SAN SALVADOR (AP) -- President Clinton is saluting a "new" Central
America and highlighting the relief work of American troops here, meant to
shut the door forever on the dark side of U.S. military involvement in the region.
"We come to see what we can do together to help you rebuild" after Hurricane
Mitch, Clinton said in greeting Salvadoran President Armando Calderon Sol
at San Salvador's Compala International Airport on Monday night. "The
problems of the future are our shared problems. The promise of the future is
our shared promise."
Clinton was flying to Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras today to underscore
a new, constructive partnership between the United States and its neighbors
to the South.
The president planned a little schmoozing in the mess hall before addressing
some of the 520 American personnel who reside on base with 800
From there, he was visiting Tegucigalpa's Juan Molina Bridge, wiped out
Mitch and restored by 50 Marines in a week last month.
Emphasizing the positive, he glossed over sore spots in the U.S. relationship
with Central America, namely trade and immigration. And today, as he
outlined a stopgap $25 million in U.S. aid to Honduras -- the worst hit by
last fall's storms -- Clinton was to make a detailed argument for the $956
million aid package held up in Congress by unrelated political issues.
The United States has maintained a military presence in Honduras -- around
500 personnel -- since 1984 when it set up shop to support the Contras and
other non-communist insurgents in Central America's bloody civil wars.
'Common commitment to democracy'
On the first of his four days traveling the region and surveying the aftermath
of Mitch, Clinton said work remained to undo the legacy of the 1980s, when
the United States was perceived here as meddlesome -- or worse.
"In times past, there was conflict, turbulence and distrust," Clinton told
Nicaraguans on Monday near the mudslide-ravaged town of Posoltega. "But
now we are bound together in our common commitment to democracy."
Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman said it has helped that U.S. troops
-- 5,300 at peak deployment -- swept into Central America so soon after
Mitch to pluck survivors from mud and floodwaters, then stayed to rebuild
a country that U.S. forces had occupied from 1909 to 1925.
"The hands of friends, the hands of U.S. soldiers have been with us and
have left their mark on the works and the roads that we Nicaraguans can
now walk once again," Aleman said.
While Clinton promised Central America nearly $1 billion in hurricane
reconstruction help, partisan fights stalled the money on Capitol Hill.
Republicans are demanding that Clinton offset the reconstruction aid through
reductions in food stamps and welfare assistance.
Clinton told reporters he would, when he returned to Washington, work with
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, to untangle the legislation. "It
doesn't have anything to do with the merits" of the bill, Clinton said. "That's
Honduran aid package
Meanwhile, he was to announce today an immediate package for Honduras,
which sustained an estimated $3.4 billion in storm damage, including nearly
83,000 homes destroyed.
The funds from the Agency for International Development budget will go
largely toward restoring water systems, getting small businesses running
again, preventing the spread of cholera and diarrhea, and ensuring
environmental responsibility as Hondurans rebuild along the coast.
On immigration, Clinton said only that he would seek "a fair solution"
problems exacerbated by the disaster. A temporary halt in deportations of
Guatemalans and Salvadorans in the United States lapsed on Monday.
Calderon had asked for more time to get the region on its feet before any
return of illegal immigrants.
Clinton told reporters the resumption of deportations "shouldn't affect
many people in the early going" and he questioned whether he had any legal
authority to extend the halt.
Last year, 15,000 illegal immigrants were returned to Guatemala, Nicaragua,
El Salvador and Honduras combined, Immigration and Naturalization
Service Commissioner Doris Meissner said. She expected that the expiration
of the stay on deportations would affect less than 5,000 Guatemalans and
Salvadorans this year.
Copyright 1999 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.