THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Tegucigalpa, Honduras) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release March 9, 1999
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION ON HURRICANE MITCH RECONSTRUCTION EFFORTS Central Bank Tegucigalpa, Honduras
2:52 P.M. (L)
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you, Mr. President, for your remarks and for the extended visit we have already had today about these matters.
I wanted to have the opportunity today to hear from a broad cross-section of citizens of this country, and so I will be extremely brief. I agree with the President that this period of reconstruction should be seen as the opportunity to build something even better than what was here before. And furthermore, I believe that if all elements of a society are properly involved and feel fairly treated, that the country's social fabric, sense of community will be stronger than it was before the disaster occurred.
Many of you have paid a very high price for what has occurred, and the losses have been staggering. But I think the --I have been quite impressed by what has already been done and by the attitude of the people. What the United States is interested in is how we can best be an effective partner with you from our end. And so I'm quite interested in your perspective on that, as well as anything you would like to tell me about your present activities.
I'd also like to introduce -- this is Congressman Javier Becerra, who came here before with the First Lady, and has just finished a term as the head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. He is from California. And I am delighted to have him back with me. And Congressman Reyes from Texas is also here with us.
Q We have our Archbishop -- perhaps he can kick off the discussion.
Q Thank you very much, Mr. President. President Clinton, Congressman Becerra, we are very happy and very honored by your visit, especially because this country, which truly wants to pick itself up and continue down the path of democracy and development, after being hit so hard by Mitch, finds in your visit, Mr. President, a gesture of solidarity.
I very specially want to thank the people of the United States for their solidarity, and especially their churches. I'd also like to refer to the Catholic community of the United States with Cardinal Bernard -- who visited us just four days after the tragedy, Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles, and Cardinal John O'Connor of New York, and many, many, many bishops who have shown that enormous solidarity to us.
But beyond that assistance, Mr. President, were convinced that for Honduras to be able to overcome this tragedy, we need support specifically from you so that our trade can expand. We need that opening NAFTA parity. We also need, my dear President, to be able -- we would ask you to stop the deportations of Hondurans. You have already made one gesture that we're very grateful for, but we also need that support. There are so many Hondurans who have left their country to be able to achieve better money conditions for their families. They want to live and work honestly.
And third, Mr. President, it is very important, and I ask this as well on behalf of the entire Catholic community of the world -- our Holy Father John Paul II has asked us to pray for debt relief, which is so staggering for us. I wanted to say that on the very worst day of the tragedy, October 30, Honduras had to disperse $60 million to service its debt, and without a doubt -- if the United States support us within the G-7, it would be much easier to get relief from the multilateral debt, which is the one that torments us the most.
I think that this will provide an enormous opportunity for our country to develop in democracy. And in conclusion, I would also like to do something with great freedom and with great sincerity. I want to thank you, Mr. President, for one American Honduran citizen, the one we love the most here, our First Lady. You should be extremely pleased that we have an exemplary U.S. citizen in this country. The Honduran people love her precisely because if their deep affection, especially to the poor and children. Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: And this is the Mayor of Tegucigalpa. I think you know about the accident she had in the helicopter. And after that, she took his job and here, we have her now.
Q Thank you very much, Mr. President and President Flores. Thank you very much for this opportunity to be with you this afternoon and convey a message from the 1 million inhabitants that I represent in this city. This is the city that has suffered the most with this hurricane. Thirty percent of our city was destroyed, and it's very difficult for me in just two minutes to explain to President Clinton what the situation in the city is. I know you've had the opportunity to see this personally. Right now, our city has been cleaned, the vast majority of it, at least, and although the destruction in terms of lives and in terms of our economic and social infrastructure is concerned, despite that, we have great spirit in moving forward.
The city of Tegucigalpa is very honored to receive the President of the United States today and to have this opportunity to express our appreciation directly for all the support we've received, both from your government as well as from your people. And very specially, I'd like to thank the Cregans (phonetic), who were here from the very beginning. And this is the opportunity the people of Tegucigalpa have to say that we are a grateful people and we are willing to move forward with our city. We have suffered very much, but we are willing to work for the future.
I know that for President Flores, it's very difficult to move forward with our country. But with your help to us, your help to local government, we will be able to do very much, because we know the problems that our citizens are suffering. We are the local authority. Welcome to our city, then, and I would like to take this opportunity to give you the keys to our city so that you feel at home. This is your home, Mr. President. Thank you.
