Monday, September 29, 2008

Insight from Inside: A Cuban View of the Migration Risk

There is no doubt that a worsening of economic and social conditions in Cuba will provoke an increase in legal and illegal immigration, mainly to the US. It can get out of hand, but not easily.

In previous situations, Boca de Camarioca in the 60’s, Mariel in the 80’s and the last one in the mid 90’s, always the Cuban authorities had, in some justified way, allowed it to go on until the US authorities were forced to some kind of agreement. But it was always first provoked by rigid US policies that did not take in consideration the consequences of such policies.

I think that the Cuban Government and Party have the means and political tools to avoid such a situation today, but it is obviously a possibility.

As you have been probably able to watch, the destruction in Pinar del Río, Holguín and Las Tunas, but not only in these provinces, has been enormous and it has hit private houses in the worst way. Just as much, it also hit agricultural production and electrical energy infrastructure.

There is already a certain scarcity of sweet potatoes (bonitato), malanga (I don’t know the name in English), bananas and plantain, fresh pork and goat meat and others basic food in the “agromercados” and it will get worse. There is also a problem in the CUC ("dollar") stores to get cooking oil (you can only get soya oil), tomatoe paste, canned fish and meat, frozen chicken, cheese and fresh meat.

The only solution is a rapid recuperation of agricultural production. The private agricultural sector is the main producer, but can not do it by itself, It is needed that the state farms under their various forms of organization increase production, something they have been unable to do in 50 years, without huge investment in machinery, fertilizers, insecticides and other inputs that are no longer available.

As the destruction is shown by TV, people get surprised to see how poor the houses were before the hurricanes, and slowly everybody is starting to realize that it will take decades to bring housing to, even, the previous poor situation.

An immediate political result of the destruction is the solidarity and unity of purpose that brings among the people. This is probably true in every country. In Cuba it is even more so, as the Government and Party had created a solid organization that includes more and more people to people solidarity, to confront hurricanes and heavy rains. Also because of the quick and effective response to start reconstruction, that includes, even, cultural groups with well known artists performing in the more severely affected areas. Of course the limited resources are the main problem.

But, is difficult to predict how the mood will change as the reality of an even poorer country, with even more economic and social problems, takes hold slowly of people's minds.

So, yes it is almost certain that there will be an increase of emigration. Whether it will be massive and illegal, depends of many factors. Of course the impact of a limited in time lift of the embargo, or the increase in remittances and traveling, will help to avoid that this problem gets out of hand. As has happened in the past, I doubt the US Administration will take in consideration the consequences of their fanatic anti-evolution policies. Even without massive emigration, it is always safer for you not to provoke problems to your neighbor that can affect you in the long run.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Washington Post on Hurricane Impact There and Here

Hurricanes Shift Debate On Embargo Against Cuba

By Joshua Partlow

Washington Post Foreign Service

Wednesday, September 24, 2008; A01

LOS PALACIOS, Cuba -- A pair of devastating storms have prompted new calls for the United States to end its long isolation of Cuba, including from hard-line exile groups that are pushing for the Bush administration to loosen restrictions they had long favored.

For the first time in the 47-year history of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, Washington has offered direct aid to the island's Communist government, long dominated by Fidel Castro and his younger brother, Raúl, who is now nominally in charge. The offer marks a slight softening of the Bush administration's policy toward Cuba, motivated in part by a new generation of Cuban Americans who think a more open approach to the island during a time of political transition could help bring about a lasting change in government.

But even the most hawkish Cuban exile groups are pushing the Bush administration to go much further. Traditionally a voice for greater isolation of the Castro government, the Cuban exile lobby has asked Congress to lift the four-year-old rules that limit Cuban Americans to sending $300 every three months to immediate family on the island and to making just one trip to Cuba every three years. Some have even proposed a temporary suspension of the trade embargo, a cause taken up by a few members of Congress.

So far, though, the Cuban government has rejected the U.S. offer, preferring instead to rely on relief aid that arrives daily by the planeload from Russia and other more sympathetic countries. The Cuban government has mobilized the military to help in the reconstruction effort, including here in this hard-hit stretch of western Cuba, while legions of volunteers are picking coffee beans and other crops to salvage this year's harvest and working to repair damaged homes.

"I will not be surprised if we're looking at a major immigration crisis in the next few months," said Silvia Wilhelm, executive director of the Miami-based Cuban American Commission for Family Rights, an organization that promotes closer U.S.-Cuba relations, who visited the island after the hurricanes. "We're talking a situation that is very critical for the Cuban people."

The question of who should help the Cubans in times of need and to what degree has shaped Cuba's relationship with the United States for decades. The severe damage done by the storms appears now to be changing the debate. The hurricanes, which hit the island one after the other in just over a week, damaged an estimated 500,000 homes and ruined 30 percent of the nation's crops.

Four days after Gustav struck Cuba on Aug. 30, the U.S. government offered to send an assessment team to the island and $100,000 in emergency funding for humanitarian groups. The Cuban government has estimated that the damage from the two storms totals $5 billion, and it dismissed the offer as too paltry to be serious.

But on Sept. 13, six days after Hurricane Ike barreled into the island of 11.4 million people, the Bush administration raised its offer to $5 million, which U.S. officials called an unprecedented proposal of direct aid to the Cuban government. In the past, U.S. aid to the island has been channeled through nongovernmental relief organizations. The Bush administration has authorized an additional $8 million in private U.S. donations to be distributed in that way.

The Cuban government requested building materials instead of the blankets and "hygiene kits" the aid included, said José Cárdenas, the U.S. Agency for International Development's acting assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean.

"These people are in dire need," he said. "We certainly hope that they would just accept it and get this stuff to the people who need it."

In an attempt to fulfill the request for building materials, the U.S. government on Friday proposed sending 8,000 "shelter kits," which include zinc roof sheeting, lumber, tools and wire. Cárdenas said the value of the aid is $6.3 million. So far, the Cuban government has not responded.

But Fidel Castro, who because of illness handed over official power to Raúl in February but remains highly influential, has signaled that the Communist Party would reject the U.S. aid on principle.

"Our country cannot accept a donation from the government that blockades us," he wrote recently in Granma, the party's daily newspaper. "The damage of thousands of lives, suffering, and more than $200 billion that the blockade and the aggression of the Yankees has cost us -- they can't pay for that with anything."

Despite the offers, many Cuban exiles who favor more contact with the island have sharply criticized the Bush administration.

