Grief for Haiti, U.S.-Cuba Cooperation Takes Flight; Our proposals for doing more.

Dear Friends:

The biblical dimension of the tragedy visited upon the people of Haiti strains our ability to absorb fully or understand the catastrophe that has taken place.

Our organization supports the efforts of the U.S. government, its allies, and NGOs across the world in urging donations for earthquake relief.

Anyone who wants to help the people of Haiti should text the word Haiti to 90999 today.  That action will immediately produce a ten dollar donation for the Red Cross.  Billions will be needed, but every donation counts. Additional options to help are listed at the bottom of this email.

After a sub-par performance in Latin America during 2009, the Obama administration has risen to this occasion with its response to the humanitarian crisis in Haiti.   Our Secretary of State has stepped forward with forceful, deeply compassionate leadership.  Our President has ordered his agencies to put Haiti on the top of their agenda, and has already committed $100 million in U.S. assistance.

We’re focused on the medical aspects of this emergency.   The hospitals in Port-Au-Prince have collapsed.  Tens of thousands are dead, with incalculable numbers seriously injured.  Millions of Haitians are cut off from access to medical assistance.   And President Obama has cautioned it will take days for a full relief contingent from the U.S. to arrive in Haiti.

Those efforts will be hastened by an agreement made public today that Cuba will allow the United States to operate relief flights over Cuban airspace destined for Haiti.  No one should be surprised by Cuba’s decision; they have a decades’ long commitment to international cooperation in the face of national disasters, and our government has previously received cooperation from Havana on over-flights for weather detection, fighting hurricanes, and matters relating to security.

But our feeling is this:  if Cuba is willing to cooperate with the United States in the air, we should be willing to cooperate with Cuba on the ground, on initiatives that reflect our countries’ shared interests in helping the people of Haiti.  There is much that can be done.

Let’s not forget, Cuba is already there.

Haiti and Cuba signed a medical cooperation agreement in 1998.  Present in Haiti before the earthquake struck were 344 members of the Cuban medical brigade who have been providing primary care, obstetrical services, and operations to restore the sight of Haitians with various eye diseases.  Earlier this week, Cuba sent 30 more physicians along with food, medicine, plasma, and other items.

According to Spanish press reports, this contingent is already providing emergency medical care across the country’s ten departments for countless injured Haitians, patients that Cuban doctors had already been treating for many years.  Immediately following the earthquake, these doctors opened up two make-shift clinics in their residences because local hospitals were destroyed.  Cuban doctors then moved to reopen the “Social Security” hospital and started operating on the injured. A day ago, the Cubans reopened the national hospital and started to treat people.

Their work could form the foundation for broad Cuban-U.S. cooperation.

First, as U.S. AID and military teams roll into Haiti, the U.S. government should make it clear that our personnel should cooperate, coordinate, and work with the Cuban medical personnel in Haiti.  They know Haiti, they’ve been providing health care in Haiti since 1998, and they have been running an effective medical response since the earthquake occurred.

Second, while Cuba can quickly dispatch large numbers of medical relief personnel, it is short of medicines.  We should offer the Cubans medicines and other necessary assistance to help with their effort.

Third, we’ve seen reports that injured Americans – and possibly, injured Haitians – are being airlifted to the medical facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.   Our colleague at the New America Foundation, Col. Larry Wilkerson, has proposed that we open up Guantanamo to Cuban doctors.

Cuban doctors should be welcomed on to the base to assist in treatment and operations.  Our armed forces – which have lengthy experience in cooperating with the Cuban military – could allow Cubans to come pick up (or they could transport) victims to Cuban hospitals for treatment. Our militaries carry out exercises to practice for fires and other big accidents near the base that require joint efforts to treat the victims – this would be effective and it would assure quicker attention for the wounded.

Fourth, leaders including Presidents Lula of Brazil and Sarkozy of France are calling for a summit to coordinate global responses to the Haiti tragedy.  That summit could take place in Cuba, which is ideally located.   If it doesn’t happen there, Cuba should be invited and encouraged to play a leadership role in the coordination of response efforts.

President Obama knows the Cubans can do more than open up airspace to American flights.  When he attended the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago last year, he made a public statement about the respect shown Cuban doctors by the heads of state he met at the Summit, and conceded that the U.S. had to engage in efforts like medical cooperation to reconnect our country to the people of the region.

The previous administration couldn’t bring itself to do this.  After Hurricane Katrina, Cuba’s government offered to send 1,586 doctors and 25 tons of medical supplies to buttress what was obviously an insufficient response to the suffering of American citizens on our own Gulf Coast.  Bush being Bush, his administration not only declined the offer but insulted the qualifications of Cuban doctors.

We need to be Samaritans and not silent or sarcastic about what Cuba has to offer.   We have seen the better angels of Obama’s nature, and we’re hopeful that he would seriously consider cooperating with the Cuban government if it meant saving Haitian lives.

