After the Hurricanes: Still time for Congress to Act, Video Footage of Determined Survivor, Political Winds Blow

September 26, 2008

Dear Friend:

We again highlight stories that focus on Cuba’s recovery from the hurricanes.

Congress, as it deals with the financial storms battering the U.S. economy, can still pass legislation freeing Cuban-Americans to help their families on the island, before its Members leave Washington to campaign for reelection.

Cuba, while receiving international donations, continues to turn down donations from the U.S. administration. At the same time, a high-level delegation of Cuban officials visited the United Nations at the opening of the General Assembly. The debate later next month on the annual resolution condemning the U.S. embargo will assume higher visibility in the context of Cuba’s hurricane recovery.

Meanwhile, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told an audience at Harvard University that the administration would resist efforts to loosen the embargo, since damage from the hurricanes might help force changes in Cuba’s system.

Despite the Secretary’s brutal cynicism, there is an important shift in opinion and tone in South Florida where the focus is on “what can we do to help.”

That’s the spirit we all need in the face of this crisis.

The supporters and readers of Cuba Central have demonstrated their decency and concern these last weeks by making generous contributions for Cuba hurricane relief.

You have contributed $15,664 to relief efforts in Cuba. Thanks to your help, aid shipments by Catholic Relief Services, Global Links, MEDDIC, Daughters of Charity, Jewish Solidarity, and other organizations can make their way to the Cuban people.

Make no mistake; many more contributions are needed, but these donations will certainly be put to good use.

The Cuban government has officially classified hurricanes Gustav and Ike as “the most destructive in the history of the meteorological phenomena in Cuba with respect to the magnitude of the material damage caused.”

The government estimates that more than 200,000 people will be homeless for some time and that there will be food shortages for at least six months. Total losses from the two hurricanes are estimated at around five billion dollars.

A delegation from the Center for Democracy in the Americas just visited Havana and municipalities in the West, including the hard-hit town of Los Palacios. To hear a description of what happened and what was lost, you will be interested in our video interview with Miguel Martinez, a tobacco farmer in Viñales, which we posted in our media gallery.

While many of the Cubans who talked to us voiced their satisfaction with the government’s response, we’re concerned about the issue of food security – crops and food reserves were destroyed and it will take a considerable period of time to replace what was lost and return to the normal cycles of production.

The Cuban people still need our help. Please visit our Cuba Hurricane Relief Page to find out how you can assist them in their efforts to recover.

You can see the Cuban government’s initial damage assessment here.

Now, let’s turn to the news:

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Cuba and the Hurricanes – After Billions in Losses, Will Real Relief Efforts Drown in Politics?

September 12, 2008

Dear Friend:

Our news summary, once again, contains extensive reporting on Cuba, the hurricane damage it has experienced, and the enormous tragedy stemming from losses of food and shelter.

In the short-run, we continue to ask our fellow citizens to support legal efforts that provide aid to Cuba’s people. We do so again today, and urge you to visit our website to learn how you can help.

As we said last week, a calamity of this dimension demands a response from our government; a response that rises above politics, so that we can provide aid to the Cuban people at a scale that is commensurate with our nation’s wealth and standing.

Some in our political system, including many who should know better, continue to resist changes in U.S. policy, even temporary ones, which would enable our country to join meaningfully in the relief efforts currently under way. Some may even be wondering if the hurricanes will accomplish in 2008 what 50 years of embargo failed to deliver on Cuba – regime change. And that is to their great shame.

But, there is a rising chorus of voices – in the Congress, in the faith community, on editorial boards, and increasingly in Miami and South Florida – urging strong and sensible actions to help the Cuban people.

Whether it’s liberalizing travel and financial support rules, sending food, selling construction and electrical supplies, or providing credit, they should act, and they should do so without further delay.

This week in Cuba news…

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Hurricane-ravaged Cuba needs your help!

