Central America Trip: Remarks by the President at Roundtable Discussion on Hurricane Mitch Reconstruction Efforts

Office of the Press Secretary
(Tegucigalpa, Honduras)

For Immediate Release March 9, 1999


Central Bank
Tegucigalpa, Honduras

2:52 P.M. (L)

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you, Mr. President, for yourremarks and for the extended visit we have already had today aboutthese matters.

I wanted to have the opportunity today to hear from abroad cross-section of citizens of this country, and so I will beextremely brief. I agree with the President that this period ofreconstruction should be seen as the opportunity to build somethingeven better than what was here before. And furthermore, I believethat if all elements of a society are properly involved and feelfairly treated, that the country's social fabric, sense of communitywill be stronger than it was before the disaster occurred.

Many of you have paid a very high price for what hasoccurred, and the losses have been staggering. But I think the--I have been quite impressed by what has already been done and bythe attitude of the people. What the United States is interested inis 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 asanything you would like to tell me about your present activities.

I'd also like to introduce -- this is Congressman JavierBecerra, who came here before with the First Lady, and has justfinished a term as the head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Heis 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 offthe discussion.

Q Thank you very much, Mr. President. PresidentClinton, Congressman Becerra, we are very happy and very honored byyour visit, especially because this country, which truly wants topick itself up and continue down the path of democracy anddevelopment, 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 UnitedStates for their solidarity, and especially their churches. I'd alsolike to refer to the Catholic community of the United States withCardinal Bernard -- who visited us just four days after thetragedy, Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles, and Cardinal JohnO'Connor of New York, and many, many, many bishops who have shownthat enormous solidarity to us.

But beyond that assistance, Mr. President, wereconvinced that for Honduras to be able to overcome this tragedy,we need support specifically from you so that our trade canexpand. We need that opening NAFTA parity. We also need, mydear President, to be able -- we would ask you to stop thedeportations of Hondurans. You have already made one gesturethat we're very grateful for, but we also need that support.There are so many Hondurans who have left their country to beable to achieve better money conditions for their families. Theywant to live and work honestly.

And third, Mr. President, it is very important, and Iask this as well on behalf of the entire Catholic community ofthe world -- our Holy Father John Paul II has asked us to prayfor debt relief, which is so staggering for us. I wanted to saythat on the very worst day of the tragedy, October 30, Hondurashad to disperse $60 million to service its debt, and without adoubt -- if the United States support us within the G-7, itwould 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 opportunityfor our country to develop in democracy. And in conclusion, Iwould also like to do something with great freedom and with greatsincerity. I want to thank you, Mr. President, for one AmericanHonduran 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 preciselybecause if their deep affection, especially to the poor andchildren. Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: And this is the Mayor of Tegucigalpa. Ithink you know about the accident she had in the helicopter. Andafter that, she took his job and here, we have her now.

Q Thank you very much, Mr. President and PresidentFlores. Thank you very much for this opportunity to be with youthis afternoon and convey a message from the 1 millioninhabitants that I represent in this city. This is the city thathas suffered the most with this hurricane. Thirty percent of ourcity was destroyed, and it's very difficult for me in just twominutes to explain to President Clinton what the situation in thecity is. I know you've had the opportunity to see thispersonally. Right now, our city has been cleaned, the vastmajority of it, at least, and although the destruction in termsof lives and in terms of our economic and social infrastructureis concerned, despite that, we have great spirit in movingforward.

The city of Tegucigalpa is very honored to receive thePresident of the United States today and to have this opportunityto express our appreciation directly for all the support we'vereceived, both from your government as well as from your people.And very specially, I'd like to thank the Cregans (phonetic), whowere here from the very beginning. And this is the opportunitythe people of Tegucigalpa have to say that we are a gratefulpeople and we are willing to move forward with our city. We havesuffered very much, but we are willing to work for the future.

I know that for President Flores, it's very difficultto move forward with our country. But with your help to us, yourhelp to local government, we will be able to do very much,because we know the problems that our citizens are suffering. Weare the local authority. Welcome to our city, then, and I wouldlike to take this opportunity to give you the keys to our city sothat you feel at home. This is your home, Mr. President. Thankyou. MODERATOR: And now, we have Mario Canawati, who isPresident of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of San Perosula(phonetic) and Cortez.