MODERATOR: And now, we have Mario Canawati, who is President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of San Perosula (phonetic) and Cortez.
Q President Flores and distinguished guests: Allow me to express our gratitude to you, the government and the people of the United States of America, for the support during the crisis of Hurricane Mitch and the reconstruction of our country. Honduras needs long-term opportunities that are complimentary to our own efforts. Especially those that create employment for our people.
Central America is one of the most important trade partners of the United States. In fact, U.S. exports to the Central American region exceeded exports to all the countries of the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Europe countries combined. Honduras has come a long way in the last 20 years. We have embraced the principle of democracy and open markets economies. And the United States of America has been instrumental in this development through the CBI.
This initiative has been mutually beneficial in many sectors, such as shrimp farming, agricultural products, lumber and wood industries. In turn, U.S. companies have been able to increase their exports. For every dollar Honduras imported in 1997, 61 cents were used to purchase goods and services from the USA.
One of the most dynamic sectors excluded from the CBI is the textile and apparel industry. In less than 10 years, this industry has generated over 110,000 jobs and $455 million in value-added export revenues. Current trade policies prevent us from increasing employment and aggregate value. The average duty for our country's exports is 17.7 percent, compared to 2.4 percent of Mexico, creating an unfair trade condition.
Recent data shows that Honduras is losing investment to Mexico. If this trend continues, in less than two years, we could start experiencing an actual reduction of economic activity. Furthermore, when garments are made in Honduras using U.S. yarns, duty is calculated on the value added here in Honduras, and also on the yarn made and cut and grown in the United States.
Our only alternative to creating permanent jobs and sustained economic growth is through the implementation of a trade field that we allow our exports to compete under the same conditions that the NAFTA products have. We, the private sector, are committed in the reconstruction of Honduras. We hope that history repeats itself with a new version of CBIs that includes garments and textiles and strengthens education, that will enable us to have sustainable development.
Thank you very much, Mr. President.
MODERATOR: And perhaps Jacqueline Foglia from the Honduran American Chamber of Commerce would like to speak.
Q -- and your distinguished guests. Hurricane Mitch affected the agricultural sector in a greater proportion than other sectors of the economy. Our two largest members, Chiquita Brand and Dole, were virtually wiped out. The hurricane destroyed roads and bridges throughout the country, affecting the movement of goods such as fuel, wood, coffee, etc. The melon, shrimp farms, and small and medium businesses were also hard hit.
Fortunately, both the garment industry and tourism sectors were not highly affected, and these may provide the motor for economic reconstruction. In this sense, the American Chamber of Commerce in Honduras, AmCham Honduras, which is comprised of over 500 members, is carrying out the following action plan.
We coordinated relief efforts of Sister AmCham's directing aid towards diverse social programs. We serve as an information clearinghouse on the hurricane for other chambers of commerce, and U.S. politicians and businesspeople, including your embassy staff, informing about business climate and economic losses.
We are communicating with the Association of American Chambers of Commerce of Latin America, ACCLA, in Washington, concerning both your administration and the U.S. Congress's legislative proposal for relief to Honduras.
Our needs in this reconstruction package are the inclusion of the Caribbean Basin Trade Enhancement Measure which, through greater access to U.S. markets will allow for a faster economic recovery, job creation and overall economic benefits for Honduras. We believe that such policy will help minimize long-term immigration, health care, education and law enforcement costs within the U.S.
We participated in the creation of a task force within ACCLA for businesses in the continent to cooperate with each other in natural disasters affecting our nation. One of the greatest problems businesses are encountering in the reconstruction process is the lack of access to soft loans. We are especially aware of the pressing need of credit that small businesses have -- small and micro businesses. We actively seek financial information from Ex-Im Bank, OPIC and other financial institutions and provide this information to the business community.
The private sector is committed to investing millions of dollars to repair and rebuild our country in close collaboration with the government, prioritizing the recovery of the productive sector, such as industrialized agriculture, which provides a great part of our GNP.
We believe that by helping the private sector in its rebuilding effort, we will guarantee the full and prompt recovery of Honduras. Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: And now, Jorge Quinones, Director of the Vida Foundation.
