Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Brasilia Tuesday night for meetings with Brazilian leaders after a stop in Chile where she pledged long-term US relief help for the earthquake-ravaged country. Chilean officials say damage estimates range in the billions of dollars.
Clinton spent only three hours on the ground at the military compound of the Santiago airport, meeting with President Michelle Bachelet and President elect Sebastian Piñera, and delivering an initial instalment of 25 badly needed satellite telephones.
But she promised that the US intends to be responsive to Chilean requests for a list of emergency items, including field hospitals, mobile surgical units, autonomous dialysis systems, water purification plants, portable bridges, generators and helicopters adding that the US commitment to Chile will be long-term.
“I have come with the message of sympathy and cooperation from President Obama and the American people”, said Clinton and to tell you “we stand ready to offer what we've asked for now and to stay as your partner and your friend for the long term said Hillary Clinton.
We'll be there to be of help when others leave, because we are committed to this partnership and friendship with Chile. She also praised the “leadership” of President Bachelet and the courage and resilience of the Chilean people
President Bachelet said the earthquake - one of the most powerful ever recorded - damaged a half million homes and affected the lives of two million Chileans though the monetary costs of recovery at this point, are hard to calculate.
I could not answer for you how much it would cost to rebuild, to reconstruct, all this damage, said Michelle Bachelet. But I can only say, it will be a lot. Chile has the capacity, we have the engineers, we have the people, we have the experience, we have people trained and all that. But I think it will take long and it will mean a whole amount of money.
Ms. Bachelet said that Chile, which runs budget and trade surpluses, may be able to obtain reconstruction loans at favourable rates from the World Bank and other institutions, though that would be a decision for the incoming Piñera administration to make.
Piñera, who is to be sworn into office next week estimated earthquake damage at 30 billion US dollars, 15% of Chile's annual economic output. But he said the disaster need not cause a rollback in his campaign pledges for job creation and 6% annual economic growth rate, given that the rebuilding process will be labour intensive.
He said it was not the time to criticize the left-leaning ruling coalition handling of the crisis. But Piñera lamented looting and vandalism that have occurred in some areas including in Chile's second-largest city Concepcion, which was hardest hit by the earthquake.
This is absolutely unacceptable, said Sebastian Piñera. It simply worsens the already catastrophic situation that we're in. I hope that the government was using all the tools necessary in order to combat crime and to restore order. If more troops, if more people are needed, they should be used.”
Piñera, of Chile's right-leaning National Renewal Party, said he might extend the national state of catastrophe declared by President Bachelet to allow for a continued military role in relief efforts.
On Wednesday the Secretary of State will be holding talks Brazilian President Lula da Silva on, among other things potential new UN Security Council sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. Brazil, which has extensive relations with Iran, is a current Security Council member.