Q President Flores and distinguished guests: Allowme to express our gratitude to you, the government and the peopleof the United States of America, for the support during thecrisis of Hurricane Mitch and the reconstruction of our country.Honduras needs long-term opportunities that are complimentary toour own efforts. Especially those that create employment for ourpeople.

Central America is one of the most important tradepartners of the United States. In fact, U.S. exports to theCentral American region exceeded exports to all the countries ofthe former Soviet Union and the Eastern Europe countriescombined. Honduras has come a long way in the last 20 years. Wehave embraced the principle of democracy and open marketseconomies. And the United States of America has beeninstrumental in this development through the CBI.

This initiative has been mutually beneficial in manysectors, such as shrimp farming, agricultural products, lumberand wood industries. In turn, U.S. companies have been able toincrease their exports. For every dollar Honduras imported in1997, 61 cents were used to purchase goods and services from theUSA.

One of the most dynamic sectors excluded from the CBIis the textile and apparel industry. In less than 10 years, thisindustry has generated over 110,000 jobs and $455 million invalue-added export revenues. Current trade policies prevent usfrom increasing employment and aggregate value. The average dutyfor our country's exports is 17.7 percent, compared to 2.4percent of Mexico, creating an unfair trade condition.

Recent data shows that Honduras is losing investment toMexico. If this trend continues, in less than two years, wecould start experiencing an actual reduction of economicactivity. Furthermore, when garments are made in Honduras usingU.S. yarns, duty is calculated on the value added here inHonduras, and also on the yarn made and cut and grown in theUnited States.

Our only alternative to creating permanent jobs andsustained economic growth is through the implementation of atrade field that we allow our exports to compete under the sameconditions that the NAFTA products have. We, the private sector,are committed in the reconstruction of Honduras. We hope thathistory repeats itself with a new version of CBIs that includesgarments and textiles and strengthens education, that will enableus to have sustainable development.

Thank you very much, Mr. President.

MODERATOR: And perhaps Jacqueline Foglia from theHonduran American Chamber of Commerce would like to speak.

Q -- and your distinguished guests. Hurricane Mitchaffected the agricultural sector in a greater proportion thanother sectors of the economy. Our two largest members, ChiquitaBrand and Dole, were virtually wiped out. The hurricanedestroyed roads and bridges throughout the country, affecting themovement 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 tourismsectors were not highly affected, and these may provide the motorfor economic reconstruction. In this sense, the American Chamberof Commerce in Honduras, AmCham Honduras, which is comprised ofover 500 members, is carrying out the following action plan.

We coordinated relief efforts of Sister AmCham'sdirecting aid towards diverse social programs. We serve as aninformation clearinghouse on the hurricane for other chambers ofcommerce, and U.S. politicians and businesspeople, including yourembassy staff, informing about business climate and economiclosses. We are communicating with the Association of AmericanChambers of Commerce of Latin America, ACCLA, in Washington,concerning both your administration and the U.S. Congress'slegislative proposal for relief to Honduras.

Our needs in this reconstruction package are theinclusion of the Caribbean Basin Trade Enhancement Measure which,through greater access to U.S. markets will allow for a fastereconomic recovery, job creation and overall economic benefits forHonduras. We believe that such policy will help minimizelong-term immigration, health care, education and law enforcementcosts within the U.S.

We participated in the creation of a task force withinACCLA for businesses in the continent to cooperate with eachother in natural disasters affecting our nation. One of thegreatest problems businesses are encountering in thereconstruction process is the lack of access to soft loans. Weare especially aware of the pressing need of credit that smallbusinesses have -- small and micro businesses. We actively seekfinancial information from Ex-Im Bank, OPIC and other financialinstitutions and provide this information to the businesscommunity.

The private sector is committed to investing millionsof dollars to repair and rebuild our country in closecollaboration with the government, prioritizing the recovery ofthe productive sector, such as industrialized agriculture, whichprovides a great part of our GNP.

We believe that by helping the private sector in itsrebuilding effort, we will guarantee the full and prompt recoveryof Honduras. Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: And now, Jorge Quinones, Director of theVida Foundation.

Q Thank you very much, President Flores, andPresident Clinton. Congressman Becerra, my deal panelists anddistinguished audience. As a member of the environmental sectororganizations and a representative of the Vida Foundation, I'dlike to say the following on the occasion of your historic visit.Thank you, President Clinton, for honoring us with your presencehere and affording us this valuable exchange of information onthe present situation in our country.