Q Thank you very much, President Flores, and President Clinton. Congressman Becerra, my deal panelists and distinguished audience. As a member of the environmental sector organizations and a representative of the Vida Foundation, I'd like to say the following on the occasion of your historic visit. Thank you, President Clinton, for honoring us with your presence here and affording us this valuable exchange of information on the present situation in our country.
It would also be timely to say how grateful we are to your government and the people of the United States, for the financial and technical support they have provided us through USAID, which has allowed us in the last five years to implement 250 environmental projects to promote environmental education in our people, the conservation of our ecosystems and biodiversity, as well as to promote our hydrographic basins, and this allows us now to contribute to joint management of 300,000 hectares of areas protected in the meso-American biological corridor, which is considered a vital biological space between the Americas.
Notwithstanding everything that's been done, we Hondurans today have painfully realized that sooner or later, nature always sends us a bill. And so the devastation made by Mitch would have been far worse if the work done on our natural resources had not been at the level it was. Our basins were swept away by this phenomenon. It's going to take us quite a long time to be able to recover, and we cannot fail to underscore their importance for our economy and health. Reforestation, sustainable management of our basins are perhaps the most formidable challenges we have in reconstruction.
The Vida Foundation offers to be a financial intermediary so that with our government and our people, we can carry out all the projects necessary to rehabilitate water resources and to be able to recover our water resources as soon as possible. Environmental education, more than ever, needs to be a central part of our agenda for reconstruction.
President Clinton, we are sure that our enormous tragedy will be reversed. This will be a great opportunity for us because we know that our nation has the firm and capable leadership that can generate the idea of struggle that these circumstances require of us and the environmental sector of civil society and Vida are grateful for your solidarity and your will to support us. And we hope that your visit will reconfirm knowledge of the cruel realities Mitch has left us. And if Honduras -- forest resources. But also, we hope to rebuild it so that it will be less polluted and a better environmental Honduras. Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: And Mariano Flanos now from Save the Children. Thank you very much, President Flores, President William Clinton and Congressman Becerra.
Q Ladies and gentlemen -- the private NGO movement in the development sector in Honduras is very proud and very happy to have you here with us. It's a privilege for Honduras to have you with us here today. In Honduras, Save the Children has been working for 30 years in more than 800 communities where we've supported the comprehensive development of these communities.
When the hurricane hit, Save the Children supported over 50,000 people with different kinds of financing from the people and government of the United States, especially from AID. Moreover, we have had the support of human resources from U.S. organizations here in Honduras which go far beyond reconstruction and infrastructure. This provides an exchange between the peoples of Honduras and the United States -- organizations such as Friends of the Americas, organizations like Medico, organizations from Princeton University who have been with us here in Honduras. The city of Missoula, Montana, which gave its support to Honduras. Two thousand homes -- we are now supporting the construction of these homes and the rehabilitation of 55 potable water systems. And 46 schools, as well as kindergartens in Honduras.
Over 12,000 boys and girls are being supported through the donation of educational material and over 50 clinics and hospitals are also being supported with material and equipment through the funds provided by the government and people of the United States. Eight hundred leading producers have also been supported -- these are volunteers, to help reestablish production at the small scale to protect the microbasins in our country.
And activities such as these are also mirrored in the private sector. NGOs like Care International, Catholic Relief Services, and others who have supported this kind of work -- with the help of government and people of the United States. Thank you very much for being here.
MODERATOR: And now, Ricardo Maduro, a businessman.
Q As president of a private educational foundation, I feel especially privileged in being able to address you on the subject of education. Our infrastructure in education were substantially damaged by Mitch. Over 3,300 schools, over 6,000 teachers were left homeless, and in addition to damage to materials, the ministry was completely flooded, and a great majority of the records and files were lost. In spite of this, we feel that the worst effect of Mitch has been to reduce our capacity, public and private, to invest in education. We must not allow education to fall from its place as a top priority for Honduras. On the contrary, as President Flores has said, our goal is not only to recuperate, but to improve on pre-Mitch conditions, reemphasizing education's role as a main foundation for transformation.
Conditions are critical in this sector. The average Honduran has only four and one half years of schooling, and it takes us 10 years, calendar time, to improve that indicator by one year. The quality of education is seriously deficient, ranking us among the lowest of the developing countries. Teacher training and curricular content are some of the reasons for this. Programs in nontraditional methods to reach students through means such as radio and television are urgently needed.