September 6, 2008

Dear Friends,

Hurricane Gustav has inflicted grievous damage on Cuba, including the destruction of 100,000 homes and crops worth millions of dollars. It is Cuba’s worst hurricane in 50 years.

Like you, our hearts ache for the Cubans who are dealing with this tragedy. We are writing this special appeal now to ask you to join our organizations and other Americans who want to help the Cuban people by sending charitable aid for recovery from this terrible storm.

While Cuba was broadly battered by Hurricane Gustav, the Isle of Youth and the province of Pinar Del Rio bore the brunt of the devastation. No human lives were taken, but Cubans have lost their homes, food, schools, and livelihoods. Pinar Del Rio, a region of stunning natural beauty, has been wrecked by the storm’s ferocious winds and rain. Gustav delivered a cruel, devastating blow.

Other countries are doing their part. Russian planes have already landed in Cuba providing its first significant assistance since the fall of the Berlin Wall. A plane sent by the Spanish Government carrying 15 tons of supplies will land in the next day or two. Venezuela, China, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Mexico have also offered aid. Now it is time for our country to do its part.

Years of antagonism between United States and Cuba mean that traditional offers of assistance, government to government, will neither be made nor accepted. But there are steps that can be taken – right away – that would help the people of Cuba at this moment of great need.

First, we have identified 6 organizations operating here in the U.S. which can legally accept contributions from U.S. citizens that can, in turn, send aid to Cuba. We strongly urge everyone who can donate money to do so through any of these groups. We are asking that checks be written to the organization(s) you choose and then mailed to one place so that we can keep track of the money we have collectively raised and report back to all of you. We will immediately send your checks on to the organizations you have identified. Please write checks to one of the organizations listed below and then mail checks to: Cuba Hurricane Relief, P.O. Box 53106, Washington, DC 20009. (Note: you can also donate online directly to any of these organizations, or through the Cuba Central site at http://democracyinamericas.org/donate/)

Second, please join us in asking U.S. policy makers to free Cuban-Americans from restrictions that prevent them from providing aid to their own suffering families on Cuba. Until this tragedy is resolved, there should be no restrictions on their ability to send money and relief packages, or to travel and offer a helping hand, to family members in need. Cuban dissidents such as Martha Beatriz Roque and Vladimiro Roca have asked President Bush to do this, and he should respond positively to their pleas – and ours. You can reach your Representative by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-225-3121.

This is both the hurricane season and the political season, but humanity should trump politics, especially now. Please join us in providing charitable assistance to the Cuban people and the opportunity for Cuban-Americans to help their families. It is the right thing to do, and the right time to do it.

Sincerely,

Cuba Central and Center for Democracy in the Americas
Center for International Policy
Fund for Reconciliation and Development

1. Global Links

Global Links’ program of medical aid to Cuba began in 1994 at the request of The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO). This program is a federally licensed humanitarian aid program. Aid sent is received and distributed to health institutions by the PAHO/WHO office in Havana and the Cuban Ministry of Health. Global Links has received a list of requested products from PAHO and is raising funds to purchase and send them to Cuba. (http://www.globallinks.org/where_we_work/cuba/)

2. Operation USA

Since its inception in September 1998, CMAP has delivered major shipments to pediatric hospitals and other health facilities. Supplies are donated by private companies, hospitals and physicians and are sent to Cuba under license from the U.S.-Departments of Commerce and Treasury. Operation USA is accepting cash contributions to pay for shipping medical supplies to Cuba. (http://www.opusa.org/wherewework/international/cuba/mainpage.html)

3. MEDICC

MEDICC-Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba, is a non-profit organization working to enhance cooperation among the US, Cuban and global health communities aimed at better health outcomes. MEDICC supports education and development of human resources in health committed to equitable access and quality care, providing the Cuban experience to inform global debate, practice, policies and cooperation in health. MEDICC is seeking financial donations to replenish stocks of key medical reference books lost at the badly damaged Isle of Youth Medical School, where over 2,000 young Cubans study medicine and public health. (http://www.medicc.org/ns/index.php?s=3&p=3)