It would also be timely to say how grateful we are toyour government and the people of the United States, for thefinancial and technical support they have provided us throughUSAID, which has allowed us in the last five years to implement250 environmental projects to promote environmental education inour people, the conservation of our ecosystems and biodiversity,as well as to promote our hydrographic basins, and this allows usnow to contribute to joint management of 300,000 hectares ofareas protected in the meso-American biological corridor, whichis considered a vital biological space between the Americas.

Notwithstanding everything that's been done, weHondurans today have painfully realized that sooner or later,nature always sends us a bill. And so the devastation made byMitch would have been far worse if the work done on our naturalresources had not been at the level it was. Our basins wereswept away by this phenomenon. It's going to take us quite along time to be able to recover, and we cannot fail to underscoretheir importance for our economy and health. Reforestation,sustainable management of our basins are perhaps the mostformidable challenges we have in reconstruction.

The Vida Foundation offers to be a financialintermediary so that with our government and our people, we cancarry out all the projects necessary to rehabilitate waterresources and to be able to recover our water resources as soonas possible. Environmental education, more than ever, needs tobe a central part of our agenda for reconstruction.

President Clinton, we are sure that our enormoustragedy will be reversed. This will be a great opportunity forus because we know that our nation has the firm and capableleadership that can generate the idea of struggle that thesecircumstances require of us and the environmental sector of civilsociety and Vida are grateful for your solidarity and your willto support us. And we hope that your visit will reconfirmknowledge of the cruel realities Mitch has left us. And ifHonduras -- forest resources. But also, we hope to rebuild it sothat it will be less polluted and a better environmentalHonduras. Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: And Mariano Flanos now from Save theChildren. Thank you very much, President Flores, PresidentWilliam Clinton and Congressman Becerra.

Q Ladies and gentlemen -- the private NGO movementin the development sector in Honduras is very proud and veryhappy to have you here with us. It's a privilege for Honduras tohave you with us here today. In Honduras, Save the Children hasbeen working for 30 years in more than 800 communities wherewe've supported the comprehensive development of thesecommunities.

When the hurricane hit, Save the Children supportedover 50,000 people with different kinds of financing from thepeople 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 reconstructionand infrastructure. This provides an exchange between thepeoples of Honduras and the United States -- organizations suchas Friends of the Americas, organizations like Medico,organizations from Princeton University who have been with ushere in Honduras. The city of Missoula, Montana, which gave itssupport to Honduras. Two thousand homes -- we are now supportingthe construction of these homes and the rehabilitation of 55potable water systems. And 46 schools, as well as kindergartensin Honduras.

Over 12,000 boys and girls are being supported throughthe donation of educational material and over 50 clinics andhospitals are also being supported with material and equipmentthrough the funds provided by the government and people of theUnited States. Eight hundred leading producers have also beensupported -- these are volunteers, to help reestablish productionat the small scale to protect the microbasins in our country.

And activities such as these are also mirrored in theprivate sector. NGOs like Care International, Catholic ReliefServices, and others who have supported this kind of work -- withthe help of government and people of the United States. Thankyou 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 thesubject of education. Our infrastructure in education weresubstantially damaged by Mitch. Over 3,300 schools, over 6,000teachers were left homeless, and in addition to damage tomaterials, the ministry was completely flooded, and a greatmajority of the records and files were lost. In spite of this,we feel that the worst effect of Mitch has been to reduce ourcapacity, public and private, to invest in education. We mustnot allow education to fall from its place as a top priority forHonduras. On the contrary, as President Flores has said, ourgoal is not only to recuperate, but to improve on pre-Mitchconditions, reemphasizing education's role as a main foundationfor transformation. Conditions are critical in this sector. The averageHonduran has only four and one half years of schooling, and ittakes us 10 years, calendar time, to improve that indicator byone year. The quality of education is seriously deficient,ranking us among the lowest of the developing countries. Teachertraining and curricular content are some of the reasons for this.Programs in nontraditional methods to reach students throughmeans such as radio and television are urgently needed.

Our curriculum does not effectively address the needsof the market. Serious additional studies and programs must beformulated. The incorporation of modern technology withcomputers and we feel, as well as the general requirement of asecond language, are two of the necessary steps, English beingthe second language.

Although private schools are and should continue to gounder participation in the sector, there's no doubt that theprincipal actor will continue being the government for manydecades. The public sector must be strengthened in theirinstitutional capacity to face the challenges in the sector.