Our curriculum does not effectively address the needs of the market. Serious additional studies and programs must be formulated. The incorporation of modern technology with computers and we feel, as well as the general requirement of a second language, are two of the necessary steps, English being the second language.
Although private schools are and should continue to go under participation in the sector, there's no doubt that the principal actor will continue being the government for many decades. The public sector must be strengthened in their institutional capacity to face the challenges in the sector.
Direct involvement of Honduran citizens and non-public institutions we feel is a necessity for successful educational reform. Private foundations such as ours and other NGOs need support for scholarship funding, research, and project design and implementation.
Honduras is especially grateful to USAID for their support in effective programs that have helped children in and out of schools to improve not only their scholastic level, but also the quality of their instruction.
Mr. President, -- from Mitch, as well as long-term social sustainability, based on adequate material well-being and the quality of life based on values can only be attained with equitable quality education. I sadly share with all Hondurans the consequences of this unmet need. The United States emphasizes helping their friends to help themselves. I believe that the best way to do this is to help us to educate ourselves.
Thank you very much.
Q Thank you very much, Mr. President. On behalf of the Flores administration, we have devoted ourselves more than anything to try to find several parallel activities which will lead us to find a solution to the tragic problem provoked by Hurricane Mitch. We are now attempting to reach an agreement as soon as possible with the IMF, more than anything to be able to have some kind of debt relief, both bilateral within the -- as well as multilateral, with the qualification of highly indebted poor country.
And the magnitude of the tragedy that hit Central America, and in particular our country, has meant that with our scarce resources in the short-term we cannot deal with a reconstruction project. We need this debt relief, therefore, and we need fresh resources from the multilateral organizations. And furthermore, with need international cooperation.
So we are working very actively on our reconstruction master plan to present at the consultative group in Stockholm. Aside from our master plan for reconstruction, we're working on consultations with civil society, because we feel that the tragedy is so enormous that we need the concerted efforts of the government and civil society, and we are strengthening our mechanisms of transparency through international auditing in which USAID has been a very important contributing factor to provide us with the resources to be able to hire an international auditing firm.
And we have also strengthened the internal auditing organizations within the country. Thanks to the AID, we're now updating our government procurement system, and we're also working on creating a general project inspection office, where with the participation of international auditors we'll be able to supervise all the work carried out to make sure that we make optimum use of the resources the country receives through international cooperation.
Our reconstruction plan is aimed at comprehensive human development, sustainable use of our natural resources, promoting the participation of our recourses, and naturally, our national reconstruction. Thank you.
Q Mr. President, first let me thank you for giving me the opportunity to sit here with you. Thank you for this opportunity to be with all the members of your government, all the people of Honduras and of Central America. In Spanish, I would like to first thank my President, Mr. Bill Clinton. Not only he, but also the First Lady, Mrs. Clinton, took the time to come here. I don't know if you know this in Honduras, but in the United States, to have the President visit one of our cities is extremely difficult. Now, to have both of them visit the same place is incredible.
So what both the President and the First Lady have demonstrated in coming to visit Honduras and Central America is that they are here with you. I want to make sure that I do thank President Flores because I know that he and Mrs. Flores have also been not just in the office in the Palace, but also on the streets. And to me, that is a sign of true leadership, when the leaders of our countries are out on the street as well.
I applaud the accomplishments that I've seen since I was here back in early November. Much has been done, much still needs to be done. A message from the people of the United States of America: Our spirit is with you. Some of us are here physically with you. Our resources are with you. And I say not just figuratively, but these days, literally, you have brothers and sisters in the United States of America who are with you in every respect. The tragedy of Hurricane Mitch certainly tested your human spirit and you have come out and excelled. The tragedy of Hurricane Mitch also tested your new democracy and again you have excelled.
Our President has boldly come forward with the plan of assistance to this country and the rest of Central America. The American people, as you've seen through the many donations, have come forward to provide assistance. Now, quite honestly, the test is with the Congress of the United States. We must now move forward boldly as the President has and approve his request for assistance to this region.