"A whole group that you could consider extreme right-wing a year ago is now in favor of two very important changes," said Alfredo Duran, a Miami lawyer and a member of the Cuban Committee for Democracy, a moderate exile group that favors dialogue with the Cuban government. Referring to proposals to lift restrictions on remittances and travel to Cuba and the fuller debate emerging among Cuban exiles about the embargo itself, Duran said: "A lot of people in the past would not even talk about it. They basically shunned the issue."

Last week, El Nuevo Herald, a traditionally hard-line Spanish-language newspaper in Miami, published an editorial supporting a proposal by Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) to lift the restrictions on remittances and travel for six months. Even in "normal times," the editorial read, the measures were "highly unpopular."

"Now, they offend intelligence and sensibility," the paper said. "That absurd strategy does not benefit North America's best interests nor puts pressure for the return of freedom to Cuba."

The Cuban American National Foundation, historically the most powerful Cuban exile organization, still supports the embargo. But it is now actively campaigning to eliminate the travel and remittance restrictions, and recently sent a letter to President Bush urging him to waive them. The president of the foundation, Francisco Hernandez, said the Cuban government is taking advantage of the storms to win international political support while the Bush administration is "tying the hands of its friends, the Cuban American community."

"We all have, down here in Miami, a terrible sense of frustration at this administration at this time, because we are wasting the greatest opportunity for those who want freedom and democracy in Cuba to help and to be agents of change in Cuba," said Hernandez, who took part in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and described the current U.S. policy as an "even bigger mistake."

Meanwhile, Russia has sent planeloads of supplies to help storm victims; Brazil and Spain have also contributed. President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, a close Cuban ally, visited Havana this week and is expected to give a lucrative aid package.

Havana, the seaside capital, was largely spared the brunt of the storms. But many important industries suffered serious losses.

The winds flattened fields of sugar cane, the coffee harvest was hurt badly, and tobacco-curing sheds collapsed. Millions of acres of crops were damaged in the storms. The destruction left an estimated 200,000 people homeless and left others facing severe damage and long delays in the arrival of building supplies to repair what remains.

"Everything was destroyed -- look at this," said Linda Meléndez, the sun beating down into what was her living room before Hurricane Gustav tore the roof off her home here in this city of 40,000 people set among cultivated fields.

The Cuban government had classified her house as a partial loss, she said, preventing her family from receiving wood to build a temporary backyard hut.

"How long can we wait for materials?" she said.

On the way west out of Havana, metal electricity towers, one after the other, lay on the ground, their cables slumped between them. Houses had been shorn of their corrugated roofs.

Here in Los Palacios, every house appeared to have sustained at least some damage. But the rebuilding effort, in comparison to the chaos of neighboring Haiti, has been orderly.

Rubble and debris have been swept into piles along every street. Several residents said the government had assessed the damage and outlined the building materials they were supposed to receive. Many people were living with friends and neighbors, had moved into public buildings or were constructing small wooden shacks in their yards until the supplies arrived.

"I have never seen a storm like this; it was terrible," said Mario de Jesús Fuentes Campos, a 55-year-old retiree who lost his roof and the big mango tree in the back yard.

His family went 15 days without electricity. Prices of gasoline and cooking oil have risen. The stores have shortages of rice, he said, and there is hardly any meat at the butcher's.

"We have no money now," said his mother, Encarnación Campos, 81, who has a son living in Riverside, Calif. "It's unfair the Cubans can't send help to their relatives in Cuba. I don't agree with these rules."

Letter from Cuba Stiudy Group Executive Director

Thursday, September 25, 2008


For observers of the diplomatic chess match being played between Havana and Washington over humanitarian relief to the victims of hurricanes Gustav and Ike in Cuba, it is easy to overlook the positive steps taken by the U.S. government following its initial timid offer of $100,000 in assistance.

Despite at least five rejections by the Cuban government of U.S. offers of assistance, the administration has moved quickly to get assistance to the victims of the hurricane damage in Cuba.

These measures include: expediting licenses for nonprofit organizations wishing to send assistance to Cuba, delivering approximately $1.7 million in aid through nongovernmental organizations working in Cuba, and authorizing the sale of $250 million in agricultural goods to Cuba, including lumber.

The latest U.S. offer includes $6.3 million worth of construction materials to help Cuba rebuild. Though these offers fall short of the immense estimated need for the Cuban people (projected to be between $4 billion and $5 billion), they represent positive steps that deserve praise.

U.S. officials have proved their willingness to work with Cuban officials (even sit down with them) to make the legitimate U.S. offer of assistance more palpable for a regime with an already bruised ego.

This tragedy has presented the U.S. government with a unique opportunity to demonstrate the generosity of America. U.S. officials' willingness to take these positive steps is evidence that some in our government understand the importance of this opportunity.

Recognizing the Cuban government's stubborn unwillingness to accept U.S. assistance, these officials would do well to press on the administration the value of family-to-family assistance in circumstances such as this and advocate to suspend restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba by Cuban-Americans.

The U.S. government's willingness to take these steps stands in contrast to a cruel regime that rejects the assistance its people so desperately need and prefers to play politics rather than ensure the well-being of its citizens.


Executive director

Cuba Study Group


My letter to Secretary Gutierrez

Dear Secretary Gutierrez,

You are quoted in the Miami Herald today:

''It's hard to understand -- hard -- how they put politics ahead of suffering,''

We agree that Cuba should be more flexible about receiving US hurricane assistance. However, I also think that Washington is putting politics ahead of suffering at least as much as Havana.

FRD has circulated on line the following letter to the President which currently has about 950 signers, many of whom are Cuban American. I encourage you to review the list and browse through the comments

Because of the devastation suffered by Cuba from Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, and the history of conflict and suspicion between our countries, creative means must be found to enable the traditional compassion of Americans to express itself in assistance to the Cuban people in a timely fashion.

We urge an immediate 180 day suspension by Presidential order, or by legislation, of Treasury and Commerce Department restrictions and licensing requirements for humanitarian travel and remittances by all Americans and assistance from not-for-profit organizations granted tax-exempt status by the IRS.

Only such an action can liberate the caring and generosity of hundreds of thousands of Americans with personal links to Cuba and depoliticize the means of transmittal and acceptance. It will create a different atmosphere between our countries that makes the practical details of government to government aid far easier to negotiate.

Without this kind of paradigm changing breakthrough, officials of both countries will continue to posture and score points with their respective audiences, and the Cuban people will pay the price.


John McAuliff


John McAuliff
Executive Director
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
145 Palisade Street, Suite 401
Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522

US Offers Construction Materials

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Cuba silent on latest U.S. aid offer

The Cuban government has not officially responded to Washington's latest no-strings offer to provide $6.3 million in light construction materials to benefit hurricane victims. Havana has rejected three previous offers.

