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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 11, 1998
                    IN THE WAKE OF HURRICANE MITCH
                           December 11, 1998

President Clinton continues to lead an intensive international response to the disaster caused by Hurricane Mitch in Central America. Today, the President met with President Flores of Honduras, President Aleman of Nicaragua, President Calderon Sol of El Salvador, President Rodriguez of Costa Rica and Vice President Flores of Guatemala, along with their respective foreign ministers, to reassert the U.S. commitment to helping the damaged nations rebuild and continue their transformation to democracy, peace and economic modernization.

President Clinton announced that he will visit the region early next year to survey the damage and to look at ways the U.S. can further support long-term reconstruction efforts. President Clinton also announced a new contribution of food aid, valued at $17 million. This assistance will be provided by the Agency for International Development (USAID) and includes additional food for Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador. This brings the U.S. relief assistance total to $300 million. The U.S. continues to announce new contributions to reconstruction, debt relief and trade.

The U.S. assistance program is comprised of the following:


The Department of Defense has provided $150 million to support relief and rehabilitation efforts in Central America.

Over 3,000 military personnel are in the region, representing the four armed services and their reserve components. This force will increase to about 5,600 in the coming weeks. Joint Task Force Commanders in Honduras and El Salvador coordinate U.S. military activities in the region.

Military personnel are engaged in clearing and repairing key roads, providing disease control and treatment, delivering relief supplies and providing engineering expertise. They will begin to install bridges shortly.

Military aircraft has delivered over 4.5 million pounds of relief supplies. Currently there are 50 helicopters and three fixed wing aircraft participating directly in relief efforts. Most major roads are now open, and increasingly supplies are moving overland.

DoD has transported to the region almost 8 million pounds of food, clothing, medicine and other relief items donated by American citizens. An additional 1,000 tons is awaiting shipment.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided $87 million in food and other relief assistance, including microenterprise support.

This includes $30 million to help provide health care and temporary shelter, repair water and sanitation systems, restore agricultural production and support road rehabilitation activities. The funds have also been used to transport and deliver a variety of relief commodities including shelter materials, water containers and blankets.

Food aid has increased to $52 million, providing sufficient food for over 50 percent of those requiring food assistance. Under the PL 480 Title II food aid program, USAID will provide 60,000 metric tons of food to 800,000 Hondurans through next summer, 19,700 metric tons of food to 300,000 Nicaraguans for six months and 7,600 metric tons of food for 60,000 Guatemalans for six months. The total food allocation also includes a $1 million contribution to the World Food Program's appeal for El Salvador. By the end of December, over 45,000 metric tons will arrive in the region, with the balance expected before April.

USAID has provided $5 million to revitalize small businesses impacted by the hurricane. Joined with a $12 million contribution from the Inter-American Development Bank, these funds will serve to rebuild workplaces, reestablish inventories and generate employment.

The Department of Agriculture is providing food aid and concessional loans, valued at $63 million.

USDA is delivering 120,000 MT of wheat for Honduras and Nicaragua, 60,000 MT of wheat for Guatemala and El Salvador and 50,000 metric tons of corn for the four countries. It 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; and $10 million in Title I concessional loans for food purchases for El Salvador and Guatemala.


USAID will immediately direct an estimated $120 million to reconstruction efforts in Central America by reprogramming existing food and other funding and reallocating recently appropriated fiscal year 1999 assistance. These funds will help rehabilitate transportation infrastructure, restore public utilities, support health care, reestablish crop and livestock production and revitalize the economic sector. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has also identified $5 million to supplement these efforts, and other U.S. agencies are examining ways that they can provide further support. USAID will convene a conference on December 15 to encourage private sector contributions and investment in Central America reconstruction.


The International Monetary Fund has estimated that the external financing needs of Honduras and Nicaragua -- the two hardest-hit nations -- will be approximately $1.4 billion over the next several years. Assisting these countries in filling this gap is essential to their recovery. Steps to do so include:

The U.S. and other creditor nations will relieve Honduras and Nicaragua from debt service obligations until 2001. The U.S. will urge other creditors to provide similar relief.

The Administration expects that the international financial institutions will also contribute substantial amounts to help meet external financing needs, as will the World Bank-managed Central American Emergency Trust Fund. The Administration will work with Congress to provide a significant contribution to this trust fund, or to support similar efforts to address this need.

Combined, these efforts could provide more than $1.5 billion in debt relief. In addition, U.S. agencies will work with major donors and lending institutions to provide debt forgiveness -- up to 67 percent of eligible debt for Honduras and up to 90 percent for Nicaragua.


The Overseas Private Investment Corporation will work to spur private sector investment, starting with an initiative to accelerate over $200 million in new projects for the region. The U.S. also continues to support efforts to make trade with the region more free and fair, and will work with Congress to gain legislative approval for Caribbean Basin Initiative enhancement, which would help Central American nations restore their economies. The U.S. also plans to submit to the Senate bilateral investment treaties with Nicaragua and Honduras. Next week, USAID will convene a conference to encourage private sector aid and investment.


The U.S. has extended a stay of deportation for nationals from Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala through January 7, 1999, and is considering further measures.