I pledge, along with all my colleagues including Congressman Slyvester Reyes from Texas, to work as hard and the Honduran people have labored to rebuild this country. And in that respect, Mr. President, I should mention there is an effort, a real effort underway with the people in the city of Fillmore who are working with the people in San Perosula (phonetic). I think Jose Domino (phonetic) -- has approached us trying to see if we can help them obtain some bridges that the city of Fillmore is willing to donate. Transportation is already secured -- all they need now is the ability to break down these -- from an old bridge so they can be transported and be used here in San Perosula. So we're all working forward. And I'm very pleased that I'm able to be here with President, joined with him, and see if we can do just a little bit more. Thank you very much.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: First of all, I would like to thank you all for your presentations and for making them quite specific and to the point. I would like to respond to a number of the points that were made. First of all, I have sent legislation to the Congress, just last week before I came here, asking for greater liberalization of trade for the Central America and Caribbean nations to move closer toward parity with NAFTA in Mexico. I have -- it does not go as far in everything that I'm sure a lot of you would do, but it does as much as we believe we can pass in the Congress.
I was profoundly disappointed last year that we did not pass the trade opening initiative. And, of course, after the hurricane struck I was even more disappointed. I think now, ironically because of the hurricane, we may have a better chance to pass a bill. And I will do everything I can to that end.
With regard to debt relief, part of the package that I have proposed to the Congress in aid as opposed to trade -- about a $965 million package -- a part of it involves the debt deferral and outright debt forgiveness, both of which would give very much needed debt relief not only to Honduras, but to the other Central American nations. If the Congress will go along with me and pass this, it will give me the standing to argue more forcefully to the other nations and to the international organizations that they must follow suit.
I think clearly Honduras should be given relief under the highly-indebted countries initiative that the United States has done a lot to create. I believe we should do more. I think the fact that the Holy Father has made this a year in which he's calling for people to do more debt relief will, frankly, be enormously helpful, and I told him that when I was in St. Louis recently. And I would urge you to communicate to the Vatican that -- if there could be more of this, like sort of a constant reminder, it would be a highly effective, even perhaps establishing some sort of priority saying you ought to do at least Central America and then something in Africa and something in Asia to give hope to the people on those continents, something like that.
But I think on a thing like this it's not enough to say it one time. We have to keep working. But I think Central America has a special claim here -- Honduras, Nicaragua, the other countries as well because -- one of the arguments I always hear even in my own country about debt forgiveness is, well, look you know if you -- and the former banker here understands this -- if you forgive it all, well, then, nobody will want to loan any money tomorrow because they'll think all of that will be forgiven, too.
Well, in the aftermath of the worst natural disaster in centuries here, it seems to me that argument just doesn't hold water here. It might be true in the case of an Asian country that had a bad banking system and got in an economic problem for local reasons, but it seems to me insofar as the present predicament of Central America is a direct result of the hurricane, that argument has no standing.
So I will do the best I can. But again, I would urge all of you to stay on that because relieving the government of the financial burden of the payments will free up a lot of money for education and other things as well.
On the deportation, I think you know, Archbishop Rodriguez, because you spoke in a way that indicated you did -- I have done what I could to minimize the impact of some of our immigration laws not only on Hondurans, but on all the people of Central America. I, frankly, believe I have done all I can do under the law. Now, because there was such hardship here, so much devastation, I was able to provide some greater consideration for the Hondurans that have come to the United States.
But I think it would be a mistake to sort of openly encourage more people to come, in violation of our laws and quotas, because there is -- I have gone to the limit of what I can now do. And I think it is far more important for us to concentrate on getting this aid package passed, getting the debt relief, getting the trade relief, getting the renewal of the economy here going.
Let me just mention three other issues very quickly. One of you mentioned the need for more loans for small business and micro-businesses. We have our USAID director here with me, Mr. Atwood. I think the United States funded 2 million microenterprise loans last year, through AID around the world. My wife is -- probably talked about that when she was here. This is a passion of hers, and has been for about 15 years now.
And we have found, in our own country, when we have a natural disaster -- you know, we had a flood, a 500-year flood in the Mississippi River five years ago. And one of the most important funds that we have is the fund that provides for special credit for small businesses who otherwise could not get it.
So I don't know whether there's anything special, Mr. President, we could do to help for the small and micro-enterprises, or to try to establish even a broader and more adequate international fund for such things in the face of disasters. But we always find -- even in America, which has a very sophisticated banking system -- that they are the first casualties of natural disasters that wreck the economies of whole communities. So if we could help you in that, I would be happy to.