The U.S. State Department told Cuban diplomats in Washington on Friday that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was ready to send $6.3 million in corrugated zinc roofs, nails, tools, lumber, sheeting and light shelter kits by ship to benefit some 48,000 people hit by back-to-back devastating hurricanes.

But speaking at a New York church Monday, Cuba's vice president said Washington can keep making its proposals, but what it should really do is lift the trade embargo.

''They will continue making proposals,'' First Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura said at a speech Monday in Manhattan. ``If they really want to help the Cuban people, why don't they lift the embargo? They try to say that Cuba is trying to sacrifice its own people for politics when the most politicized thing is the blockade.''

Havana has already turned down flights full of disaster relief supplies and -- as of Monday night -- had not responded officially to the latest offer from Washington.

''It's hard to understand -- hard -- how they put politics ahead of suffering,'' U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said in a phone interview with The Miami Herald on Monday. ``They said last time that they needed building materials, so we added building materials. It's frankly very surprising that the leadership -- whoever is making the decisions -- is putting pride, power and their own ego ahead of the suffering of the Cuban people.''

The diplomatic note went ignored amid several reports that Cubans receiving cash storm aid from an exile group in Miami were being threatened by state security.

Melba Santana, the wife of a political prisoner in Las Tunas, said that when she attempted to distribute some money to neighbors from $300 in storm aid sent by the Cuban American National Foundation, state security agents threatened to criminally charge her.

''Let's see how far they are willing to take this, how far they are willing to sacrifice people's suffering,'' Santana said in a telephone interview. ``It was a miserable little $10 I was giving out and people are in need.''

The most recent proposal comes on the heels of a diplomatic clash between Havana and Washington over two powerful storms that hit the island in as many weeks. When Hurricane Gustav slammed into western Cuba on Aug. 30, the U.S. government offered $100,000 in aid and a disaster assessment team, a standard initial response to natural disasters that was widely criticized for not being generous and tied to conditions.

Cuba turned it down, saying an assessment team was an unnecessary pretext.

''We don't need experts. Our storm assessment experts are better,'' Machado said. ``They wanted to send spies so they could continue slandering us.''

When Ike hit the east and west coasts of Cuba destroying thousands of buildings in its path, Washington came back with the identical aid package.

Cuba blasted it and asked for a temporary reprieve from the U.S. embargo instead.

Washington came under heavy criticism again for insisting on the assessment team and making such a paltry initial offer. The USAID went back a third time, lifting the conditions and increasing the aid to $5 million in goods and cash.

The Cuban government's official response said what the nation really needed was credits to purchase construction materials. The U.S. embargo prohibits American companies from selling such materials to Cuba on credit. Current law allows food and lumber sales paid upfront in cash.

USAID said $1.7 million of Washington's aid is already making its way to Cuba through nongovernmental organizations.

© 2008 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

Cuban Government Position

Havana. September 19, 2008

Statements by Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque
Genocide and the latest anti-Cuba propaganda show

By María Julia Mayoral

Statements by Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque THE economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States for 50 years is the main obstacle to Cuba's development, the well-being of the Cuban people and, under the current circumstances, all the work involved in recovering from the extensive damage caused by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, stated Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque in Havana.

He affirmed that, since its implementation, the blockade has resulted in more than $93 billion in losses, which at current dollar values is the equivalent of $224.6 billion. He noted that this figure is based on conservative estimates, including only duly documented losses; there are many direct and indirect effects that have not been quantified.

Last year saw the most brutal implementation of the blockade, the foreign minister said. At today's prices, economic damage in 2007 totaled $3.775 billion. Irrational persecution of businesses, banks and citizens of the United States and other countries continues, including the obstruction of Internet sites related to Cuba, he noted.

At our country's proposal, this coming October 29, a draft resolution will be submitted to the United States General Assembly for a vote on the necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade. It will be the 17th time that the issue has been put to the consideration of that important body and, last year, Cuba's demand received a "yes" vote from 184 of the 192 member nations.

Cuba is confident that it will once again receive the overwhelming support of the international community, Pérez Roque affirmed. "The blockade is a violation not only of our rights but of the sovereignty of third countries and the rights of their businesses and citizens. It flagrantly violates the rights of the U.S. people and Cubans who live there, and according to the Geneva Convention, qualifies as an act of genocide," he affirmed.


In response to questions from reporters, the minister said that, in the wake of the disasters caused by Gustav and Ike, more than 20 countries have offered Cuba humanitarian aid, donations and cooperation projects, and another dozen have sent messages of encouragement and their willingness to cooperate. This contrasts with the attitude taken by the United States.

A U.S. State Department information sheet published a few days ago confirmed an attempt to launch a propaganda campaign in order to try to divert attention from the broad debate and the reiterated appeals of the international community to lift the blockade on Cuba, Pérez Roque noted.

That information sheet, titled "Humanitarian Assistance to the Cuban People after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike," says that after Gustav's passing, the U.S. government granted licenses for $250 million in agricultural sales to Cuba. This is an attempt to present the bureaucratic process imposed on U.S. companies - which includes obtaining licenses from the State and Treasury Departments, plus other agencies - as proof of that government's willingness to sell food to Cuba, when in reality, the obstacles to that process still prevail.

That distortion was described by the foreign minister as "blatant manipulation," because everyone knows that food sales are not new; they have existed for several years, and they are not aid. Cuba must buy these products and pay for them upfront, in violation of regular international practices, but that was a stipulation of the U.S. government. Neither Cuban nor U.S. banks can participate in payment transactions; they have to recur to banks in third countries. This is not a question of trade, because it is a one-way operation. Cuba is prohibited from exporting to the U.S. market, and the ships that come to our countries return empty to the United States.

The State Department document also says that the U.S. government provided immediate emergency aid of $100,000 to non-governmental organizations participating in humanitarian aid operations in our country. "We don't have the slightest idea of where that money ended up," Pérez Roque said, "and we never asked for it."

The information sheet states that the United States is willing to provide up to $5 million. It has already made itself clear about the Cuba issue, Pérez Roque noted. This is a U.S. propaganda operation to try to make itself look like the "good guy," as Fidel commented in a recent "Reflection" column.

The State Department sheet also says that the U.S. people are the greatest providers of humanitarian aid to the Cuban people; this is based on the manipulation of the following figures: According to the U.S. claim, last year, $20.6 million in non-agricultural humanitarian aid came to Cuba, along with $40.5 million in medical donations, making a total of $61 million. "We can confirm that during 2007, Cuba received donations from U.S. NGOs worth $6.1 million; in other words, 10 times less."

