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RI launches mission to Central America

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The people of the Central American countries have recently seen their livelihoods battered by a combination of natural disasters: hurricanes, drought, earthquakes, and even volcanic eruptions. In addition, they are facing economic problems such as low world prices for their major exports, notably coffee. The impact has been severe. Acute malnutrition, especially among children, is reported in several rural communities in Guatemala. In Nicaragua, thousands of destitute coffee farmers have reportedly migrated to the cities in search of employment. Honduras and El Salvador have also been hit by natural disaster and low export prices.
The outlook this year continues to be unfavorable. Forecasters predict that El Niño warm-water currents may cause the drought to continue and endanger the food security of hundreds of thousands of Central American farmers. Moreover, growing and picking coffee are traditionally major sources of income for many poor rural Central Americans. Due to low world prices, growers have reduced coffee production, the number of people employed, and their income.

The economies of most Central American countries depend heavily on remittances from workers employed in foreign countries, especially the United States, and migration has long been a political and economic safety valve. One of the likely impacts of what seems to be a growing problem of rural impoverishment in Central America will be increased migration out of rural areas to the cities and other countries.

The just-concluded International Conference on Financing for Development, President Bush's visit to El Salvador, and the U.S. proposal for a Central American Free Trade Agreement all focused attention on Central America. Refugees International hopes to follow up these developments by contributing to greater international understanding of the humanitarian needs of Central Americans. Larry Thompson will observe and assess international efforts to address the plight of the least-known and most vulnerable people of Central America, including those who must leave their homes because they can no longer make a living on the land.

RI Director of Advocacy, Larry Thompson, will depart soon on Refugee's International's first mission to Central America. He plans to visit Guatemala and Nicaragua.

TO CONTACT: RI · 1705 N ST NW · WASHINGTON · DC · 20036 · 202.828.0110 · RI@REFINTL.ORG