A Thousand Points of Blight (January 8, 1991)


January 8, 1991

A Thousand Points of Blight

ArmeriCares, George Bush’s Favorite Charity, Dispenses Bitter

Medicine Around the World

By Russ W. Baker

Three days after Thanksgiving, when planes from AmeriCares, the private Connecticut-based relief organization, landed in Moscow, the American networks were there to gush as crates of medical supplies and food were unloaded. Each box bore the words, “To the Soviet people from the people of the United States-with love,” a slogan even the Soviet television cameras lingered over, as the crates were lowered onto the tarmac by Russian soldiers and students. It was another media triumph for Robert Macauley’s fast-growing charity empire.

This was not AmeriCares’s first venture in the Soviet Union. In 1988, when the devastating earthquake struck Soviet Armenia, burying thousands under a sea of rubble, the USSR, for the first time ever, accepted significant amounts of foreign relief assistance. First on hand with aid was a Southern Air Transport plane, whose cargo bays opened to reveal the prominent red, white, and blue AmeriCares logo. On Christmas Eve, after flying in three large shipments of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, AmeriCares played Santa Claus, bringing in 100,000 pounds of medicines, toys, blankets, and other items designated specifically for children. That time, each package was labeled, in Armenian: “From the kids of the United States to the kids of Armenia, with love.” The airlift into the region-the scene of considerable anti-Soviet unrest-was accompanied by Jeb Bush, the president’s son, and grandson George P. Bush. For his efforts in Armenia, AmeriCares founder and chairman Robert Macauley was named ABC News’s “Person of the Week.”

Unhindered by red tape, and with U.S. military and corporate largesse at its disposal, AmeriCares gets to earthquake scenes almost before the plates stop rattling. Time and again, American television makes Robert Macauley the star of the moment, a balding, preppy Mother Teresa. And, wherever AmeriCares goes, there’s often a Bush on board, whether it’s George, or one of his sons or grandsons. When AmeriCares sent 250,000 pounds of food and medicines to provinces in rebellion against the Marxist Ethiopian government in 1985, the then vice-president was in Khartoum with Macauley to meet the plane. Bush and Macauley turned up together again at a 1987 airport ceremony in Ecuador to recognize AmeriCares’s relief efforts following an earthquake there. Even the president’s personal physician, Burton J. Lee III, sits on the group’s medical advisory committee. (Macauley and President Bush are old, old friends, and their relationship dates as far back as kindergarten in Connecticut.)

A tidal wave of acclaim has made AmeriCares and Robert Macauley famous. People magazine raved that ” ‘Saint’ Bob Macauley applies the vision of an industrial magnate and the nerves of a corporate raider to helping the world’s poor” and photographed him with Mother Teresa. Reader’s Digest lovingly limned his devotion: Macauley, returning from a trip to Africa, “was sick from intestinal parasites,” the magazine said. “His doctor advised him to stay put. But workers in Honduras had sent him a needs list. So Macauley hopped on a plane and flew down. By the time he came home, he had malaria and pneumonia.” Time, The Atlantic, and a multitude of other publications joined the chorus. Not one of them bothered to take a deeper look at AmeriCares.

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