In 2000, before President Bush entered the White House, more than 160 U.S. NGOs were participating in that humanitarian effort. They were institutions of diverse types from virtually every U.S. state and had licenses from the government of the time. Due to persecution by the Bush administration, today there are only 21 NGOs with licenses, Pérez Roque commented.

"For us, the main value of those deliveries is not based on figures but the nobility of the gesture, and we appreciate the efforts by U.S. NGOs who carry out that work in a noble and friendly way that speaks to the best values of that country's people and is done from a position of respect for and sympathy toward Cuba."

According to the State Department, last year the people of that country sent humanitarian aid to Cuban people in the form of gifts worth $179 million, taking into account shipments from residents in that country to their relatives in Cuba. "The idea that the United States would try to present this as an effort by its government is insolent, because President Bush intensified the regulations and prohibitions related to this issue, reduced the value of permitted packages and changed the content of what can be sent, the frequency of deliveries and the category of those who may receive these packages, because they arbitrarily redefined the concept of family," he said.

"It is our duty to clarify the truth for public opinion, while that propagandistic aberration is being pursued with the goal of diverting attention from the main issue: we have not asked the United States for help because we cannot accept donations from a government that is blockading us; we are prepared to buy indispensable materials that U.S. companies place on the export market; we are requesting authorization for the supply of these resources and the normal credits used in commercial operations.

"If the U.S. government does not wish to do so definitively, Cuba has requested that it authorize these measures for the next six months, taking into account the damages caused by hurricanes Gustav and Ike and the fact that the most dangerous months of the hurricane season are yet to come."

To date, the U.S. government has not responded to the request officially reiterated for the third time a few days ago, Pérez Roque noted. This is still pending a response, but meanwhile, that country is mounting propaganda shows of rhetoric, of ill-intentioned publicity, at a time when our people are facing a situation of danger and pain.

Referring to imperialism's real intentions, Pérez Roque noted that, this year, the U.S. government is spending - through just one of its agencies, USAID - $46 million on its mercenary groups in Cuba, with the aim of promoting internal subversion, and $40 million on maintaining its illegal, anti-Cuba radio and television broadcasts. "This is not even taking into account the CIA and other agencies."

While the two hurricanes caused enormous devastation, the Cuban people and government are confident that we will continue moving forward, Pérez Roque stated. "Despite all of the adversities, including the ruthless and prolonged blockade, our country will continue moving forward and will do so with the united strength of all of its sons and daughters, without leaving anyone abandoned. We will demonstrate once again what a popular revolution and a people in power are capable of doing," he affirmed.

In response to a question about relations with the European Union, the foreign minister observed that some progress has been made on normalization in recent months, especially since the EU finally decided to renounce its attempts to impose sanctions on Cuba.

The EU made a proposal for political dialogue which Cuba accepted, but first it will be necessary to discuss and establish its foundations, and that means this must be done between equals, with respect for the independence of nations, the principle of non-intervention in domestic affairs, and of the sovereign equality of countries, he emphasized.

Translated by Granma International .

Holguin Rebuilding Problems

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Shortages hamper attempts to rebuild after Hurricane Ike

The hammer will not leave Alfredo Pérez's side as he sleeps under the night sky.

With no roof over his head -- like many in this seaside village -- Pérez uses the hammer to protect his family's valuables from intruders who may want to pilfer the crumbled chunks of brick, rusty nails, and aged wooden beams he has salvaged and plans to use to rebuild his home ''poquito a poquito'' or ``little by little.''

Supplies are hard to come by. Even the rusty nails bent out of shape are a hot commodity throughout the northeastern provinces hardest hit by Hurricane Ike -- a storm that slammed into this region on Sept. 7 as a major Category 3 storm with 125 mph winds and gained strength at various times during its two-day trek across the island.

''This will set us back 100 years,'' Pérez said of Ike's impact on Cuba, an island in which many regions outside the capital city of Havana still rely on horse and buggy as a means of transportation.

Whatever Ike's winds did not take from the Pérez family was left at the mercy of the thrashing waves. Their home, like numerous others in the town, was steps away from the turquoise blue sea.

''Do you know what an atomic bomb does?'' asked resident José Armando León, 72, standing near an open field where his house once stood in the neighboring city of Banes. ``This is what happened here, it's like an atomic bomb was dropped and we were left with nothing.''

The ferocity of Ike's island-wide path of destruction is no longer news to villagers who have been living in the devastation for two weeks. They understand the magnitude of the storm -- the fact that more than 444,000 homes were damaged across the country, 932 of those in the northeastern Holguín province. They know about the eight storm-related deaths and that thousands of acres of crops like banana and sugar cane were ravaged.

They can deal with the thought of not having a roof over their head -- grateful that neighbors, relatives and schools offer shelter. Even hunger is not much of an issue as neighbors share food and batches of rice and plantains are cooked at local schools for dinners.

The information most residents here seek from outsiders trickling in from more populated urban areas is any updates on reconstruction efforts. With phone lines still down, villagers rely on those passing through town to relay information. And rumors are rampant.


Some residents said local leaders have told them the Venezuelan government was tallying the homes without roofs and would dispatch supplies and workers to help rebuild. Others clung to hopeful rumblings that churches outside of the country were going to be allowed to bring donations to the remote areas.

While hoping for supplies to come in, most families aren't waiting around for the government to fix their crumbling homes, clear the roads or erect downed electric poles.

''We're just helping until the government can come out and help. It's all of our duty,'' said Hugo Alberto Betancourt, 80, as he and three others attempted to position the concrete post of an electric pole into place in Banes.

Outside of the nearby beach town of Gibara, just 30 minutes west of Banes, a man named José Ricardo, 32, washed his buggy in a stream that covered what was normally the road out of town.

When the water finally subsides, he and other neighborhood volunteers plan to clear the drainage system of all the debris caused by Ike. He said the neighbors had no qualms about fixing the road themselves in the absence of government assistance.

''We do it for the good of everyone,'' he said. ``Do you know what it's like to have to pull off your shoes and roll up your pants to walk in the water everyday?''

Like his neighbors, Pérez wasted no time trying to figure out which pieces of wood were long enough to form into the shell of a roof. His wife, Irene, 60, walked about the neighborhood attempting to find spoons, cups, clothes that the sea waves pushed as far as three blocks from their home.