Direct involvement of Honduran citizens and non-publicinstitutions we feel is a necessity for successful educationalreform. Private foundations such as ours and other NGOs needsupport for scholarship funding, research, and project design andimplementation.

Honduras is especially grateful to USAID for theirsupport in effective programs that have helped children in andout of schools to improve not only their scholastic level, butalso the quality of their instruction.

Mr. President, -- from Mitch, as well as long-termsocial sustainability, based on adequate material well-being andthe quality of life based on values can only be attained withequitable quality education. I sadly share with all Honduransthe consequences of this unmet need. The United Statesemphasizes helping their friends to help themselves. I believethat 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 ofthe Flores administration, we have devoted ourselves more thananything to try to find several parallel activities which willlead us to find a solution to the tragic problem provoked byHurricane Mitch. We are now attempting to reach an agreement assoon as possible with the IMF, more than anything to be able tohave some kind of debt relief, both bilateral within the -- aswell as multilateral, with the qualification of highly indebtedpoor country.

And the magnitude of the tragedy that hit CentralAmerica, and in particular our country, has meant that with ourscarce resources in the short-term we cannot deal with areconstruction project. We need this debt relief, therefore, andwe need fresh resources from the multilateral organizations. Andfurthermore, with need international cooperation.

So we are working very actively on our reconstructionmaster plan to present at the consultative group in Stockholm.Aside from our master plan for reconstruction, we're working onconsultations with civil society, because we feel that thetragedy is so enormous that we need the concerted efforts of thegovernment and civil society, and we are strengthening ourmechanisms of transparency through international auditing inwhich USAID has been a very important contributing factor toprovide us with the resources to be able to hire an internationalauditing firm.

And we have also strengthened the internal auditingorganizations within the country. Thanks to the AID, we're nowupdating our government procurement system, and we're alsoworking on creating a general project inspection office, wherewith the participation of international auditors we'll be able tosupervise all the work carried out to make sure that we makeoptimum use of the resources the country receives throughinternational cooperation.

Our reconstruction plan is aimed at comprehensive humandevelopment, sustainable use of our natural resources, promotingthe participation of our recourses, and naturally, our nationalreconstruction. Thank you.

Q Mr. President, first let me thankyou for giving me the opportunity to sit here with you. Thankyou for this opportunity to be with all the members of yourgovernment, all the people of Honduras and of Central America.In Spanish, I would like to first thank my President, Mr. BillClinton. Not only he, but also the First Lady, Mrs. Clinton,took the time to come here. I don't know if you know this inHonduras, but in the United States, to have the President visitone of our cities is extremely difficult. Now, to have both ofthem visit the same place is incredible.

So what both the President and the First Lady havedemonstrated in coming to visit Honduras and Central America isthat they are here with you. I want to make sure that I do thankPresident Flores because I know that he and Mrs. Flores have alsobeen not just in the office in the Palace, but also on thestreets. And to me, that is a sign of true leadership, when theleaders of our countries are out on the street as well.

I applaud the accomplishments that I've seen since Iwas here back in early November. Much has been done, much stillneeds to be done. A message from the people of the United Statesof America: Our spirit is with you. Some of us are herephysically with you. Our resources are with you. And I say notjust figuratively, but these days, literally, you have brothersand sisters in the United States of America who are with you inevery respect. The tragedy of Hurricane Mitch certainly testedyour human spirit and you have come out and excelled. Thetragedy of Hurricane Mitch also tested your new democracy andagain you have excelled.

Our President has boldly come forward with the plan ofassistance to this country and the rest of Central America. TheAmerican people, as you've seen through the many donations, havecome forward to provide assistance. Now, quite honestly, thetest is with the Congress of the United States. We must now moveforward boldly as the President has and approve his request forassistance to this region.

I pledge, along with all my colleagues includingCongressman Slyvester Reyes from Texas, to work as hard and theHonduran people have labored to rebuild this country. And inthat respect, Mr. President, I should mention there is an effort,a real effort underway with the people in the city of Fillmorewho are working with the people in San Perosula (phonetic). Ithink Jose Domino (phonetic) -- has approached us trying to seeif we can help them obtain some bridges that the city of Fillmoreis willing to donate. Transportation is already secured -- allthey need now is the ability to break down these -- from an oldbridge so they can be transported and be used here in SanPerosula. So we're all working forward. And I'm very pleasedthat I'm able to be here with President, joined with him, and seeif we can do just a little bit more. Thank you very much.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: First of all, I would like to thankyou all for your presentations and for making them quite specificand to the point. I would like to respond to a number of thepoints that were made. First of all, I have sent legislation tothe Congress, just last week before I came here, asking forgreater liberalization of trade for the Central America andCaribbean nations to move closer toward parity with NAFTA inMexico. I have -- it does not go as far in everything that I'msure a lot of you would do, but it does as much as we believe wecan pass in the Congress.

