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Latin America Kavitha Dispatch

Oh Say Can't You See? - Bill Clinton's Too-Brief Visit to Nicaragua

People are excited by Clinton's visit, but also had some fun with
the troubles he's been through.
"No school today! There is a National Holiday in Nicaragua because the President of the United States is visiting!!" What? We don't even get a holiday when he comes to town! No, the entire country of Nicaragua did not get a holiday this past Monday when President Clinton visited the country; although many expected to receive one, and I bet a lot of children were dreaming of one right before they woke up for school! This is only the second time a president of the United States has ever visited the country and many Nicaraguans were very excited about the arrival.

Hotels in the capital Managua and in Posoltega, where the president will be visiting, were booked solid. So, I did not get a chance to personally greet our president myself. Instead, Abeja and I were out on beautiful Ometepe Island …yeah, I know …we have such a rough life. (See Abeja's article about descending into the volcano there.) We couldn't stay in the polluted, noisy capital to wait in crowds to see a glimpse of our president, so we had to go out to this beautiful, lush volcanic island instead!

Mayra and 11 year old son Alberto on the bus.
"I think he is here to help our country," said Mayra Ampie with hope today as we rode down the bumpy, gravel road to her village of El Manchon off the coast of Lake Nicaragua. "Our country is very poor, and we were all affected by the hurricane, not just those in the north. See what has happened to our road?"

As we came down off the volcano on Monday, it was a rather strange experience to walk in to the single café on the hillside, hungry and tired after our long hike, only to hear the Star Spangled Banner playing. Yes, broadcast over the TV was the ceremony greeting Bill himself. Thousands gathered in Posoltega, cheering on as President Arnoldo Aleman of Nicaragua thanked the United States government. He told many stories of families saved due to the millions of U.S. dollars sent after Hurricane Mitch devastated Nicaragua. President Clinton was applauded once again as he gave an introductory speech that was translated to the crowd and announced that he arrived with 300 pounds of school supplies.

Posoltega is a small town at the base of Volcan de Casita (see Abeja's article on Hurricane Mitch!) an area where 2,800 people were killed in November when Mitch hit the countryside hardest. Clinton was taken to visit graves of some of the children that were killed. He was also shown some of the relief that has been done because of American aid, like homes being built and necessities being provided.

This visit is just part of President Clinton's tour of Central American countries where he will be meeting with government officials to oversee U.S. foreign relations, and to get a feel for progress associated with American aid. But how much can he really see or understand by just visiting these countries for one day? While it generally seems Nicaraguan's are happy that the President from the United States is finally visiting their country, many are discouraged about what the millions of dollars in aid is really going to help.

Gilberto and family.
"President Aleman's government doesn't care about helping the poor people," explained Gilberto Arsia whose family we stayed with on Ometepe Island. "All this aid your country is sending us stays in Managua (the capital), it doesn't get out to the villages that need it."

Several international organizations have been working in Nicaragua to help restore villages destroyed during the hurricane. On the west coast of Nicaragua, where NGO's like OxFam are working, transportation has been a major obstacle in the restoration process. "In the Mosquito region on the west coast, there are 1000's of tons of food supplies that were sent in to help the people, but there is no fuel to take it out to the villages that really need it," explained Tony Herric from Germany who has been volunteering in Nicaragua for the past four months.

As I sat on the bus, sad to be leaving Nicaragua so soon, I wondered about how much money the United States and other European countries are sending in and how hard it will be for this poor country to repay all its loans. Is it really worth all the millions of dollars if the money isn't even going to help those that need it most? "No body has come to help us in El Manchon yet," said Mayra Ampie as the bus finally made it through the rocky riverbed where there used to be a bridge. "Maybe your president will come here and see how poor we are and will send more money to help us too." I didn't have the heart to tell her that he was already on a plane leaving, proud of all the help American aid has done for the Nicaraguan people.


Abeja - Inside the Heart of a Volcano!
Abeja - Eye of a Hurricane: Honduras After Mitch
Abeja - It's a Bird… It's a Plane… No! It's a Gigantic Doll!!!
Kavitha - A Tale of Two Cities: Nicaragua's Divided History
Monica - Lemonade with a Nobel Laureate

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