THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
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 relief.
A Fact Sheet is Attached.
THE CLINTON/GORE ADMINISTRATION RELIEF EFFORTS IN CENTRAL AMERICA IN THE WAKE OF HURRICANE MITCH
President Clinton has been leading an aggressive relief effort in response to the disaster caused by Hurricane Mitch in Central America. Today, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Honduras and Nicaragua and announced the deployment of a second package of military support that will allow the U.S. to substantially increase relief and reconstruction efforts. The First Lady also announced additional food aid, debt relief, and other assistance, bringing total U.S. assistance to more than $250 million. Many United States government agencies are working tirelessly with us to help bring disaster relief to Central America. Here are some specifics:
Department of Defense
The President has directed the Department of Defense to release $75 million in emergency assistance for Central America. Over 1,300 soldiers are in the region as part of a special Joint Task Force of the four branches of service of the U.S. Military. This force will increase to more than 5,600 in the coming weeks. This task force is assisting in relief efforts on a number of fronts:
Dozens of U.S. military helicopters and aircraft operate daily and have delivered over 2.5 million pounds of relief supplies (food, water, blankets, sheeting, sanitation services) to date; additional helicopters arrived in the area on November 12, bringing the total to 39.
Military engineering units are clearing and repairing key roads;
DOD has transported $5 million in relief supplies donated by U.S. citizens under the Denton Program;
DOD's new package of support will deploy to the region this week to supplement current efforts. This support includes: 16 additional helicopters, engineering, bridge companies and road-building units, medical detachments and supplies, a field hospital, and 11 water purification systems;
A second Joint Task force was established today in El Salvador to coordinate military relief efforts in Nicaragua, Guatamala, and El Salvador.
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
A 31-member Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) from USAID is present in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador, coordinating U.S. relief activities with national and private voluntary efforts;
USAID is providing $30 million to purchase and distribute plastic sheeting, blankets and other relief supplies, procure food locally, provide health, water and sanitation services (including restoration of Tegucigalpa's water system), and purchase supplies for road repair and reconstruction. Ten flights have delivered relief supplies from stockpiles in the U.S. to Central America;
USAID is providing $25 million in emergency food aid, including 50,000 tons of rice, beans, oil and corn meal;
USAID is airlifting food to the region and has delivered almost 1,300 metric tons on 18 flights to Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala;
An estimated 6,000 metric tons is expected to arrive in the region by ship before the end of the month;
USAID and the Department of Housing and Urban Development will lead a mission, in partnership with the private sector, to address housing reconstruction and infrastructure repair needs;
USAID and the Inter-American Development Bank will provide $17 million in grants and loans to rebuild workplaces, reestablish inventories, and generate employment.
Department of Agriculture:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing 100,000 metric tons of wheat, worth approximately $12 million to Honduras and Nicaragua;
USDA will provide $20 million in grants to Honduras and Nicaragua for the purchase of beans, dry milk, vegetable oil, rice, and other basic commodities;
USDA will also provide another $10 million in concessional loans for food purchases to Guatamala and El Salvador.
Department of Treasury:
The U.S. is prepared to provide debt relief of up to $50 million for Nicaragua and Honduras, thereby relieving these two countries of their obligation to service their debt with the United States through the year 2000. The United States believes that these two countries should be relieved of all of their debt service obligations for the next two years and will work with our partners to accomplish this objective;
The United States will take a leading role in organizing a meeting of international donors in early December in Washington to discuss long-term financial assistance.
Department of Justice:
The President has asked the Immigration and Naturalization Service to extend a stay of deportation for nationals from Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala through the end of the year. In addition, the Administration is examining on an urgent basis recommendations for further relief.
Additional members of the Peace Corps and former Peace Corps volunteers will travel to Nicaragua and Honduras to offer their expertise to help meet emergency needs and begin the rebuilding effort.