Other nations offer aid, sympathy - and criticism

Pledges of help mixed with shock at U.S. failure

Katrina's Wake

September 03, 2005|By Hector Tobar | Hector Tobar,LOS ANGELES TIMES

MEXICO CITY - Around the world, the irony was too deep to ignore.

In teeming Mexico City, the newspaper Ovaciones took a break from its daily diet of kidnappings and gore to splash across its front page images of an American city reduced to "starvation, refugees and helicopters under fire."

"Just Like Haiti!" the banner headline screamed.

From Beijing and Havana, as well as from Paris and Berlin, there were offers of assistance to the most powerful nation on Earth as it struggled to cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Pledges of help came from more than 50 countries, including oil from Venezuela, generators from Japan and cash from Australia. Others offered boats, aircraft, medical supplies and blankets.

Even impoverished Sri Lanka made a $25,000 donation, a small gesture to recognize Americans' response to last year's tsunami.

But the expressions of sympathy were mixed with a worldwide sense of amazement and disgust at the failure of American authorities to cope with the crisis.

After describing the plight of two Brazilians caught up in the fetid human drama at the Superdome in an editorial titled "Collapse," the Rio de Janeiro newspaper Jornal do Brasil said New Orleans had been reduced to a "tribal area."

"To see homeless dying of thirst and lack of medical care in the middle of the street escapes comprehension," the paper wrote. "The world asks how [the Americans] were able to take food and water so quickly to remote Indonesia and cannot save New Orleans."

In Europe, some commentators saw links between the disaster and unpopular U.S. policies in Iraq. A German environmental official linked the disaster to the Bush administration's position on global warming. Others saw a racial dimension to the tragedy.

"The fast and secure evacuation has been of white people," said the German leftist daily Die Tageszeitung. "Poor and black people stayed behind. It is as if time had stopped between the racial unrest of the '60s and today."

Among the most heartfelt expressions of sympathy were those from Southeast Asia, where memories are fresh of the tsunami, another surge of angry waters that took thousands of lives. Australian Prime Minister John Howard said his government was dispatching 20 disaster experts to the region and giving $7.5 million to the Red Cross. "There should not be an assumption that because America is the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world, this isn't a major challenge and a major crisis," he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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