U.S. Beefs Up Response to Mitch as France, Spain, Sweden Pitch In

By MacEOIN, Gary | National Catholic Reporter, December 4, 1998 | Go to article overview

U.S. Beefs Up Response to Mitch as France, Spain, Sweden Pitch In


MacEOIN, Gary, National Catholic Reporter


"Disaster relief is often a political event in Latin America," The New York Times commented in an editorial some days ago. The Clinton administration's response to the unprecedented disaster in Central America caused by Hurricane Mitch at the end of October -- an estimated 25,000 dead or missing, 3 million homeless -- is a perfect example. It is equally true of the response of the administration of one of the nations most affected by the disaster, Nicaragua.

The first U.S. action was to evacuate from Honduras families of embassy personnel and 200 Peace Corps volunteers. The volunteers are healthy young people with skills that could have been used to save lives. Some were so outraged that they resigned rather than leave.

Washington next promised $3 million in aid, a sum so paltry in relation to the calamity that popular protest caused it to be raised quickly to $70 million. When the first U.S. official delegation after the hurricane went to Honduras Nov. 10, another $10 million was thrown in. This was after Honduran President Carlos Flores publicly criticized the United States for failure to respond promptly and adequately.

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Honduras and announced further U.S. aid, $51 million in food, $17 million to help small businesses reopen and $55 million in military support and supplies. Washington simultaneously announced $54 million debt relief for Honduras and Nicaragua. But Washington continues to reject all appeals for cancellation of bilateral debts and would restrict the restructuring of Club of Paris debts to countries that have economic plans approved by the International Monetary Fund.

Responses from other countries, which had far fewer economic ties and political involvements in Central America, were vastly more generous and spontaneous. France canceled its bilateral debt with Nicaragua ($30 million) and with Honduras ($70 million). President Jacques Chirac has visited all the affected countries. France is urging the Club of Paris group to grant a three-year moratorium on debts owed to it. France has joined with Britain in a joint fund ($33 million) to cover debts of Central American countries to the World Bank and the IMF.

Spain has allocated $105 million to help rebuild the region's infrastructure. Sweden has committed between $100 million and $200 million for roads, bridges and agriculture, over three years. Holland has canceled its bilateral debts.

According to the British Jubilee 2000 Coalition, Nicaragua and Honduras pay $2 million daily in debt service. …

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