- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 20, 2002

Honduran tragedy

Hurricanes, floods and drought hit Honduras with such a vengeance over the past three years that it cannot afford the return of 105,000 Hondurans facing potential deportation from the United States, Honduran diplomats said yesterday.

"A return would destabilize Honduras socially, politically and economically," Foreign Minister Guillermo Perez told Embassy Row.

Mr. Perez is visiting Washington to appeal to the Bush administration and members of Congress to allow the Hondurans to remain for another 18 months after their special visas expire in July.

After Hurricane Mitch struck in 1998, the United States granted temporary protected status to the Hondurans for 18 months. The status was renewed after Tropical Storm Keith in 2000. Honduras was hit by Hurricane Michelle last year.

The banana and coffee crops, Honduras' two chief exports, have suffered from plunging prices on the international market, Mr. Perez said.

"The exodus of Hondurans to the United States started with Mitch in a massive way," he said. "Since we cannot afford for them to come back, we're seeking a temporary extension and then a permanent solution.

"This can be very beneficial to the United States. Hondurans are very hard-working people. They are low wage, and they are doing jobs necessary for the U.S. economy."

They also send about $600 million a year back to relatives in Honduras.

"Twenty-five percent of the population depends on these remittances," Mr. Perez said.

Mr. Perez has already gotten support from some members of Congress. Sen. Chuck Hagel, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, wrote Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Attorney General John Ashcroft to urge renewal of the designation.

"This is clearly in the interest of the United States," the Nebraska Republican wrote.

In his own letter to Mr. Powell, Mr. Perez said, "As a result of … ongoing environmental disasters, the severe disruption to living conditions in Honduras continues and temporarily prevents Honduras from adequately handling the return of its nationals.

"The impact of these environmental catastrophies, which in many instances have undone the progress made under the reconstruction program [after Hurricane Mitch], have been compounded by the international economic slowdown and the recession experienced by the U.S. economy."

Mr. Perez yesterday also met with Otto Reich, assistant secretary of state for Latin America.

Honduras will make its case again on Sunday in El Salvador, when the presidents of the seven Central American nations meet with President Bush.

In addition to immigration, they will discuss corruption, drug trafficking, the environment, human rights, security and trade, Mr. Perez said.


Gateway Guyana

The U.S. ambassador to Guyana believes the densely forested South American nation that is recovering from years of ethnic tension could become a major trading link in this hemisphere.

"Guyana is uniquely located to serve as an important gateway between North America and South America with the Free Trade Area of the Americas to be concluded by the beginning of 2005," Ambassador Ronald Godard said in a recent speech.

Mr. Godard noted improvements in political relations between the ruling People's Progressive Party and the opposition People's National Congress in the past year that he has served in Guayana.

"This is the best chance the country has had in decades for bridging the political-racial divide that has threatened to destabilize society repeatedly," he said. "Political stability is essential for economic growth."

Nearly 50 percent of the population is descended from immigrants from India, while 32 percent is descended from African slaves.

The ambassador said he is optimistic that Guayana will solve its border dispute with Suriname and complete a road project that will open markets in Brazil.

Mr. Godard congratulated young Guyanese for a devotion to social causes.

"Guyana's young people in particular are active in social causes, notably in the campaign against HIV/AIDS," he said. "The tradition of service to the community is a very encouraging sign for the future."


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