Saturday, October 29, 2005

Wind of change blows through Cuba's relations with America

Wind of change blows through Cuba's relations with America
By David Usborne in New York
Published: 29 October 2005

Fidel Castro has agreed to allow three United States aid officials to
visit Cuba in the aftermath of destruction caused in Havana and the
westcoast by Hurricane Wilma, but denied on state television that he had
gone so far as to accept direct help from Washington.

Nonetheless, the mere fact of an aid delegation being welcomed into the
country is an unprecedented step by the Castro regime. Until now, the
question of assistance from the US in times of natural calamity has
never been put under consideration.

Speaking on television on Thursday night, the 79-year-old Cuban leader
tried to play down the political significance of the visit. "Cuba has
not solicited international aid,'' he said. He cast the visit in the
context of improving co-operation within the Caribbean to deal with
future shared emergencies.

"We have no objections at all to the three officials visiting us, to
know their assessment and exchange views on these matters," he said. "We
won't close the door." He added that he shared "the point of view" that
countries in the area should "provide mutual assistance in situations of

Although Cuba evacuated 600,000 people before Wilma struck on Monday,
its power took many by surprise. Properties along the west coast were
destroyed or flooded. In Havana, the storm surge broke through the
majestic Malecon sea wall and left parts of the city waist-deep. Many
historic and largely neglected buildings are in danger of crumbling as
the water recedes.

The approach by Washington was made on Tuesday in a letter from the new
US Interests Section chief in Havana, Michael Parmly.

The delegation will be made up of three officials from the US Agency for
International Development, and if US aid is eventually extended to help
with the clean-up in Cuba, it will be funnelled through non-governmental
aid charities.

Since taking power in 1959, President Castro has been stalwart in never
accepting assistance from the United States. Similarly, when Cuba
offered to send more than a thousand doctors and tons of medical
supplies to Lousiana and Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina,
the US declined.

However, if America does provide aid after Wilma, it is not expected to
lead to any wider thaw in the chill between the countries. Washington
remains determined that Cuba should enter a transition to democratic
rule when the Castro era ends and restrictions on the country have been
tightened since President George Bush entered the White House.

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