I was profoundly disappointed last year that we did notpass the trade opening initiative. And, of course, after thehurricane struck I was even more disappointed. I think now,ironically because of the hurricane, we may have a better chanceto pass a bill. And I will do everything I can to that end.

With regard to debt relief, part of the package that Ihave proposed to the Congress in aid as opposed to trade -- abouta $965 million package -- a part of it involves the debt deferraland outright debt forgiveness, both of which would give very muchneeded debt relief not only to Honduras, but to the other CentralAmerican nations. If the Congress will go along with me and passthis, it will give me the standing to argue more forcefully tothe other nations and to the international organizations thatthey must follow suit.

I think clearly Honduras should be given relief underthe highly-indebted countries initiative that the United Stateshas done a lot to create. I believe we should do more. I thinkthe fact that the Holy Father has made this a year in which he'scalling for people to do more debt relief will, frankly, beenormously helpful, and I told him that when I was in St. Louisrecently. And I would urge you to communicate to the Vaticanthat -- if there could be more of this, like sort of a constantreminder, it would be a highly effective, even perhapsestablishing some sort of priority saying you ought to do atleast Central America and then something in Africa and somethingin Asia to give hope to the people on those continents, somethinglike that.

But I think on a thing like this it's not enough to sayit one time. We have to keep working. But I think CentralAmerica has a special claim here -- Honduras, Nicaragua, theother countries as well because -- one of the arguments I alwayshear even in my own country about debt forgiveness is, well, lookyou know if you -- and the former banker here understands this --if you forgive it all, well, then, nobody will want to loan anymoney tomorrow because they'll think all of that will beforgiven, too.

Well, in the aftermath of the worst natural disaster incenturies here, it seems to me that argument just doesn't holdwater here. It might be true in the case of an Asian countrythat had a bad banking system and got in an economic problem forlocal reasons, but it seems to me insofar as the presentpredicament of Central America is a direct result of thehurricane, that argument has no standing.

So I will do the best I can. But again, I would urgeall of you to stay on that because relieving the government ofthe financial burden of the payments will free up a lot of moneyfor education and other things as well.

On the deportation, I think you know, ArchbishopRodriguez, because you spoke in a way that indicated you did -- Ihave done what I could to minimize the impact of some of ourimmigration laws not only on Hondurans, but on all the people ofCentral America. I, frankly, believe I have done all I can dounder the law. Now, because there was such hardship here, somuch devastation, I was able to provide some greaterconsideration for the Hondurans that have come to the UnitedStates.

But I think it would be a mistake to sort of openlyencourage more people to come, in violation of our laws andquotas, because there is -- I have gone to the limit of what Ican now do. And I think it is far more important for us toconcentrate on getting this aid package passed, getting the debtrelief, getting the trade relief, getting the renewal of theeconomy here going.

Let me just mention three other issues very quickly.One of you mentioned the need for more loans for small businessand micro-businesses. We have our USAID director here with me,Mr. Atwood. I think the United States funded 2 millionmicroenterprise loans last year, through AID around the world.My wife is -- probably talked about that when she was here. Thisis a passion of hers, and has been for about 15 years now.

And we have found, in our own country, when we have anatural disaster -- you know, we had a flood, a 500-year flood inthe Mississippi River five years ago. And one of the mostimportant funds that we have is the fund that provides forspecial credit for small businesses who otherwise could not getit.

So I don't know whether there's anything special, Mr.President, we could do to help for the small andmicro-enterprises, or to try to establish even a broader and moreadequate international fund for such things in the face ofdisasters. But we always find -- even in America, which has avery sophisticated banking system -- that they are the firstcasualties of natural disasters that wreck the economies of wholecommunities. So if we could help you in that, I would be happyto.

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 itnot been for some of the environmental practices here inHonduras. Yesterday, when I was in Nicaragua, there was noquestion that it was worse in the places where there had beenvast deforestation, and nothing to protect the people from themudslides. And you have a lot of serious -- the President wastelling me today, you have a lot of serious decisions to makeabout, you know, how to replenish the soil which has beendestroyed, where the topsoil has been carried away, or perhapsthe nutrients have been washed away and the crops won't growanymore.

I will do whatever I can. In this aid package, we havesome significant amount of money for environmental investments.But I will do whatever I can to be particularly helpful there. Ithink it would be -- not only with the United States but withothers as well -- I think the more we know about the specificplans 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 bestjob of preserving their natural environment are going to be thestrongest economically also, over the long run. And yet, one ofthe greatest battles we face in the world today, in this larger

struggle over climate change -- which may or may not have hadanything to do with Hurricane Mitch; we don't know. No one knowsfor sure.

But the larger battle is that in most countries, mostdecision makers do not believe you can grow an economy unless youcontinue to use its resources at an unsustainable rate -- thatis, at a greater rate than they can be replaced. And do notbelieve you can grow an economy unless you increase, year-in andyear-out, the amount of fuel and energy you are using thatcontributes to greenhouse gases -- coal and oil, for example.

Now, all the evidence is against that proposition. Butold ideas die hard. And I do believe that because economies have-- if for no other reason, and because of some of the stunningexamples already set by the preservation of the biosphere or bythe energy patterns adopted in Costa Rica, for example, thatCentral America may be in a unique position to get lots ofinvestment to prove to the rest of the world that we don't haveto destroy the environment to grow the economy. And so I wouldbe happy to exert some extra efforts to help you get someinvestments in that regard, but again, I think the specifics areimportant.

For example, I'll just say one thing. The last time Iwas in Costa Rica, I noticed they were driving -- the buses theywere using, the school buses they were using, the transportationbuses they were using -- were powered by electricity or naturalgas, and they were all made by a company in Vice President Gore'shome state. And there are lots of things -- if we knew what thestrategy was here and what the priorities were, there might be alot of things we could do to be helpful.

The last thing I'd like to say is, I want to endorsewhat was said earlier by you, Mr. Maduro (phonetic), abouteducation. And I would be happy for us to have a long-termpartnership on that, but again, I don't feel that I know enoughto know what your immediate priorities are. The United Stateshas had some success in working with countries in various partsof the world in helping to increase more rapidly the number ofchildren going to school.

And, of course, as you pointed out, there's no point inincreasing the number of children going to school unless you havea place for them to go to school, a teacher to teach them andmaterials with which they learn. But I do not believe that youcan come anywhere close to doing what you want to do in Hondurasif it takes you a decade to add one more year to the averageschool. And there may be a way -- I'm going to talk about this alittle bit tomorrow, but this is a year in which a lot ofcountries are trying to pass this international conventionagainst child labor, which the church has been solemnlysupportive of, and which I strongly support.

But I think it would be interesting to see whether wecould marry the commitment of countries to support the conventionagainst child labor with a commitment of the advanced countriesthat are pushing to help to dramatically increase investment inthose countries in education, so that you're saying not just thatyou don't want the children in the factory, but you do want themin the school.

And there may be a way that we could dramaticallyaccelerate the rate, the average schooling here. Now, I have allthese people from my administration here, plus LieutenantGovernor McKay, former lieutenant governor of Florida, who nowwill be my new Special Envoy to Latin America, and Mr. Atwood andthe others are all here, so -- and your ambassadors. He's ourambassador, but I think he's really your ambassador. (Laughter.)But we will follow up on this.

On the environment and on education, the more specificyou can be about what you want us to do, the more we can behelpful, 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 thegentleman from Save the Children. My wife and I have beeninvolved with Save the Children for more than 20 years, longbefore we ever thought we would be in national political life.And as soon as this hurricane occurred, she gave some money fromher foundation to Save the Children through operations here. SoI thank you for what you're doing. The organization has donegreat work in our home area as well, and I thank all of you.

This was a very good set of presentations, and you gaveme a lot to go home and work on.

PRESIDENT FLORES: Just maybe the closing words thatyou may say, Mr. President. First, our appreciation. I want to-- part of the audience is an ample representation of ourleadership here in this country, of non-governmentalinstitutions, labor unions, of private enterprise, of religiousgroups, and of people that represent different sectors of oursociety. We're trying to work together in terms of what we havetalked here today.

