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PRI’s Congressional Briefing 2000: US Congress to Bear Down on USAID for Suspected Tiahrt Violations


At a time when advances in the status of women were being celebrated at Beijing+5 in New York, PRI presented information of ongoing abuses of poor, minority women in Peru to members of Congress and the media on Capitol Hill on 14 March 2000. PRI’s congressional briefing 2000, titled “Peru’s Coercive Family Planning Program and USAID Involvement,” presented evidence of US Agency for International Development (USAID) involvement with involuntary family planning programs run by the Peruvian Ministry of Health. Congressmen Todd Tiahrt (R-4-KS) and Christopher Smith (R-4-NJ), who spoke at the event, were concerned that USAID involvement in Peru may constitute a violation of US law, and called upon USAID to investigate.

The PRI Investigative Team of David Morrison and Pat McEwen presented testimonies obtained last December in Peru from over a dozen women whom they interviewed. The investigators said that women continue to suffer under oppressive population control programs, and presented USAID contracts showing $36 million in USAID funds going to the Peruvian MOH for contraceptives and family planning projects.

Members of Congress said they would work hard to thwart President Clinton’s proposal to increase foreign aid spending for population planning by $170 million this year. The proposal comes in the wake of last year’s congressional action restoring the Mexico City policy, which prevents US funds from going to foreign NGOs that lobby for or perform abortions. Viewed by many as an attempt by the administration to appease the abortion/population control lobby, the increase would restore family planning funds to Clinton’s 1995 record level of $541 .6 million.

Testimonies of Abuses

Testimonies of abuses, in apparent violation of US law, presented by Morrison and McEwen at the briefing included:

  • Beatriz, who was given Depo-Provera during pregnancy in violation of informed consent provisions. After her miscarriage, she was told she was ‘”too stupid” for Depo-Provera, taken off that and put on oral contraceptives. She does not want to take the pill but has been threatened with sterilization;

  • Angelica, who with the support of her husband, managed to escape sterilization during an earlier campaign. But immediately after the birth of her last child, she found herself caught in the middle of another sterilization campaign. Alone, without the presence of her husband, Angelica was sterilized by force;

  • Javier, a young medical student. Javier testified that he and other medical promoters have been routinely paid 20 Peruvian Soles (about US $6.00) and rewarded with gifts of popular sports clothes whenever they gained the most new family-planning clients in a month; and

  • Elena, who was diagnosed with a prolapsed uterus and told that she needed a hysterectomy immediately. She questioned the diagnosis and the doctor became abusive. A doctor from the private sector later confirmed to her that she did not need a hysterectomy, and did not have a prolapsed uterus. She believes that the Ministry of Health (MOH) doctor was not concerned about her health but was pressuring her to be sterilized.

The full names and locations of the abused women are being withheld for their protection.

Additional Testimony

In addition to the above testimonies, PRI investigators cited numerous examples of native women who were verbally abused, falsely diagnosed, mistreated, threatened, and otherwise coerced into surgical or chemical sterilizations. Many women agreed to family planning methods because they were afraid of angering officials who controlled access to other government programs they needed. PRI investigators cited examples of women who were given emergency cesarean sections, during the course of which they were sterilized without their foreknowledge or consent.

All of these abuses, Morrison pointed out, occurred after the passage of the Tiahrt Amendment on 25 October 1998, which mandates voluntarism in USAID-funded family planning programs overseas. All took place in the Peruvian MOH program which receives USAID funds.

The Spirit and the Letter

Congressman Tiahrt said that “The spirit if not the letter of the Tiahrt amendment has been violated.” At the briefing, Rep. Tiahrt displayed headlines from Peruvian newspapers dating back to 1996 when the notorious “ligation festivals” were first exposed by local media. An earlier PRI investigation provided the first concrete evidence of these and other abuses and eventually led to the passage of the Tiahrt Amendment.

Given that USAID employs over 30 workers in Peru, commented Congressman Christopher Smith (R-4-NJ), it is “difficult to see how the widespread abuses” new occurring in Peru could have gone unnoticed by the agency.

Following the briefing, Tiahrt wrote to the USAID Administrator requesting that investigations of family planning projects in Peru be undertaken immediately, and called on USAID officials to dispatch investigators to Peru to look into the situation. Under US law, the agency would have 60 days to report back to Congress on what corrective action has been taken. Congressional staff are concerned that USAID may stonewall this request.

As presently worded, the Tiahrt amendment reserves to USAID the right to determine when a violation has taken place and what corrective action to take, if any. Reporters at the briefing questioned the wisdom of allowing USAID to regulate itself, wondering if this wasn’t akin to letting “the fox guard the henhouse.” If USAID fails to take immediate and effective corrective action in Peru, Congressional staffers believe that Congress would act to close this apparent loophole in the law.

USAID Malfeasance

Congressman Smith himself expressed considerable doubt over USAID’s ability to regulate itself’, saying “We can’t just take government officials’ word that abuses have ended when the evidence suggests otherwise.” PRI’s evidence is only the “tip of the iceberg,” Smith went on to say. He criticized USAID for “malfeasance” because of its inability to correctly report to Congress on the current state of “family planning” in Peru.

In a report given to Congress this year, USAID said that Peruvian women “realize their reproductive intentions, with full information, voluntarily and safely” (USAID, “Congressional Report, FY 2000,” www.info.usaid.gov/pubs/cp2000/lac/peru.html). The agency raised additional concerns recently by admitting to Congress that it relies on “target goals” in Peru. US law forbids targets and quotas.

Rep. Smith, a co-sponsor of the Tiahrt amendment, praised PRI for its investigation which he described as “highly credible,” and stated his intention to place the testimony presented by PRI in the Congressional Record.

Standing Room Only

In the audience at the congressional briefing were representatives of Human Rights Watch, the National Council of Catholic Bishops, the American Life League, Family Research Council and an official from the Peruvian embassy in Washington, DC, who described Peru’s ongoing abusive family campaign as “very troubling.” Catherine Edwards of Insight magazine, and reporters from the Conservative News Service and Catholic News Service also attended.

Marlene Gillette of Human Life International translated the presentations of PRI investigators and Congressional members into Spanish to assist members of the Latin American media in attendance. CBS Tele Noticias TV aired coverage into Peru, and Agencia EFE News Services filed stories in the Peruvian press.

PRI President Steven W. Mosher ended the briefing by saying that “the Clinton Administration has promised to increase foreign aid for family planning to record levels this congressional year. But abuses in existing programs such as those found in Peru should be corrected before consideration is given to additional funding.”

As of this writing, a hearing in the House Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee on USAID’s annual appropriation has been scheduled tentatively for 11 April 2000. Subcommittee members are expected to question USAID officials about the Peru controversy, as well as USAID’s alleged use of population targets in Kenya and elsewhere and reports of “‘USAID death squads” in the Dominican Republic (see: “USAID Controversy Erupts,” PRI’s Weekly Briefing 17 March 2000,www.pop.org/briefings/deathsquads.htm).

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