THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
November 16, 1998
STATEMENT BY THE PRESS SECRETARY
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton announced today in Tegucigalpa,
Honduras a major expansion in the United States' contribution to relief
and reconstruction efforts in Central American countries struggling
to cope with the devastating effects of Hurricane Mitch. Current estimates
of U.S. emergency assistance now reach over $250 million.
In the coming weeks, the Defense Department will more than quadruple
its personnel from 1,300 to over 5,600 and further expand its helicopter
fleet from 39 to 55 in the region. Starting this week, the Department
of Defense will deploy a second package of military support estimated
to cost $55 million for the first 30 days. The package includes 16 additional
helicopters, engineering and road-building units, bridges, medical detachments
and supplies, a field hospital, and 11 water purification systems to
help alleviate the suffering and begin to rebuild countries shattered
by catastrophic flooding. In addition to Joint Task Force Bravo in Honduras,
a second Joint Task Force was established today in El Salvador to coordinate
U.S. military relief efforts in Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador.
President Clinton has already approved $75 million in defense equipment
and services to cover current efforts.
The First Lady also announced a significant increase in food aid to
help Honduras and Nicaragua, the countries most devastated by the deadly
storm, feed its people and free up resources to address other emergency
needs. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
will provide an additional $15 million in emergency food aid to help
meet immediate food needs. This brings AID's Honduras food aid response
to $25 million, consisting of approximately 50,000 tons of rice, beans,
vegetable oil and corn meal.
Also, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved a further
donation of 100,000 tons of wheat to Honduras and Nicaragua worth approximately
$12 million. USDA will also provide $20 million in grants to Honduras
and Nicaragua for the purchase of beans, dry milk, vegetable oil, rice
and other basic commodities. In addition, USDA will provide another
$10 million in concessional loans for food purchases to Guatemala and
El Salvador, bringing total U.S. food aid to over $81 million.
Already, as a result of damage to roads and bridges, an emergency
air convoy of 25 USAID financed flights has carried 1,300 tons of rice,
beans, corn and vegetable oil to the region. Private U.S. citizens have
already contributed $5 million in relief supplies, being transported
into the region in another 50 U.S. Government financed flights. In addition,
10 flights have delivered plastic sheeting, water containers and other
relief supplies from stockpiles in the U.S. to the region.
The First Lady also announced that the U.S. is prepared to provide
debt relief of up to $50 million for Nicaragua and Honduras, the two
countries most severely affected by Hurricane Mitch. These actions would
have the immediate effect of relieving these countries of the obligation
to service their bilateral debts to the U.S. through the year 2000.
The U.S. believes that these countries should be relieved of all their
debt service obligations for the next two years and will be working
with our partners to accomplish this objective. The U.S. will take a
leading role in organizing a meeting of international donors in early
December in Washington to discuss long-term financial assistance.
Beyond the immediate crisis of caring for the hundreds of thousands
of displaced people, the First Lady is particularly concerned about
the long-term effect of the storm on the burgeoning micro enterprise
sectors in these countries. Many small businesses have lost their modest
investments in equipment, vehicles and infrastructure. To help put these
micro entrepreneurs back on their feet, the First Lady announced that
the Inter-American Development Bank and USAID will provide $17 million
in grants and loans to rebuild workplaces, reestablish inventories and
generate employment for those hit by the storm.
The First Lady also announced a new infusion of current and former
Peace Corps volunteers who will lend their expertise to help meet both
emergency relief and long-term reconstruction needs. The Peace Corps
Crisis Corps of returned volunteers will be sending several dozen former
volunteers to Honduras and Nicaragua to contribute critical skills to
the rebuilding effort.
The First Lady's announcement comes on the heels of President Clinton's
joint radio address last Saturday with Mrs. Tipper Gore, who led a Presidential
Mission to the region last week. The President announced that the Department
of Justice will extend the stay of deportation for citizens from Honduras,
Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala through the end of the year and
that he will examine on an urgent basis recommendations for further
A Fact Sheet is Attached.