And for us?  Enlisting with the Cubans in a joint effort to speed and magnify aid efforts to Haiti would set a new example for U.S. diplomacy that will return long-standing benefits to our nation and our relationships across the Western Hemisphere.  And possibly even set a new tone for the U.S.-Cuba relationship.

This week in Cuba news…

U.S. – CUBA RELATIONS

Contractor jailed in Cuba finally identified

A U.S. government contractor held in Havana since early last month has been identified as Allan P. Gross. The New York Times and the Washington Post broke stories Wednesday evening identifying Gross as a trained social worker who had traveled to Cuba to provide communications equipment to Jewish nonprofit organizations.

U.S. officials have admitted that Mr. Gross entered Cuba without the proper visa, though they contend he was not a spy and was not involved in any activities that posed a violent threat to the Cuban government. A website for Gross’s company, Joint Business Development Center, is no longer working, but postings on other sites said he has experience setting up “Internet connectivity in locations where there was little or no access,” including Iraq, Afghanistan, Armenia and Kuwait.

According to the Times, Gross’s detention has “raised questions about whether the administration should continue the Bush administration practice of sending development workers to conduct the kind of semi-covert operations that landed Mr. Gross in jail.”

Feingold wants to end radio broadcast targeting Cuba

Senator Russ Feingold is calling for an end to TV and Radio Martí, the media sources broadcast form Florida to Havana at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. Feingold says the propaganda broadcasts are having little effect on Cuban citizens, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.  He pointed out that a recent government report found that less than 2-percent of Cubans tune in to the programs and a 2006 GAO report shows operational problems like cronyism, patronage and biased coverage. His effort is part of a larger bill aimed at trimming federal spending. Cancelling the project would save tax payers about $300 million.

Cuba received 40,000 Americans in 2009

According to a report by the Center for Tourist Studies in Santiago de Cuba, over 40,000 Americans traveled to Cuba in 2009. It did not specify if the American travelers visited with permission of the U.S. government. The number puts the United States in the top ten contributors of tourists to Cuba, Hosteltur reported. Also included in the top ten are Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Mexico, Argentina, Russia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

Historic opening of Cuban embassy in El Salvador

After 48 years of icy relations, Cuba has reopened its embassy in El Salvador. In celebration of the opening, a parade of ambassadors from all over the world, as well as national public figures and politicians, visited the embassy as the country’s press covered the entire event, DiarioCoLatino reported. “This is a historic moment for Latin America,” said Medardo Gonzalez, the coordinating general of the FMLN. “We are ending this cycle…because there is no reason to remain isolated from Cuba.”

Cuba and Venezuela to use sucre for the first time

Cuba and Venezuela hope to use the new ALBA currency, known as the sucre, for the first time this month. It will first be used this week for a shipment of rice from Venezuela to Cuba, BBC Mundo reported. According to President Chavez, the currency is meant to “liberate ALBA countries from the dictatorship of the dollar that the Yankee empire has instilled over the world.” Bloomberg reported that each sucre will be worth $1.25.

Panamanian government ends Cuban medical program

Officials in Panama have announced that the country will no longer participate in the Operation Miracle program in which Panama receives aid from Cuban doctors to repair and improve the eyesight of Panamanians. Conservative President Ricardo Martinelli was elected last May and took office in July. According to El Universal, the doctors have been asked to vacate the country by April 30 and will be replaced by domestic professionals provided by the Project Vision 20-20.  The Cuban government has not officially responded.

Argentines climbers request freedom for the Cuban Five

A group of three young Argentines have reached the top of Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Americas, in protest of the imprisonment of the “Cuban Five,” five Cuban agents convicted in the U.S. as spies.   Equipped with a flag that reads “Obama: free the five Cuban heroes,” and a Cuban flag, the climbers reached their destination early this week, EFE reported.  Cuba claims the five men were conducting surveillance on violent Cuban exile groups in Miami and did not spy on the U.S. government.

IN CUBA

Cold winter in Cuba

A remarkably cold winter has hit Cuba this year, as daily low temperatures have been averaging between 45 and 55 degrees. Cuba’s tropical norm has very few citizens or stores equipped with the winter attire necessary to remain warm. BBC Mundo notes that most homes are without sufficient insulation around doors and windows to keep winter conditions from entering indoors. Tourists in Cuba are also taking a hit, the warmest of which are reportedly dressed in just “a light weight coat, shorts and sandals.”

While Ciego de Avila recorded an all-time record low this week at 41 degrees, the country’s record low of 33 degrees has yet to be broken. According to Accuweather, snow has been reported on the island only once, in 1852.

20 mentally disabled people die from cold in Cuba

According to a non-governmental agency in Cuba, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) at least 20 mental health patients in a psychiatric hospital died from hypothermia this week in Havana, EFE reported.