There are just two other things that were mentioned. With regard to the environment, I think that -- you said, sir, that you felt that the disaster would have been even worse had it not been for some of the environmental practices here in Honduras. Yesterday, when I was in Nicaragua, there was no question that it was worse in the places where there had been vast deforestation, and nothing to protect the people from the mudslides. And you have a lot of serious -- the President was telling me today, you have a lot of serious decisions to make about, you know, how to replenish the soil which has been destroyed, where the topsoil has been carried away, or perhaps the nutrients have been washed away and the crops won't grow anymore.
I will do whatever I can. In this aid package, we have some significant amount of money for environmental investments. But I will do whatever I can to be particularly helpful there. I think it would be -- not only with the United States but with others as well -- I think the more we know about the specific plans and strategies, the better off we will be.
But if you look at our hemisphere, our region here, it's perfectly obvious that the countries that have done the best job of preserving their natural environment are going to be the strongest economically also, over the long run. And yet, one of the greatest battles we face in the world today, in this larger struggle over climate change -- which may or may not have had anything to do with Hurricane Mitch; we don't know. No one knows for sure.
But the larger battle is that in most countries, most decision makers do not believe you can grow an economy unless you continue to use its resources at an unsustainable rate -- that is, at a greater rate than they can be replaced. And do not believe you can grow an economy unless you increase, year-in and year-out, the amount of fuel and energy you are using that contributes to greenhouse gases -- coal and oil, for example.
Now, all the evidence is against that proposition. But old ideas die hard. And I do believe that because economies have -- if for no other reason, and because of some of the stunning examples already set by the preservation of the biosphere or by the energy patterns adopted in Costa Rica, for example, that Central America may be in a unique position to get lots of investment to prove to the rest of the world that we don't have to destroy the environment to grow the economy. And so I would be happy to exert some extra efforts to help you get some investments in that regard, but again, I think the specifics are important.
For example, I'll just say one thing. The last time I was in Costa Rica, I noticed they were driving -- the buses they were using, the school buses they were using, the transportation buses they were using -- were powered by electricity or natural gas, and they were all made by a company in Vice President Gore's home state. And there are lots of things -- if we knew what the strategy was here and what the priorities were, there might be a lot of things we could do to be helpful.
The last thing I'd like to say is, I want to endorse what was said earlier by you, Mr. Maduro (phonetic), about education. And I would be happy for us to have a long-term partnership on that, but again, I don't feel that I know enough to know what your immediate priorities are. The United States has had some success in working with countries in various parts of the world in helping to increase more rapidly the number of children going to school.
And, of course, as you pointed out, there's no point in increasing the number of children going to school unless you have a place for them to go to school, a teacher to teach them and materials with which they learn. But I do not believe that you can come anywhere close to doing what you want to do in Honduras if it takes you a decade to add one more year to the average school. And there may be a way -- I'm going to talk about this a little bit tomorrow, but this is a year in which a lot of countries are trying to pass this international convention against child labor, which the church has been solemnly supportive of, and which I strongly support.
But I think it would be interesting to see whether we could marry the commitment of countries to support the convention against child labor with a commitment of the advanced countries that are pushing to help to dramatically increase investment in those countries in education, so that you're saying not just that you don't want the children in the factory, but you do want them in the school.
And there may be a way that we could dramatically accelerate the rate, the average schooling here. Now, I have all these people from my administration here, plus Lieutenant Governor McKay, former lieutenant governor of Florida, who now will be my new Special Envoy to Latin America, and Mr. Atwood and the others are all here, so -- and your ambassadors. He's our ambassador, but I think he's really your ambassador. (Laughter.) But we will follow up on this.
On the environment and on education, the more specific you can be about what you want us to do, the more we can be helpful, I think. On all these areas, I will do my best.
The last thing I'd like to say is I'd like to thank the gentleman from Save the Children. My wife and I have been involved with Save the Children for more than 20 years, long before we ever thought we would be in national political life. And as soon as this hurricane occurred, she gave some money from her foundation to Save the Children through operations here. So I thank you for what you're doing. The organization has done great work in our home area as well, and I thank all of you.
This was a very good set of presentations, and you gave me a lot to go home and work on.
