WASHINGTON -- Nicaraguan President Violeta Chamorro appealed to Congress yesterday for "steadfast financial assistance" as her country attempts the "almost impossible" task of building democracy amid the ruin of civil war and economic despair.
"We urgently need foreign investment, credit and international cooperation in order to permit our people to develop their creative talents and to let us rise from the ashes left for us by past dictatorships," she told a special joint meeting of Congress.
She also pledged to "religiously" respect human rights and to prosecute anyone caught exporting weapons to leftist rebels in neighboring El Salvador.
The speech represented the public centerpiece of a three-day visit to Washington, where she is meeting with officials to reschedule payments on her country's $9.5 billion foreign debt. Mrs. Chamorro was to meet with President Bush today.
Nicaragua is $360 million in arrears on that debt. If contributions and loans are arranged to make the payment, it will become eligible for new credits at the World Bank and other financial institutions. The United States has pledged $50 million toward the arrearage payment.
While Mrs. Chamorro's remarks drew sympathetic applause, few members of Congress rushed forward with promises of new financial commitments. Instead, several pointed to economic problems at home and a multitude of demands abroad that would prevent the United States from fulfilling all, or even most, of Nicaragua's requirements.
"Obviously it's difficult for us to do as much as we would like to do in many parts of the world," said House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash. Mr. Foley said it was more likely that Congress would urge the Bush administration to expedite aid dollars already allocated for Nicaragua.
Since Mrs. Chamorro's February 1990 electoral victory over the Sandinista government led by Daniel Ortega Saavedra, $537 million has been earmarked for Nicaragua. According to congressional sources, about $207 million has been disbursed.
The administration seeks $179 million for Nicaragua in fiscal 1992, which begins Oct. 1.