Irene said she regretted leaving behind these essentials and family photos she had posted on her walls when she followed government orders to evacuate before Ike struck. The family fled to Banes where sturdier concrete apartment buildings fared better. She has not spoken much since Ike hit.

''I feel that if I open my mouth to talk about this my soul will escape out of my body,'' Irene said, as tears rolled down her blue eyes.


The Pérezes don't know when power will be restored, but from their house they can see a couple of blocks down the road where the state-run luxury hotel Las Brisas has power running via generators.

The government has placed a special focus on making sure hotels and urban centers have power, assuring that the mainly European tourists have air-conditioned rooms and hot running water.

The state-run newspaper Ahora, which covers Holguín province, recently reported that recovery priority has been placed on the tourism industry in the eastern provinces.

''The damage to hotels is recoverable,'' a hotel representative told Ahora. ``We have the resources needed to return to normality in a short time and get ready for the upcoming season.''

Down the street from Pérez's house, the Villa Bahia -- a seafood restaurant and popular tourist bar -- was shut down because of damage. But soon after Ike passed, government employees traveled from the southeastern province of Granma to help in recovery efforts. They gathered broken bits of brick by hand, attempting to form a wall. ''If we fix this now, it's good for the tourists,'' said a construction worker named Rufino as he laid down a brick. ``If it's good for the tourists, it's good for us.''

Repairs on the island have been a patchwork affair.

Some towns have had their straw-roof homes replaced with metal sheets just a week after the storm. In other towns, residents have been given two pieces of metal here, some straw for their roofs there. Further delaying progress in the eastern provinces is the fact that areas on the western end of the island like Pinar del Río and the Isle of Youth were battered by back-to-back storms starting with Hurricane Gustav on Aug. 30.

Pérez predicted he would be able to rebuild his roof within a month. But he was not sure when he might be able to replace the other basic possessions lost to the storm, including a mattress, plates and cups.


His wife has joined neighbors on a daily trek.

When the sun begins to set, she heads inland by foot to spend the night at a friend's apartment more than 30 minutes away. Her husband, like other men of Playa Guardalavaca, stays behind with the hammer at his side to guard what's left of their tattered home.

Looking toward the tranquil sea whose ferocious waves swept away their possessions, Pérez repeated the mantra spoken by many throughout Cuba's remote areas.

''`La vida no es facil,'' he said. ``Life is not easy.''

The name of the correspondent who filed this report was withheld because the journalist lacked the visa required by the Cuban government to report from the island.

© 2008 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

Recovery Problems

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Swamped by chest-high flooding caused by recent hurricanes, the humble residents of this desolate fishing village on Cuba's southern coast found one small cause for celebration recently: homemade ice cream.

On a clattering, old metal contraption rigged up in a drab concrete compound, Marlen Vargas López, a smiling soul with close-cropped hair, whipped up a fresh batch and pulled a lever to fill cone after cone with chocolate, the flavor of the day.

''It's refreshing,'' said one young man, stopped in front of the store in the scorching afternoon sun. ``At least it relieves the heat.''

The ice-cream treat was about all there was for sale at El Recreo, one of the few shops open in the dismal location south of Havana. Clara Balladares Gomes, another store clerk, said there were no snacks, no bottled water and no soft drinks at the rundown outlet.

While the flooding from Hurricanes Gustav and Ike has receded, filthy pools of stagnant water still lined the streets in front of the wood shack homes on a recent afternoon, giving off a stench.

The shanties were scarcely habitable before the western region of Cuba -- from the Gulf of Batabanó to the agriculture-rich province of Pinar del Río -- was pummeled by back-to-back hurricanes within eight days beginning Aug. 30. Now, the homes are musty, and many roofs leak when it rains.

Spotting newcomers in the street, a middle-aged woman in worn shorts trailed after the visitors, offering to provide overnight accommodations and meals at a ''casa particular,'' or private home that takes in guests.

Now, more than ever, she could use the money.


The twin natural disasters may be the worst to ever hit the communist island, with preliminary damage estimates for the two storms reaching an estimated $5 billion. According to reports in the Cuban newspaper Opciones, more than 444,000 homes were damaged, with some 63,249 destroyed. The electric grid was badly crippled. Gustav wiped out more than 800 tons of premium Cuban tobacco.

Numerous other crops also have been damaged. Last week, along a main highway in Pinar del Río, a small group of field workers, kneeling in a field of shallow water, used their hands to pull plants by the roots. One weary worker lifted his head and explained that much of the crop ``is damaged.''

Hurricane preparedness and massive evacuations clearly helped to minimize human injuries. Even hotel rooms on the island include detailed information on what to do in case of a hurricane. Several locals said they are used to the storms and closely monitor their tracks to know if they need to respond.


Despite the devastation in the village of Surgidero de Batabanó, small boys -- the sons of local fishermen -- played in the street, merrily sloshing in filthy puddles.

Elsewhere, the government seemed to be working hard on the relief effort. In tourist-popular Viñales last week, many government workers joined in a cleanup, and workers from the electrical company were out in full force in a bid to restore power, erecting new poles and stringing lines.

Cuban officials blame whatever shortcomings are encountered on the U.S. embargo.

In the state newspaper Granma, an article said that a half-century economic war against the island will make it more difficult to rebuild, given that Cuba is a small country with limited financial resources.

But the government has reported little about the repeated offers of aid by the United States, which have been consistently turned down.

In the remote area of Surgidero de Batabanó, there was little sign of government aid on a recent afternoon, although two large tractor-trailer trucks, loaded with building blocks, rumbled through town on a delivery.

Even so, the residents of Surgidero de Batabanó count themselves relatively lucky compared with their neighbors.

The village, which sits about 30 miles south of Havana, serves as a launching point for ferries to the Isla de la Juventud, or Isle of Youth, a popular tourist destination that was devastated by the two hurricanes.

The island, off Cuba's south coast, remains in the dark after the consecutive storms knocked out electricity.


Formerly known as the Isle of Pines, the island has a prison that once served as a cell for a young revolutionary named Fidel Castro. After a failed attack on the Moncada army barracks in Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953, Castro and his accomplices were put on trial for the insurrection against Fulgencio Batista's government. At the trial, he declared he had no fear of prison, declaring that, ``History will absolve me.''

Most of the private homes on the isle that take in guests were among those leveled, making it difficult for residents who relied on precious tourist dollars. According to Cuban press reports, 80 percent of the poultry farming on the Isle of Youth also was seriously affected.

No one knows how long it will be before the isle will be able to restore enough infrastructure to attract tourists, who head there for its age-old cave paintings and outstanding coral reefs. But, for now, many travel officials are steering tourists away.

