Mrs. Clinton Visits Chile
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ She missed their dinner but Hillary Rodham Clinton was warmly greeted today by other first ladies of the hemisphere when she called for more women in positions of power.
``Democracy and prosperity cannot be attained or sustained in countries that do not value women,″ Mrs. Clinton told the gathering. ``Women still do not hold enough positions of authority, responsibility and power.″ She added, however, ``We stand at a moment of great opportunity for women in leadership positions.″
The women in the audience, many of them invited by other first ladies, were pleased that Mrs. Clinton was among them.
``The perception is that she is very intelligent, very professional,″ said Maria Elena Ovalle, a member of the Central Bank of Chile.
Carla Guardia of Costa Rica, who works in her country’s embassy in Santiago, added, ``I think it’s great that she is coming here and willing to participate with the other first ladies of the Americas.″
As for President Clinton’s problems growing out of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, Ovalle said of Mrs. Clinton: ``For her it’s a very difficult situation but she is facing the facts with great dignity I think, seeing not only her problem but the importance of being first lady of a very big country and a very powerful one.″
Mrs. Clinton apologized for missing the private dinner Tuesday night, noting she had been delayed by a relief mission to Puerto Rico, ravaged by Hurricane Georges. A tour of the island with Puerto Rico’s governor gave her a chance to meet some of the victims and announce new disaster aid.
Her whirlwind tour of a sultry Puerto Rico on a utilitarian Marine helicopter swooped her through ravines and over fields and towns for a bird’s-eye view of the damage. Efforts to avoid a huge storm cloud a week after Georges cleared out of Puerto Rico doubled the length of one chopper ride.
``I have visited many natural disasters with my husband and on my own and I know how devastating they can be for families,″ she told a rapt and often-cheering crowd of 200 living temporarily at a school turned into a shelter in the town of Luquillo.
Gov. Pedro Rosello heaped praise on Clinton’s quick response to his request for aid over a week ago when the storm hit, saying, ``We have not had from any president more help than from President Clinton.″
Georges killed four people in Puerto Rico and caused $2 billion in damage. Water and power were cut off for days for most of the 3.8 million residents. More than 17,000 people left homeless by the storm were being housed in 232 shelters.
Mrs. Clinton said that after surveying the damage, ``I can tell my husband how much more needs to be done.″
Mrs. Clinton also met with hurricane victims in two towns.
In Guayama, chicken farmer Carlos Lopez, 58, told her that 80 percent of his flock had been killed by the hurricane that also destroyed much of Puerto Rico’s coffee and plantain crops.
And at the school-shelter in Luquillo, 50-year-old Ismael Rivera Rios, temporary tenant of a classroom furnished with 10 cots sporting mismatched linens, grinned widely after talking to Mrs. Clinton even though he got to meet her only because his home was destroyed.
But one woman was in tears when television cameras and reporters entered the room, angered at what she considered an invasion of her privacy. ``I live here,″ cried Luz Soto Figuera in Spanish before she stormed out of the room prior to Mrs. Clinton’s arrival.
The new aid announced by Mrs. Clinton includes:
_Up to $30 million from the Labor Department to hire displaced workers to assist in hurricane cleanup and restoration.
_A federal commitment to pay 75 percent of the cost of rebuilding bridges, municipal buildings and water-purification plants.
_A Housing and Urban Development Department offer to provide 100 percent financing with no down payment for people to buy a new home if their old was damaged beyond repair. HUD previously announced $39 million to help repair damaged public housing units.