A Monthly On-Line Column by Tipper Gore
America Pledges Their Assistance To
Our Neighbors In Central America
The people of Central America have suffered a
disaster of Biblical
proportions. The pace of their recovery depends, to a large measure, on
what we as their neighbors do to help them, and on the long-term
involvement of the international community.
Less than a week ago, I led a Presidential
Delegation to Central America
to witness firsthand the devastation that has resulted from Hurricane
Mitch. The scale of the disaster is beyond anything we have ever
witnessed. Some claim that this may be the worst natural disaster in
recorded history. The human toll from this disaster is immense -- more
than ten thousand lives lost and more than one million people homeless.
No one in Central America has been untouched by this tragedy.
Our Delegation, which included Senators Chris Dodd
(CT), Jeff Bingaman
(NM) and Mary Landrieu (LA) and Representatives Gary Ackerman (NY), Jim
Kolbe (AZ) and Xavier Becerra (CA), along with USAID Administrator Brian
Atwood, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jack Leonard, and Atlanta
Braves player Dennis Martinez, a native Nicaraguan, flew into
Tegucigalpa, Honduras and went to visit one of the harder hit
Before the storm, the Manuel Bonilla School served the
--when we arrived, it was ankle-deep in mud. We worked side by side with
the community leaders and the Delegation members of the Delegation to
clean up the school so it could be used as a medical facility. That
night, I slept in a tent pitched at a shelter in the Japon School, which
housed families whose homes and even neighborhoods had been totally
lost. They spoke of when the storm hit. Many had no warning and were
caught by surprise. It came so fast that many were trapped in their
homes with water up to their chests, trying to escape. I met a woman in
the shelter who was six months pregnant and another who was a grandmother
caring for her grandchildren. They had lost everything. I met a blind
man who barely got out in time. They are now living in one large room,
sleeping on mats. Disease is rampant.
The next day in Managua, I visited Ciudad Sandino, a
refugee site for
more than 1,000 men, women and children whose homes along the river bank
are completely destroyed. The conditions they are living in are
unimaginable. The government has given them one large plot of land which
is divided into small parcels --one per family. Their only shelter is
made from sheets of plastic. One small stream trickles through the area,
but it is contaminated. They're experiencing outbreaks of both cholera
and malaria. Their biggest concerns right now are food, water, and
The efforts of so many Americans who have taken
part in relief activities
are a major source of hope for the people of Central America. The U.S.
Agency for International Development, the U.S. military, private
non-profit organizations, churches, corporations, communities and many
others have mobilized efforts across the United States to provide goods
and services to our neighbors in Central America. It is truly inspiring
to see the U.S. response to this crisis, which has been swift and vast
across all sectors of our society.
President Clinton announced a relief package of $70
and authorized me to announce an additional $10 million as part of our
investment in the recovery of our neighbor countries in Central America.
The President is also looking at additional long term commitments to the
region, including the deployment of skilled U.S. disaster experts, Peace
Corps volunteers, and others who can work alongside government officials,
local groups, and those most immediately affected to aid them in their
efforts. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton will arrive in the region today.
The President also directed Secretary Rubin to find
the best way to
provide debt relief and emergency financial aid from the United States
and the international community. We have already encouraged
international institutions to provide more than $500 million in near-term
financial aid, and we are working with them to secure sufficient money
In response to the pressing issue of Central American
President also announced that we intend to extend our stay of deportation
through the holidays for citizens of the affected countries living in the
U.S. while examining on an urgent basis recommendations for further relief.
These are just a few of many initiatives that are
underway or in
development. Our nation intends to support and aid our neighbors to the
South in the weeks, months, and even years ahead as we all commit
ourselves to the long term effort of recovery and reconstruction.
In both Honduras and Nicaragua, even though the sheer
enormity of this
tragedy was difficult to comprehend, I was struck by the strength and
spirit of the people. They are not defeated. They are cleaning up their
homes and rebuilding their lives. In Honduras, community leaders have
mobilized to help those most in need and to get food and water to the
outlying areas. In the make-shift shelters in Managua, many people had
tape measures and were measuring foundations for new walls they will
build when the materials are available. You can see that this disaster
has destroyed their homes --but not their spirits. They will survive.
And we will stand with them as they do so.