Press Release by Congresswoman Pelosi

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi

On the Failure to Act on Central American Relief

May 12, 1999

It is now over six months since disastrous hurricanes struck Central America, and this 106th Congress of the United States has yet to provide any reconstruction assistance whatsoever to help our southern neighbors. The House and Senate have both passed bills providing such assistance, but no money has yet materialized. As even an infant knows, actions speak louder than empty expressions of good intentions.

In other words, we must act. We urgently need the full $956 million in emergency aid that was originally requested for the Central American disasters. We should follow the model of the Kosovo bill: It contains more than $600 million to address the humanitarian needs of the Kosovar refugees -- and, most important, it does so without offsets. This standard should apply equally to emergency funds for Central America. Both events are true emergencies and should be funded as such.

The planting season is already underway in Central America, and many of the 100,000 small farmers wiped out by Hurricane Mitch are still without credit, seeds, tools, fencing, and the other essentials for a successful growing season. Without significant and immediate inputs of agricultural assistance, Central Americans will soon face serious food shortages again. And this time, the cause of the disaster will not be an Act of God, but the inexcusable absence of an Act of Congress.

As a result of this failure to act, there is no funding in place to begin the reconstruction of the 3,000 miles of rural roads or 300 bridges destroyed by the hurricanes. Over 200,000 school children continue to attend classes in temporary open-air facilities because 1,700 schools were obliterated. Without the means to rebuild infrastructure, more that 100,000 able-bodied laborers sit idle, wasting their time and skills in fruitless pursuits of unavailable employment.

Over 700 health clinics, primary providers of basic health service to the impoverished, were flattened. Epidemics of Biblical scale -- possibly including malaria, cholera, and dengue fever -- lurk menacingly just over the horizon.

In short, the time has come to put aside our differences and get this badly needed assistance moving. If we continue to dawdle, we will certainly be held accountable for our failure to act before the inevitable arrival of the next Central American disaster..

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