At Havana's airport last week, a ticket agent for Cubana airlines urged against visiting the Isle of Youth.

''Why would you want to go there?'' she asked. ``It's 100 percent finished.''

The name of the correspondent who filed this report was withheld because the reporter did not have the journalist's visa required by the Cuban government to report from the island.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Both Governments Put Politics Above People

Bush Plays Politics as Cubans Suffer

With all of the talk and debate about the Bush administration's response to the financial crisis engulfing Wall Street, little attention is being paid to urgent and time sensitive legislation a few members of Congress have introduced in the last few days that would allow the United States to more effectively and meaningfully respond to the devastating humanitarian crisis in Cuba in the wake of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

Congressman Bill Delahunt (D-MA), and Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), have introduced legislation that would temporarily ease heightened restrictions on direct family travel, remittances, and relief packages to Cuba that have been in place since 2004. Senators Dodd and Lugar's legislation contemplates widening the items that the Cuban government can purchase with cash to include items necessary for relief response. These are critical and important legislative measures that are even more noteworthy during this time of Wall Street bailouts because neither the House nor Senate initiative would cost tax payers a thing.

Efforts to respond to the crisis to date have been hijacked by political posturing by both the Bush administration and Raul Castro's government. The Bush administration has been offering aid and refusing to ease the restrictions on direct family travel and remittances that it tightened significantly in 2004, and the Castro government is refusing to accept any aid that does not involve a removal of the trade embargo. This leaves Cubans to confront the devastation on their own and Cuban Americans feeling despair as they hear from their relatives about the plight of people on the island.

Marlene Azola told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, and Oversight last week during her congressional testimony that while Haitian Americans can travel freely to Haiti to help their family and friends in the wake of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, Cuban Americans cannot exercise the same freedom. The Cuban people, not the Cuban government, are the ones suffering the most as a result of this policy. Even the President of the Cuban American Foundation of Miami, Francisco J. Hernandez—a man who participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion and has spent 49 years struggling against the Castro regime—said at the same congressional hearing:

"It is indefensible and intolerable that this issue be used to play politics while lives hang in the balance and while the ability to assist exists ... While we cannot force the Castro regime into providing a quick and even response to the crisis, we can unleash the goodwill and humanitarian support that the Cuban American community is eager to provide."

It is ironic that the same people who obsess about the growing influence of Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez and Russia in the Western Hemisphere—countries that have already provided aid relief to the Cuban people—are the ones stuck in a political jockeying match with the Castro regime that does nothing for the interests of the Cuban people or the interests of the United States in the hemisphere. As a Chicago Tribune opinion writer noted, "When the Castro brothers are history and the Cuban people contemplate what comes next, what they'll remember is that in September 2008, Hugo Chavez and Vladimir Putin were their friends. And we weren't."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Canada Provides $700,000 in assistance

Canada helps Cubans affected by Hurricanes Gustav, Hanna and Ike

The Government of Canada today announced a $400,000 contribution to assist the people of Cuba affected by Hurricanes Gustav, Hanna and Ike.

Of that amount, $200,000 will be transferred to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), allowing the IFRC and the Cuban Red Cross to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to 40,000 Cubans whose lives have been devastated by the impact of the hurricanes. Provisions will include water filters, temporary shelter materials, and other much-needed emergency supplies such as kitchen sets, jerry cans, mosquito nets, towels, mattresses and sheet sets. This is in addition to the $100,000 provided on September 6 for initial emergency responses in Cuba, Haiti and the Caribbean.

In addition, $200,000 has been set aside for the Cuba Community Development Fund to support relief and reconstruction proposals submitted by local Cuban organizations.

Canadian officials are monitoring all regions of the Americas that have been hit by the recent storms and will continue to work with trusted humanitarian partners to ensure that this assistance is making a difference.

– 30 –


Media Relations Office
Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)
Telephone: 819-953-6534

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hurricanes Could Produce Migration Crisis

Cuba's October surprise


last updated: September 18, 2008 09:13:40 PM

If you live in Galveston, Texas, Hurricane Ike will be remembered for its destruction. But history may remember the ninth named storm of the 2008 season for swinging the 2008 presidential campaign.

That's because Ike devastated a little island off Florida named Cuba. In fact, Cuba sustained damage from four hurricanes: Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike. Gustav hit the Western end of Cuba as a Category 4 storm. Ike entered the east of Cuba as a strong Category 3 then shredded the full length of the island for three days. There were reports of walls of water 50 feet high hitting the north shore.

In a country of more than 11 million people, 2.7 million evacuated their homes when Ike came through. Today, 444,000 homes in Cuba are damaged, meaning up to 2.2 million Cubans are living dangerously or wondering when it will be safe to go home.

Food supplies on the island are nearly exhausted. The crops and livestock for domestic consumption and cash crops like tobacco and sugar cane, necessary for the hard currency to import food - are devastated. The island's electrical grid is severely damaged and in some places non-existent. Communication towers are down across the country. Roads are blocked with rubble from collapsed buildings, trees, or just washed away. Schools, hospitals, and clinics have suffered extensive damage or are non-functioning.

And it will only get worse. With at least $5 billion of damage done to a nation where the average monthly salary is $17, the economy will not be able to support the Cuban population for quite some time. Even the Cuban military is on short-rations with perhaps a week left. With food shelves empty, hoarding and black market price gouging will quickly squeeze all families, displaced or not, with little to no income and no subsistence agriculture to fall back on. As the vast majority of Cubans become malnourished and post-disaster diseases increase in prevalence, the political situation is likely to become much more volatile within Cuba.

All this could occur within the next six weeks. Faced with a displaced, hungry and frustrated population, Havana could do what it has done in the past: allow a mass migration to head north. In 1980, responding to unrest triggered by economic downturn, Havana launched the Mariel boatlift that brought 125,000 Cuban immigrants over a five-month period to South Florida. In 1994, facing another economic catastrophe, the Castro government allowed at least 35,000 Cubans to leave the island - an episode that cost the U.S. Treasury more than $500 million.

The U.S. government is now offering Cuba a $1.5 million package of temporary shelter for 10,000 families and household items for 8,000 with an additional $3.5 million conditional on the survey of a U.S. disaster assessment team.(1) In contrast, Haiti, which was hit by three storms, has already received $19 million in aid from the U.S. government. Even Burma, which has a military dictatorship more repressive than Cuba's and was ravaged by Cyclone Fargis, received $50 million in aid.

