Hillary Clinton visits hurricane devastation, announces new aid
Web posted at: 11:00 p.m. EST (0400 GMT)
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (CNN) -- U.S. first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in Honduras on Monday with a pledge of more than $120 million in new aid for Central American nations devastated by Hurricane Mitch.
In a two-hour visit, Clinton met with Honduran President Carlos Flores, who described the trail of destruction brought by last month's storm. The hurricane killed an estimated 11,000 people and ravaged the region's economies.
The new U.S. assistance will include $51 million in food aid, $54 million in debt relief and $17 million in loans for small businesses. In addition, Clinton promised the United States would increase troops helping in emergency relief operations from 1,600 to 5,600, and provide more helicopters, medicine and medical equipment.
In Washington, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service announced it would not deport citizens of four hurricane-hit Central American nations until January 7.
Also Monday, French President Jacques Chirac traveled from Guatemala to El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras. He visited neighborhoods in the Honduran capital that had been washed away by flood-swollen rivers.
He said he was "deeply saddened at first and then filled with admiration" for the Honduran people, who "have been so hard hit, but remain on their feet."
The French president is calling for more debt relief for countries affected by the storm. Chirac, speaking in Guatemala City on Sunday, said France had decided "to write off all of the aid and development debt owed by Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador."
The total write-off covered 739 million francs ($132 million).
Chirac also called on all countries in the Paris Club of creditor nations to follow France's example.
But while other countries can offer their own bilateral help, the Paris Club traditionally awaits International Monetary Fund approval of economic reforms before offering international debt relief.
Of the four countries involved, only Nicaragua and Honduras have the track record on economic reform to obtain the IMF's stamp of approval.
The amounts written off by France are also relatively small compared to the total amount owed by Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador.
According to World Bank estimates, Honduras owes $4.1 billion, Nicaragua $5.9 billion, Guatemala $3.7 billion and El Salvador $2.7 billion, including debt owed to both Paris Club and non-Paris Club creditors.
The Paris Club in April agreed to write off 67 percent of Nicaragua's debt.
The French Finance Ministry said last week it wanted to write off up to 80 percent of Nicaragua's debt, under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative for countries with a track record of economic reform and a previous debt deal with the Paris Club.
The Paris Club is due to hold its next regular meeting in early December.
Correspondent Harris Whitbeck and Reuters contributed to this report.
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