Friday, October 10, 2008

US Blocks Direct Family Assistance Through CANF

Cubans in Florida frustrated that U.S. cut off their aid to island

Foundation appeals decision by government,0,1640950.story

South Florida

By Alexia Campbell

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

October 9, 2008

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One man wants to send his niece in Cuba money to rebuild a room of her flattened home. Another man wants to get arthritis medicine to his aunt, who moves around in a makeshift wheelchair. One woman looks for ways to send food to a cousin who waits for promised government aid.

For two days in September, it was easy. Cubans in the United States could send money directly to hurricane victims on the island, thanks to a temporary easing of federal restrictions on remittances.

But federal officials last month amended the license they granted to the Cuban American National Foundation.

Now it prohibits direct aid to people on the island.

As the foundation appeals the decision, South Florida Cubans struggle to keep hope alive in their homeland.

"It's completely frustrating," said Pedro Abigantus, a Pembroke Pines resident whose niece was left homeless in eastern Cuba after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike plowed through her house more than a month ago.

Current U.S. law limits Cubans in America to sending no more than $300 every three months to immediate family members in Cuba.

Abigantus, 71, can't send money to his niece unless someone travels there.

He wants to help his niece and her husband piece together a room for themselves and their little girl.

"To find one nail — it's impossible," Abigantus said. "They straighten out the same old nails and use the same old wood."

About 1,200 people wired money to Cuba through the foundation after the U.S. Department of Treasury first granted the license and after hurricanes damaged more than 100,000 homes on the island.

Two days later, the $250,000 limit the license allowed was hit, the foundation said.

Federal officials didn't explain why direct aid was briefly allowed and then taken away, said Sandy Acosta Cox, spokeswoman for the foundation.

The Treasury Department now won't publicly confirm or deny that the license was ever issued.

"There are no words to describe this," said Acosta Cox.Fred Valdes, 60, of Hollywood, heard news that part of the roof at his aunt's house near Santa Clara blew off. His aunt, who lives alone and suffers from arthritis, moves around in a wheelchair made from a chair mounted on two bike wheels. Her house has no power and she drinks water from a well in her yard, he said.

"Enough is enough," said Valdes, who wants to send her medicine and money. "Forget the politics, let the help go in."

Copyright © 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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