Indeed, an increase in funding for traditional humanitarian items is not what Cuba needs or wants from the United States. Their government believes that there would be no prospect of a crisis if the U.S. economic embargo were not blocking them from purchasing the needed supplies on the open market. It can get food from other countries in the region. Rather, Cuba's infrastructure needs repair. They need electrical components like poles, cable, and transformers. They need heavy-duty construction equipment and materials. The only market that can respond fast enough is the United States.

Without those supplies, the boats could very well sail before November. Americans with family in Cuba will be furious with the Bush administration for placing politics over saving lives. Cuban refugees who make it onto U.S. soil will benefit from the wet-foot/dry-foot policy that other Latino immigrants - a key demographic this cycle - view with considerable hostility. South Florida is already reeling from the domestic economic recession and a new load of low-skilled immigrants will put downward pressures on wages and exclusion will risk increased levels of criminal activity. At a minimum, CNN will be showing pictures of thousands of malnourished and water-logged Cubans being picked up on the high seas and then sent to the notorious U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo, only to be repatriated to a growing catastrophe.

It is now time to lift the embargo, let Cuba buy what it needs and move on. The U.S. policy of isolation to bring about regime change has failed to achieve its goals for fifty years. Fidel has grown old and retired. Cuba is no longer sponsoring revolution overseas but exporting doctors and nurses instead. And by giving Havana a ready-made excuse for economic failure, the embargo has the perverse effect of supporting the Castro regime rather than weakening it.

The Bush administration is between a rock and a hard place. If it continues with business as usual, Havana may very well decide the outcome of the U.S. elections. If it moves to end the embargo and Cuba purchases the supplies it needs to rebuild, it will have prevented the disaster that it foresaw but Cuba will cease to be an electoral goldmine for the GOP.

America needs to put politics aside. It is time to do the right thing. Protect the lives of innocent Cubans, protect our electoral process, end a 50-year-old failed policy, and be good Samaritans after all.

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson was chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Patrick Doherty participated in the humanitarian operation in Kosovo and the Balkans. They are chairman and director, respectively, of the U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative at the New America Foundation, 1630 Connecticut Avenue NW, 7th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20009; Web site:

This essay is available to McClatchy-Tribune News Service subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.

© 2008, New America Foundation

Test of Cuba MFA Statement Sept. 10


Yesterday, September 9, 2008, at 11:50 A.M., the Department of State conveyed to the Interests Section of Cuba in Washington Note Nº 252/18 in which, after expressing its regrets for the additional damage caused to the Cuban people by hurricane Ike, it insists in the visit to our country of a “humanitarian assessment team” to “inspect the affected areas”.

Today, September 10, at 7:20 P.M. the Interests Section of Cuba in Washington sent to the Department of State Note Nº 046/08, in which it conveys its appreciation for the expressions of regret by the Government of the United States for the damage caused in Cuba by hurricane Ike, and reiterates that Cuba does not require the assistance of a humanitarian assessment team as it has a sufficient number of trained specialists to deal with this task.

The Note emphasizes that if the Government of the United States is really willing to cooperate with the Cuban people it is requested to allow the sale to Cuba of indispensable material, such as materials for roofing, for building repairs and for the re-establishment of electric networks.

Likewise, it reiterates the request that the Government of the United States suspend the restrictions preventing U.S. companies from providing private commercial credits to Cuba for the purchase of foodstuffs in the United States.

The Note also calls the attention of the Department of State that the visit to Cuba of a humanitarian assessment team is not required to allow the sale of the aforementioned materials and to authorize private credits for the purchase of foodstuffs.

Lastly, the Note of the Interests Section of Cuba underscores to the Department of State that its Note Nº 252/18 insists in a request that the Government of Cuba had already replied to in Note Nº 1886 of September 6, 2008, of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but, and it is highly significant, it does not actually respond to the two concrete requests made by the Government of Cuba to the Government of the United States in order to cope with the damage caused by hurricane Gustav, that it once again reiterates.

On the other hand, during the last few hours, spokespersons of the Government of the United States have attempted to justify the refusal by President Bush to allow the sale to Cuba of indispensable materials and to authorize private commercial credits to purchase foodstuffs in the U.S.

Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, affirmed categorically on Sunday, September 7: “I don’t think that (…) the lifting of the embargo would be wise”.

The Spokesman of the Department of State, Sean McCormack, insisted, on Monday, September 8, in a press briefing, on the alleged importance that Cuba accept an assessment team to inspect damage “in situ”. Responding to the observation of journalists that other countries have provided assistance without demanding a previous inspection of damage in the field, McCormack responded evasively: “”See if the Cuban Government changes its mind about allowing us to help the Cuban people”.

On his part, the Cuban American Carlos Gutiérrez, U.S. Commerce Secretary and Co-Chairman of the commission in charge of implementing the Bush Plan against Cuba expressed hypocritically yesterday: “…we reiterate our offer to allow a USAID team to travel to Cuba to assess the situation”.

This is a cynical attitude of the Government of the United States. It attempts to suggest that it is desperate to cooperate with Cuba, and that we are the ones refusing. It lies shamelessly.

Why does the Government of the United States insist in the pretext of carrying out an inspection “in situ” when the information disseminated regarding the serious effects caused by the hurricanes in Cuba is widespread and obvious?

Why does it use the precondition of sending an inspection team, something that no one else has done among the scores of countries that are already generously cooperating with Cuba?

Why does the Government of the United States refuse to allow Cuba to purchase materials for building repairs, roofing or components for the re-establishment of electrical networks in the U.S.?

Why does it forbid U.S. companies and their subsidiaries in all countries, to provide Cuba with private credit for the purchase of foodstuffs, which today are essential to ensure food for the affected population and to replace reserves in the event of new hurricanes?

These are the questions that the U.S. Government must answer.

These are the questions that the international community, that overwhelmingly supports Cuba in its struggle against the blockade, poses to the Government of the United States.

Cuba has not asked the Government of the United States for any gift whatsoever. Simply to be allowed to purchase.

Anything else is pure rhetoric, pretexts and justifications that no one believes.

Cuba will go forward. No hurricane, blockade or aggression will be able to prevent it.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba

Havana, September 10, 2008

Sisters of Charity Material Aid

Miami nuns put politics aside to help storm-battered Cuba


Miami Herald Sep. 18, 2008

Behind the yellow tape blocking the side street in a residential neighborhood in Miami, dozens of volunteers under white tents pack empty Corona boxes with juice, beans, rice and medicines. Sister Rafaela Gonzalez, a sprightly 75, directs the action as the beep, beep, beep of a forklift topped with bottles of water alerts volunteers to move out of the way.

