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THE MIAMI HERALD

FROM MIAMI WITH LOVE, PLANELOAD OF AID ARRIVES

Wednesday, November 11, 1998
Section: Front
Edition: Final
Page: 6A
By GLENN GARVIN, Herald Staff Writer
Memo: THE AMERICAS

The victims of the decade's two most vicious hurricanes linked hands across a thousand miles of ocean Tuesday when a plane bearing 10,000 pounds of donated food and supplies from Miami landed in Managua.

The shipment - ramrodded by Kendall activist Janet Ray Weininger - is the first full planeload of privately collected aid to arrive in Nicaragua since Hurricane Mitch devastated the country 10 days ago.
``You arrived at a very important moment for us,'' Nicaraguan Health Minister Marta McCoy said, smiling broadly as cases of infant formula and chicken soup rolled out of the cargo hold of a Delta airliner. ``We have had some terrible times here.''

``You don't have to explain a hurricane to people in Miami,'' Weininger said. ``We know all about them. We remember Andrew. We remember what it's like to hurt.''

Weininger collected the aid with help from the Cuban American National Foundation and the Coral Gables-based Central American Medical Society, and then talked Delta into flying it to Managua. The effort produced results before those of Nicaraguan celebrities including major league pitcher Dennis Martinez and Bianca Jagger, the fashion model turned U.N. spokeswoman.

Martinez will visit Nicaragua this morning with Tipper Gore, wife of Vice President Al Gore. A load of supplies collected by Jagger is scheduled to arrive later in the day.
Help slow in coming

Aid from foreign governments, slow to arrive at first because so much attention was fixed on hurricane damage in neighboring Honduras, is now streaming in so quickly that the runways at Managua International Airport sometimes resemble a rush-hour freeway.

But comparatively small amounts of the thousands of tons of food and medicine collected from private sources in the United States and elsewhere have reached Nicaragua because of the difficulty in arranging transportation.

``People are trying to get it here any way they can, but it's just not easy,'' said Marilyn Zak, head of the Managua office of the U.S. Agency for International Development. ``I was on an American Airlines flight from Miami Saturday that was accepting hurricane supplies. It was so far overweight that they had to offer tickets to 10 people to get off. It started at $40 tickets and went up to $1,000 before they got the last two off.''
Husband is a pilot

Weininger, whose husband Mike is a Delta Air Lines pilot, called the company for help last week. She got two lucky breaks: Delta was planning a training flight to acquaint its pilots with Central American airports. And Delta's manager of Latin American operations, Henry Quant, was born in Nicaragua.

``The flight wasn't originally scheduled to come to Managua, because we don't have service here,'' Quant said. ``But to me, you better believe this was a big deal. I called my boss, and he said: Do it.''

Weininger, well known to Miami's Cuban-American community for her long campaign to retrieve the body of her father from Cuba - where he was shot down while piloting a CIA warplane at the Bay of Pigs - is becoming something of a celebrity in Nicaragua as well.
Recovering pilots' bodies

Earlier this year, she persuaded the CIA to fund an expedition to recover the bodies of two other CIA pilots who crashed in Nicaragua during the Bay of Pigs invasion. Weininger, who accompanied the body-recovery team to the remote mountain country near San Jose de Bocay, was so touched by the local reception that she has been returning every month or two with a few hundred pounds of donated supplies.

``I've seen the people on that mountain, torn apart by war and poverty, with no one to help,'' Weininger said. ``And that was before the hurricane. Now they need it more than ever.''

Weininger's planeload of aid attracted a curious horde of Nicaraguan reporters Tuesday. She struggled to answer their questions in her rudimentary Spanish, but for one question - why did you do it? - the words rolled easily off her tongue. ``Porque Nicaragua esta en mi corazon,'' she said. ``Because Nicaragua is in my heart.''


 

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