PRESIDENT FLORES: Just maybe the closing words that you may say, Mr. President. First, our appreciation. I want to -- part of the audience is an ample representation of our leadership here in this country, of non-governmental institutions, labor unions, of private enterprise, of religious groups, and of people that represent different sectors of our society. We're trying to work together in terms of what we have talked here today.
Maybe briefly, in terms of the immigration factor that is very sensible for us and one that Monsignor Oscar Rodriguez touched, we understand the position -- your position and the position of the United States that we don't want to promote migration to the United States. We want our people and we want them to stay here. In terms of the people that went in the earlier days -- the only thing that we are asking is for the same treatment that the other Central American countries have --
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, I think you know that I strongly believe in that. I think that the present American immigration law and how it treats people that were in our country as of some time ago is an inexcusable remanet of the cold war and wrong. I haven't said anything to you I haven't said at home. I think that -- people came to the United States because they felt oppressed and are entitled to stay in our country because they came here, it shouldn't matter whether they felt the oppression from the left or the right. I mean, if it's a rational category people should be treated the same regardless of what the facts are. But the real issue is that all the countries in Central America should be treated the same insofar as whatever the objective facts were that brought the people to our country. So if people should come home, then they should be treated the same; if people should be able to stay, they should be treated the same. That's what I believe.
PRESIDENT FLORES: We coincide in terms of that, and the other factor is, then -- we are completely sure that with everything that we have going, in terms of the advancements on what we have done with the financial institutions, the leadership -- your leadership, and that of the United States, in terms of getting these things into the process of crystallizing. Even though we have had such a terrible blow, we will do good, we are sure we will do good, and that we will recuperate soon.
But there's a bridge that we have to cross, because people are becoming very uneasy. One thing that we have for us is the will of the people, but also the hope. And that's the thing that we don't want to lose. And bad timing -- from this moment, when people are starting to get uneasy. That's what I say, we don't want to regress in terms of what has cost us so hard to get, that's the democracy that we have fought for, which is, as a matter of fact, the great legacy of this century to the next century.
We have said that then, in America, there is all but one country, then, that has a democratic system, freely elected governments. That is a great legacy. In the worst that we would want to see as a scenario that we saw so many years before, when we were conflicted and that we were confronting, we don't want to go back to those years because of uneasiness in times of the people. We have to show the people that democracy works. That's the challenge that we have for the next century. We already won in terms of liberty and democracy. But the challenge is to show our people that the system works for them.
And when we have had a great catastrophe, it's even harder for us. How to cross the bridge? How to maintain the unity? How to maintain the hope of those people? So many out of jobs; so many that, every day because they don't have what they require to maintain themselves and their family, they might go into this frustration -- and here in Honduras, it's such high numbers.
And like we were talking today, every time that somebody comes here, and that they want to do good because they want to announce their solidarity, we get big titles of how much money we're receiving, in terms of commitments. And everybody that comes, the same figures get put in the newspapers, and people think that we have bundles of money ready. And we don't; we have received very little, as far as today. We have done a lot with our own resources. Of course, with the solidarity in the emergency, we're sure that the resources are going to be there for the reconstruction period.
But we need to cross a bridge. Next year, I think it's going to be much better, but this is a very hard year. And this is when we need the things that can be done more easily and quickly so that people won't lose hope. The Caribbean Basin Initiative is one of those things. That's why we highly abide and support, because that can generate quickly the jobs that we need so much. Afterwards, well, construction will take care of providing those jobs. The growth of the economy, because of the resources that we receive will provide for the added force that we need in terms of the benefit of the people.
But we need to cross that bridge. It's so that people don't end in this inspiration and that we don't request that they maintain their confidence and that we maintain our unity. Thank you so much, Mr. President, for being here. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you. Let me just say one thing. As we break up, I have heard this, and one of the reasons I am grateful that we have members of our Congress here is that we have these bills up there, they can be addressed now. I think there is an overwhelming understanding in both parties in the Congress that we have to pass the aid bill, and I think the only thing that we have to do is to make sure that political considerations in America that have nothing to do with Central America, things that back home don't in any way hold up the consideration of either piece of legislation, and so we will work hard on it. Thank you.
Oh, I have to get my key to the city. If I wear this to dinner tonight, I'll get a discount. (Laughter.) Thank you. (Applause.)
END 3:58 P.M. (L)