Saturday, October 29, 2005

Cuba's acceptance of aid raises doubts

Cuba's acceptance of aid raises doubts

Castro may be posturing after U.S. rebuff of his Katrina offer.

By Gary Marx
Chicago Tribune

October 29, 2005

HAVANA · The surprising decision by Cuban President Fidel Castro to
accept an offer by the U.S. government of humanitarian assistance could
signal a temporary improvement in the tattered relationship between the

But few experts believe the proposed visit by three U.S. aid officials
to assess the damage wrought by Hurricane Wilma will break the political
deadlock in which President Bush is seeking to oust Castro while Castro
opposes U.S. polices around the globe.

In fact, the aid mission could be scuttled even before it gets off the
ground, illustrating the difficulty of any potential rapprochement
between the two nations.

Although in recent months officials from the two countries have rejected
mutual offers of assistance after hurricane disasters, Castro announced
Thursday evening that he would welcome the experts from the U.S. Agency
for International Development to the island despite emphasizing that
Cuba had not solicited international assistance.

It's unclear when or if the aid experts will arrive on the island.

Yet, while U.S. officials are offering to send a disaster assessment
team and perhaps provide emergency assistance, Castro said he is
interested only in opening a dialogue with American officials over how
to improve relief efforts throughout the region.

"We are going to discuss, let's get an agreement, and really help each
other mutually in cases of disaster," Castro said on national television.

Hurricane Wilma caused some of the worst flooding in Cuba in years
despite passing north of the island.

While there were no reported deaths, more than 100,000 were affected by
the flooding in Havana, and 369 homes were damaged or destroyed,
according to the Communist Party daily Granma.

At least 118 electrical poles were downed in the western province of
Pinar del Rio, and tobacco and fruit crops suffered severe damage,
according to local newspapers.

Yet, despite the extensive damage, Castro may have accepted the offer
more for political reasons than economic ones, according to experts and

Daniel Erikson, director of Caribbean programs at the Inter-American
Dialogue, a Washington-based policy group, recalled that Castro
denounced the U.S. for rejecting Cuba's offer to help victims of
Hurricane Katrina and may not have wanted to open himself up to similar

Last month, Cuba offered to send more than 1,500 physicians to the
devastated U.S. Gulf Coast region. U.S. officials said the Cuban doctors
were not needed because enough American doctors had volunteered to help.

But Erikson said Castro also could be using the aid mission to
"recalibrate" relations with the United States.

Erikson recalled that Castro shifted policy and began purchasing large
quantities of U.S. agricultural products after Hurricane Michelle
devastated the island in 2001.

"This is an opportunity to feel out the U.S. a little bit to see what
type of people they send; are they professionals or political hacks?"
Erikson said. "It's an opportunity to learn about U.S. intentions."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Co. newspaper.

Copyright © 2005, South Florida Sun-Sentinel,0,1306373.story?coll=sfla-news-nationworld

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