Maybe briefly, in terms of the immigration factor thatis very sensible for us and one that Monsignor Oscar Rodrigueztouched, we understand the position -- your position and theposition of the United States that we don't want to promotemigration to the United States. We want our people and we wantthem to stay here. In terms of the people that went in theearlier days -- the only thing that we are asking is for the sametreatment that the other Central American countries have --

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, I think you know that Istrongly believe in that. I think that the present Americanimmigration law and how it treats people that were in our countryas of some time ago is an inexcusable remanet of the cold war andwrong. I haven't said anything to you I haven't said at home. Ithink that -- people came to the United States because they feltoppressed and are entitled to stay in our country because theycame here, it shouldn't matter whether they felt the oppressionfrom the left or the right. I mean, if it's a rational categorypeople should be treated the same regardless of what the factsare. But the real issue is that all the countries in CentralAmerica should be treated the same insofar as whatever theobjective facts were that brought the people to our country. Soif people should come home, then they should be treated the same;if people should be able to stay, they should be treated thesame. That's what I believe.

PRESIDENT FLORES: We coincide in terms of that, andthe other factor is, then -- we are completely sure that witheverything that we have going, in terms of the advancements onwhat we have done with the financial institutions, the leadership-- your leadership, and that of the United States, in terms ofgetting these things into the process of crystallizing. Eventhough we have had such a terrible blow, we will do good, we aresure we will do good, and that we will recuperate soon.

But there's a bridge that we have to cross, becausepeople are becoming very uneasy. One thing that we have for usis the will of the people, but also the hope. And that's thething that we don't want to lose. And bad timing -- from thismoment, when people are starting to get uneasy. That's what Isay, we don't want to regress in terms of what has cost us sohard to get, that's the democracy that we have fought for, whichis, as a matter of fact, the great legacy of this century to thenext century.

We have said that then, in America, there is all butone country, then, that has a democratic system, freely electedgovernments. That is a great legacy. In the worst that we wouldwant to see as a scenario that we saw so many years before, whenwe were conflicted and that we were confronting, we don't want togo back to those years because of uneasiness in times of thepeople. We have to show the people that democracy works. That'sthe challenge that we have for the next century. We already wonin terms of liberty and democracy. But the challenge is to showour people that the system works for them.

And when we have had a great catastrophe, it's evenharder for us. How to cross the bridge? How to maintain theunity? How to maintain the hope of those people? So many out ofjobs; so many that, every day because they don't have what theyrequire to maintain themselves and their family, they might gointo this frustration -- and here in Honduras, it's such highnumbers.

And like we were talking today, every time thatsomebody comes here, and that they want to do good because theywant to announce their solidarity, we get big titles of how muchmoney we're receiving, in terms of commitments. And everybodythat comes, the same figures get put in the newspapers, andpeople think that we have bundles of money ready. And we don't;we have received very little, as far as today. We have done alot with our own resources. Of course, with the solidarity inthe emergency, we're sure that the resources are going to bethere for the reconstruction period.

But we need to cross a bridge. Next year, I think it'sgoing to be much better, but this is a very hard year. And thisis when we need the things that can be done more easily andquickly so that people won't lose hope. The Caribbean BasinInitiative is one of those things. That's why we highly abideand support, because that can generate quickly the jobs that weneed so much. Afterwards, well, construction will take care ofproviding those jobs. The growth of the economy, because of theresources that we receive will provide for the added force thatwe need in terms of the benefit of the people.

But we need to cross that bridge. It's so that peopledon't end in this inspiration and that we don't request that theymaintain their confidence and that we maintain our unity. Thankyou so much, Mr. President, for being here. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you. Let me just say onething. As we break up, I have heard this, and one of the reasonsI am grateful that we have members of our Congress here is thatwe have these bills up there, they can be addressed now. I thinkthere is an overwhelming understanding in both parties in theCongress that we have to pass the aid bill, and I think the onlything that we have to do is to make sure that politicalconsiderations in America that have nothing to do with CentralAmerica, things that back home don't in any way hold up theconsideration of either piece of legislation, and so we will workhard on it. Thank you.

Oh, I have to get my key to the city. If I wear thisto dinner tonight, I'll get a discount. (Laughter.) Thank you.(Applause.)


Office of the Press Secretary

Office of the Press Secretary

Central America Trip: Remarks by the President to U.S. Troops and the People of Honduras

Central America Trip: Remarks by the President at Roundtable Discussion on Hurricane Mitch Reconstruction Efforts

Central AmericaTrip: Remarks by the President in Roundtable Discussion with Hurricane Mitch Survivors

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