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Announcement by the First Lady

Office of the Press Secretary

November 16, 1998


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 relief.

A Fact Sheet is Attached.


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