US sends aid to Cuba to recover from hurricane

The United States said on Tuesday it was offering emergency humanitarian aid to the people of Cuba to recover from the ravages of Hurricane Ian, an unusual but not unprecedented move after years of bilateral tensions.

The assistance includes some two million dollars in provisions and supplies that will be delivered through independent non-governmental organizations that have experience and are already working on the island directly with the affected populations, an official told The Associated Press who asked to maintain her name anonymous in accordance with US government policy.

“We are responding to a disaster, working with our international humanitarian assistance partners to send critical assistance directly to those most in need,” the official said in a phone interview ahead of an official announcement shortly after. “We stand with the Cuban people and will continue to look for ways to improve their political and economic well-being.”

The emergency assistance money will be offered to “trusted international partners” such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, through the Agency for International Development, better known as USAID by name. in English.

The announcement comes more than two weeks after Ian hit the western part of the island in late September, causing extensive damage to its power lines. The population has not yet fully recovered from the blackouts and there is discontent, especially in rural areas.

Cuba was already facing a deep energy crisis before Ian, especially after a fire in August that devastated an oil deposit some 60 miles from Havana, a key source of energy.

The protests following the blackouts were the largest since the massive street demonstrations of July 2021, which arose over similar issues. The arrests of demonstrators have provoked strong international denunciations of human rights violations, both from countries such as the United States and from non-governmental organizations.

Although the two countries maintain tense relations, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez expressed his gratitude for the offer of humanitarian aid from the United States and confirmed that it will come through the International Federation of the Red Cross. In a message on his Twitter account @BrunoRguezP he said that the assistance will contribute to the recovery efforts and support for the victims.

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In the interview with AP, the official said that after the storm, the United States contacted the island’s authorities to find out what the needs were and how they could help. The assistance, however, will go directly to the population, she explained. She said that through those conversations the administration learned that the greatest needs are in shelter restoration and food.

“Assistance will go through those organizations to provide services in Cuba,” he said in the telephone interview in English from Washington. “It will not go to the government nor will it be provided in cash or coupons to the Cuban population.”

On some occasions, the Cuban authorities have accused the United States of approving aid for non-governmental entities that would actually mask groups of Cuban dissidents in Florida, whom they have accused of allegedly appropriating the money.

It is not the first time that the US government has offered humanitarian aid to Cuba for natural disasters. It did so in 2008 after Hurricane Gustav, and between 2004 and 2006 after Hurricanes Charley, Dennis and Wilma. In all these cases it was also through non-governmental organizations.

The current announcement represents a small step to thaw the frozen relations between both countries. For more than six decades, the United States has imposed a series of embargoes on Cuba. During the government of President Barak Obama, these restrictions were partially relaxed, but were later re-implemented with a policy of sanctions and a strong hand towards Cuba arranged by the following administration, of Donald Trump.

Although President Joe Biden has eased a handful of measures to bring families closer — such as travel and remittances — he has left in place others from the Trump era that have severely undermined the island’s economy. The government has also announced that it will resume visa services, following the reopening of the embassy that was closed due to a series of health incidents.

Through several laws, the embargo has been changing, but it is still in force and can only be lifted with an authorization from the US Congress.

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