President Daniel Ortega asked other nations Friday to “redouble their efforts” to help his country’s recovery from a hurricane that killed 116 Nicaraguans and left “incalculable damage” to an economy already crippled by war.
“International cooperation is urgent and necessary,” Ortega said in a televised speech to government officials and foreign diplomats. “The situation is truly critical and dramatic.”
The Sandinista leader coupled his appeal with the first detailed account of damage wrought by Hurricane Joan as it struck Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast last Saturday on its westward pass to the Pacific. Nicaragua was the hardest hit among five nations touched directly by the storm, which claimed at least 168 lives.
Sandinista officials said that, except for Cuba, the international community has been slow to respond to appeals for help because the scope of the catastrophe was unclear. By Friday, Ortega said, 2,000 tons of supplies had arrived on 24 relief flights from Cuba, two from Mexico and one each from Britain, Belgium, Panama and Spain.
“This help is not enough, but we hope there will be more in the coming days,” said Reynaldo Antonio Tefel, head of the government’s National Emergency Committee.
Ortega said that 116 Nicaraguans died, 110 are missing and 178 were seriously injured in the storm, and that 187,000 out of the 325,000 people evacuated beforehand were made homeless by the destruction. The storm felled thousands of acres of forest, destroyed key installations of the dollar-earning fishing industry and seriously damaged the banana, rice, cotton, cocoa and sugar crops, he reported.
Neither Ortega nor any other government put a dollar figure on the damage. But Gilberto Cuadra, president of the Chamber of Commerce, estimated that at least $250 million in aid is needed.
Nicaragua’s economy has crumbled during more than six years of war between the government and U.S.-backed Contras. Although fighting has subsided this year, inflation is running at several thousand percent, and prices have shot up dramatically as a result of economic austerity measures.
Before the storm, government officials were estimating that industries would produce 35% less this year than they did last year and that export earnings would cover only one-fourth of the cost of essential imports.
Ortega said this economic crisis “has been deepened in a violent way” by the storm.
He accused the Reagan Administration of moving to take advantage of the catastrophe by rearming 3,000 Contras based in Honduras and ordering them to infiltrate Nicaragua to disrupt the recovery effort.
“The only humanitarian contribution the Yanqui government can give to the Nicaraguan people in these difficult moments is to stop this criminal aggression,” Ortega declared.
Bosco Matamoros, a Contra spokesman in Washington, denied that rebel forces are being rearmed. He said a U.S. congressional ban on military aid to the Contras is keeping most of the rebels in Honduras.
Several times in his speech, Ortega held up his nation’s solidarity with Cuba as an example of what Nicaragua needs. He said President Fidel Castro telephoned him the night before the storm to offer “all the help needed to confront the catastrophe.”
The Soviet Union, which heavily supports both Cuba and Nicaragua, is sending a planeload and two shiploads of relief supplies. Soviet Ambassador Valery D. Nikolayenko said Moscow has also assured the Sandinistas of enough oil to get through the crisis.