''This has been my job for 30 years,'' she says, smiling.

Her ''job'' in the Catholic order of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul is to serve the poor with good deeds as much as kind words. Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless -- Catholic works of mercy that know no political boundaries, only God's love.

As people from Miami to Washington debate loosening travel rules or the U.S. trade embargo toward Cuba after two back-to-back hurricanes, the nuns have nothing to debate. Their No. 1 job is saving lives as much as souls. The politicians and the demagogues can point fingers and raise suspicion about donated goods being skimmed by Cuban government officials, but the nuns have 14 years of experience seeing their containers get in the right hands.

Now is no time to debate. It's time to do -- and our community knows it.

The Daughters of Charity have found overwhelming support from South Florida residents eager to help more than a million Cubans left homeless by hurricanes Gustav and Ike. They're also helping direct supplies to two local Catholic churches -- Notre Dame and St. James -- that are organizing shipments to Haiti.

In just six days, the sisters have sent four 40-foot containers with $100,000 worth of food, water and medicines to the Port of Havana. Two of those containers already are feeding people in hard-hit Pinar del Río province. On Thursday, they prepared another two long containers as dozens of volunteers worked in synchronized fashion to categorize and pack boxes and fill the trucks.

Hialeah High School students dropped off a truckload of donated goods by noon. The mail carrier dropped off donations from as far as California. The phone wouldn't stop ringing.


It all started with Sister Hilda Alonso, the 87-year-old nun who heads the Daughters of Charity in Miami. She ran the Colegio La Inmaculada, a school for girls in Havana before the revolution closed Catholic schools and kicked out priests and nuns. After teaching and running schools in Puerto Rico, and working in Haiti to open St. Vincent de Paul orders -- ''the need was so great'' -- she started her mission in Miami.

Since 1994, the six nuns have sent containers to Cuba with donated food, medicines and even medical equipment to help pregnant women, children with Down syndrome, patients with leprosy and the elderly in church-run retirement homes.

For years, her former Inmaculada students have dropped by the nuns' tidy, spare home with donations, knowing they will get to the right people.

As she sat at her metal desk next to her twin-size bed with a white cotton cover in her little bedroom, Sor Hilda, as the sister is called in Spanish, noted that by the end of this week the nuns will have shipped about six containers -- as much as they usually do in the entire year.

''It's been extraordinary, the generosity of those who live here,'' she told me, adding that people of all ethnicities were coming by to give.

It's not just goods -- it's also money that's needed. It costs $5,000 to ship a 40-foot container to Cuba.

I had heard about Sor Hilda's good works for years, and this summer I had visited her with a friend to learn more about this little woman from tobacco country in Pinar del Río who has taken on such a mammoth job. For all her years of hard work, she's still the Energizer Bunny -- but without the drums to call attention to herself.

As one Inmaculada volunteer told me Thursday about the nun she knew in Cuba, ``She is humility personified.''


Now the sisters are working around the clock to get emergency aid to Cuba. The sisters have a long record of getting U.S.-licensed goods to the island without Cuban government interference. Sor Hilda has gone there herself to ensure goods get to the nuns in La Víbora neighborhood in Havana who then distribute the donations.

The nuns in Cuba go to the docks and inspect the containers -- then one will ride with a trusted driver to make sure the food gets to those who need it and doesn't end up in the black market.

''We are sending to the places that have seen the worst devastation,'' she said.

Next week, the nuns will start collecting sheets and other needs. But today, it's all about food, water and other essentials.

Most of all, it's about unconditional love.

The Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul are accepting food, water, medicine and linens for hurricane victims in Cuba at 500 NW 63rd Ave., Miami. Or call 305-266-6485 for more information.

Chicago Tribune editorial

Aid for the enemy

September 18, 2008

Americans have rightly focused on the terrible devastation Hurricane Ike caused in Texas and local residents' frustrated efforts to return and rebuild. Don't forget, though, that Ike caused havoc before it hit the U.S.

Back-to-back hurricanes, Gustav and Ike, destroyed thousands of homes in Cuba, wiped out crops across the island and knocked out much of its electrical grid. Cuba doesn't have the billions of dollars it needs to rebuild, but the Castro government wants nothing to do with the Bush administration's idea of help.

It would, however, like to buy some food and roofing nails and the like. The Bush administration says no.

U.S. officials have offered $100,000 in aid, but insist the money be funneled through independent humanitarian groups, not the Castro government. The U.S. State Department also offered to send disaster experts to assess the damage, hinting that more money would follow once the need was documented.

Cuban officials declined the offer, partly because they couldn't stomach the conditions and partly because Russia, Venezuela and others are willing to give money with no strings attached.

Long-standing animosity between the two governments makes it nearly unthinkable for Cuba to accept charity from the U.S., and vice versa. Then-Cuban President Fidel Castro offered to send one of his vaunted medical teams to help victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but the White House said no. The year before, Cuba sniffed at a U.S. offer of $50,000 in aid after Hurricane Charley, calling it "ridiculous and humiliating."

If the U.S. is sincere about helping this time, Cuba says, it can start by lifting restrictions that prevent Cuba from buying construction materials. It could also let Cuba buy food and supplies from U.S. businesses on credit, which would require a change in the policy—enacted in 2001 after Hurricane Michelle—that allows such sales, but only in cash.

Many Cuban Americans, meanwhile, want Bush to loosen restrictions on travel across the straits and suspend limits on how much money they can send to relatives on the island. They're joined by Sen. Barack Obama, who supported such changes even before hurricane season, and by Democratic congressional candidate Raul Martinez, who's trying to unseat Republican Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Cuba policy hard-liner.

Martinez and Obama are gambling that the once-formidable Cuban exile voting bloc is losing its grip on Florida politics, inviting better relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Others, including Obama's rival Sen. John McCain, aren't ready to go there.

The Bush administration says it may increase caps on how much Americans can donate to relief agencies working in Cuba, but the nearly 50-year-old trade embargo is off limits until Cuba releases its political prisoners, holds free and fair elections and embraces American-style democracy.

"The embargo is very separate," Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez says.

Tell that to the Cuban people reeling from the ravages of hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

In the twisted exile logic that has long dictated our policy toward Cuba, letting them go hungry is something we do for their own good. They'll thank us later, after they shake off the communists and see the light. Not likely.

When the Castro brothers are history and the Cuban people contemplate what comes next, what they'll remember is that in September 2008, Hugo Chavez and Vladimir Putin were their friends. And we weren't.,0,4316155.story