The incident was confirmed to EFE by European diplomatic sources in Havana. CCDHRN accused the government of “criminal negligence” and said it was the worst hospital incident “in the history of the republic.” The deaths reportedly happened between Monday evening and Tuesday morning.  Cuba is experiencing one of the coldest winters in recent history.  Neither the government nor state media has released a statement on the incident.

Cuba loses more than 50 percent of potable water due to broken mains

Cuba reportedly lost over half of its supply of potable water due to the poor state of the country’s water mains, Reuters reported. According to the Granma, the deterioration of the water mains is likely due to their age; most are between 50 and 100 years old.  The Cuban government has a plan for repairing the water mains, but it wouldn’t solve the problem for another 10 or 15 years. Skeptics say more needs to be done now and point out the fact that in Havana alone there are 2,500 kilometers of pipes in need of repair.

Sherritt power venture plans third Cuba plant

Sherritt International, a Canadian mining and energy company, plans to build a new gas-fired energy plant in Cuba in the near future. According to Reuters, plans for the plant suggest it would be located in the Cienfuegos province, and would be co-sponsored by Venezuela’s state oil firm PDVSA. Sherrit already has partial ownership in two plants, one in the Matanzas province, and the other in Havana.

Cuban servers migrate from Windows to Linux for security

Many businesses and government offices in Cuba have begun the change from Windows to Linux, Reuters reported. State media labeled Windows a “technological instrument of domination.” Many of the new Linux users said they are also making the switch because they feel it is more secure than the pirated versions of Windows that have floated around the island for years now. According to Alain Guerrero, a professor at Cuba’s University of Information Science, Cubans “can’t protect themselves if it’s not through this free software, which allows us to be independent.”

Rebuilding cash-flow top priority for government

Among Cuba’s array of domestic issues, Vice President Marino Murillo lists its lack of hard currency as the island’s most pressing problem, EFE reported. Murillo, who is also economy minister, identified the need for “bigger exports and progress in import substitution to generate reserves” as a top priority at a meeting of local economists. The country is looking to build revenue primarily through tourism, telecommunications and civil aviation, he added.

Help Haiti:

These organizations are on the ground helping victims. Please do what you can to help.

Global Links: http://www.globallinks.org/

Oxfam: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/

Catholic Relief Services:  http://crs.org/

Partners in Health:  www.pih.org/inforesources/news/Haiti_Earthquake.html

Doctors Without Borders: www.doctorswithoutborders.org

Yéle Haiti: http://www.yele.org/

Mercy Corps: http://www.mercycorps.org/

Around the Region:

Arias says he will not attend Honduras Ceremony, Inside Costa Rica

Costa Rican president, Óscar Arias, said on Wednesday that he will not attend the “traspaso de poderes” (transfer of power) in Honduras on January 27th, when Porfitio Lobo, who was elected by Honduras in November, takes office as president.

WOLA Letter on Threats and Murders in Cabañas

Yesterday WOLA was pleased to hear President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador announce that his administration will fully investigate the recent murders of three community environmental leaders in the department of Cabañas and that during his presidency he would not authorize any mining extraction projects.

Chavez calls off Caracas blackouts, sacks minister, Reuters

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez called off drastic energy rationing in Caracas after a chaotic first day of staggered blackouts angered his supporters, but the measures will continue across the country.

Recommended Reading:

Obama gets a black mark for ‘black list’ after promising to improve relations with Latin America, NY Post

It wasn’t that long ago – barely a year – that a new, sane policy toward Cuba seemed possible after half a century of failure, absurdity and gratuitous cruelty. Those were the days when candidate Barack Obama promised a “new partnership” with Latin America and a “recasting” of relations with the island.

Haiti’s plight can bind US and Cuba, The Guardian

Cuba has become a marquis provider of catastrophe-related medical assistance around the world, particularly after tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes – and no doubt will send large contingents of medical personnel to earthquake-ravaged Haiti. Moving beyond the cold war stasis in US-Cuba relations is a priority of Barack Obama’s administration, and the devastation in Haiti provides a platform to provide relief for a desperate nearby nation and build collaboration between Cuba and the US.

It is our moral responsibility to help Haiti—And it’s in America’s interest, Huffington Post

For those of us who have a special place in our hearts for the long-suffering people of Haiti, the horrific pictures and tragic news reports of the earthquake’s devastation seem as though they were lifted directly from the Book of Job. The people of Haiti have borne so much sorrow, so much suffering. It breaks your heart.

Will Honduras’ New President Win International Legitimacy?

The Inter-American Dialogue’s “Latin America Advisor” features Roberto Flores Bermúdez, Former Honduras ambassador to the U.S., and Sarah Stephens, executive director of The Center for Democracy in the Americas, discussing the next chapter of the political crisis in Honduras.

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One Response to Grief for Haiti, U.S.-Cuba Cooperation Takes Flight; Our proposals for doing more.

  1. Been following your blog for a while, I’ve never commented on anything. I just want to give Kudo’s for a great site and good posts…Thanks

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