4. Catholic Relief Services

Catholic Relief Services has worked with Caritas Cubana, the Catholic Church’s relief agency, to provide emergency, humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable and needy people in Cuba since 1993. CRS delivers medicine, medical supplies, food and clothing to Cuba for distribution in hospitals, homes for the elderly, and to children with Down syndrome and other vulnerable groups. CRS is working with Caritas Cubana in the affected areas in infrastructure projects and assistance with access to food, hygiene products and water. (http://crs.org/Cuba/)

5. Jewish Solidarity

Since 1993, Jewish Solidarity has delivered over 35 tons of medicine, food and other supplies to Cuba’s more than 1500 Jews in Havana and throughout this island nation. They have a humanitarian license that allows them to collect financial donations to then buy the necessary items that are most needed in Cuba. Jewish Solidarity is accepting financial donations to buy medicine, food and other supplies to be distributed in Cuba.

6. Daughters of Charity

The Daughters of Charity, a non-profit organization based in Miami, Florida, that has been sending humanitarian goods to Cuba since 1994. You can send a check donation so they can buy needed food items and pay the cost of the containers they will be sending to Cuba.

All donations are tax deductible. Please include your name, address and phone number on any mailed donations in order to receive a donation confirmation letter.

Please mail checks to: Cuba Hurricane Relief, P.O. Box 53106, Washington, DC 20009.


Hurricane Hits Cuba During Political Season in America

September 5, 2008

Dear Friend:

This week, our news summary is dominated by the sorrowful news from Cuba about the destruction inflicted by Hurricane Gustav on the island and its people. While no lives were lost, its grievous damage included the destruction of 100,000 homes and crops worth millions of dollars. The devastation, we’re told, is horrific. Billions are needed to aid Cuba’s recovery.

Earlier, Cuba Central, The Center for Democracy in the Americas, the Center for International Policy, and the Fund for Reconciliation and Development issued a fundraising appeal urging donations to several charities that are able legally to redirect funds for hurricane relief in Cuba.

But this is a task that is larger than what individuals and charities can do. Governments are summoned to express their humanity and values in times of crisis. The line of government donors to Cuba has already formed, and it is growing longer. Look who is among them.

Russia, for example, a focus of Cuba’s enmity since the fall of the Berlin Wall, has already delivered planeloads of support for its former ally. A plane sent by the Spanish Government carrying 15 tons of supplies will land in the next day or two. Venezuela, China, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and the EU have also offered aid.

What of the United States? Our State Department has already ruled out government to government assistance but will permit charity to be delivered through non-governmental institutions.

Restrictions imposed by President Bush in 2004 – with the active support of Cuban-American Members of Congress – prevent Cuban-American families from visiting the island to aid their Cuban kin, and restrict the amount of financial aid they can provide from afar.

Political dissidents Marta Beatriz Roque and Vladimiro Roca appealed to President Bush to remove these restrictions for at least a limited period of time. This call has been echoed by Congressman Howard Berman, the conscientious chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who urged the president to set aside political consideration in this time of hardship (Read Rep Berman’s letter here). Senator Barack Obama made a similar appeal a few days ago, although he coupled his proposal with gratuitous Castro bashing at a seemingly inappropriate time.

The restrictions on Cuban-Americans – like the restrictions placed on the constitutional rights of all Americans – should never have been imposed in the first place. But, the damage visited on Cuba by Hurricane Gustav ought to offer enough political cover for even the most hard-hearted of our political leaders to repeal them permanently. This would enable Cuban American families to do what families do best.

A better approach would be repealing the restrictions on everyone which would allow all Americans to do what we pride ourselves in being able to do, come to the aid of people in need. That may be a bit much to expect from our leaders during political season, even if it’s hurricane season, too.

This week’s news, about the hurricane and other matters that captured our attention, follows:

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