Monday, September 15, 2008

Challenge of sending aid to Cuba

Aid's path to Haiti, Cuba is fraught with obstacles

South Florida residents are eager to help hurricane victims, but delivering aid is a tricky and time-consuming process.


The long, confrontational history between Cuba and the United States creates a uniquely delicate political dynamic, although the distribution of aid is generally well run once it arrives on the island. With Haiti, the biggest problems are shipping delays and roads and bridges now swept away by flooding.

With Haiti, it often takes five weeks or more for an aid shipment to reach those who need it. With Cuba, once the bureaucratic hurdles are cleared, it can take as little as five days.

With Cuba, the complications in getting aid to the affected come on the front end, with the sometimes complex process of securing permission to send supplies or money to the communist country. Because of the U.S. embargo on Cuba, aid organizations must be licensed to send money or goods or to travel to the island.

Many organizations were turned down in the past. Others have fought legal battles to keep licenses that the United States declined to renew.

''This administration has put every obstacle it can in front of people like me,'' said Eddie Levy of Jewish Solidarity in Miami, which is licensed to send cash donations and powdered milk to the Sephardic Jewish community in Havana.

As damage estimates continue to mount in Cuba, the U.S. government has responded with expedited licenses for agencies that provide humanitarian aid. Several local groups reported getting new licenses in recent days at a faster pace than usual.

The U.S. government also increased the amount of cash that groups with existing authorizations could send to Cuban storm victims.

Despite those changes, the embargo can spook individuals who are otherwise inclined to help.

Tom Cooper, of South Florida's Gulfstream Air, has agreed to help Jewish Solidarity and another local charity take food and powdered milk to Cuba. His company operates daily charter flights to the island, but is uncertain about taking relief shipments. His lawyers are checking on whether the company is allowed to deliver aid supplies.

Several aid groups say that once goods reach Cuba, they move through a relatively swift distribution system.

Catholic Charities, for example, is using local donations to purchase 40,000 pounds of beans, rice and canned goods for the island. The goods are turned over to Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. church's international relief and development arm. That agency has a license to ship humanitarian items, and is currently preparing at least five containers for Cuba.

In Havana, workers from Caritas Cuba, a charity church branch, will meet the shipment when it arrives. Government trucks distribute the aid.

''Things have gone relatively smoothly as long as we inform the government we are coming,'' said Lynn Renner, Catholic Relief Services' Caribbean representative. ``The government has assured Caritas that everything that comes into the country will be distributed immediately on a fast track . . . because the needs are tremendous right now.''

Full article at

No comments: