 tons of food aid from U.S. relief groups “bottled up” in the South African port of Durban, over alleged lack of import licenses. He said another group had not been given permission to distribute 15,000 tons already here.An aid convoy from the South African Council of Churches has also been held up for nearly a week as the Zimbabwe government insists on certificates to prove it contains no genetically modified food.Hall said he would speak with U.S. officials about what he had seen. “Don’t forget I have a lot of friends in the U.S. Congress, and they are going to be outraged,” said Hall, who was a congressman for 24 years.Security officers prevented Hall and his entourage from making a scheduled visit to Hopley Farm, on the capital’s outskirts, to investigate claims that 700,000 urban poor were left homeless or without jobs by the eight-week “Operation Murambatsvina” – “Drive Out Filth.” Many were evicted into midwinter cold from May to July.Opposition groups contend Mugabe’s government is trying to drive disaffected city voters into rural areas where they can be intimidated by denial of access to food.Hall said the official reason for blocking his stop at Hopley was that the delegation needed a special visitors permit since the site is run by the military. But, he added, “I was told in a hushed tone that the government doesn’t want me to see this place because old people are dying.”Mugabe, in power since independence in 1980, has said he is prepared to show progress in rehousing those evicted by Operation Murambatsvina. But human rights lawyers last week dismissed claims of improved conditions at Hopley, saying it was “nothing but a new transit camp.”Hall said he was distressed by conditions in Hatcliff township outside Harare, which he visited Friday.”I had several people come up to me and ask me for blankets and food. They don’t have enough to keep themselves warm … their children are hungry,” he said.”One gentleman spoke of the night he was evicted – police arrived with no notice, driving him and others out with dogs. He was forced to sleep outside for a week during the coldest time of winter.”Vail – Colorado
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