Cuba silent on latest U.S. aid offer
Cuba has not responded to latest U.S. offer of $6.3 million to benefit
BY FRANCES ROBLES
NEW YORK -- The Cuban government has not officially responded to
Washington's latest no-strings offer to provide $6.3 million in light
construction materials to benefit hurricane victims. Havana has rejected
three previous offers.
The U.S. State Department told Cuban diplomats in Washington on Friday
that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was ready to
send $6.3 million in corrugated zinc roofs, nails, tools, lumber,
sheeting and light shelter kits by ship to benefit some 48,000 people
hit by back-to-back devastating hurricanes.
But speaking at a New York church Monday, Cuba's vice president said
Washington can keep making its proposals, but what it should really do
is lift the trade embargo.
''They will continue making proposals,'' First Vice President José Ramón
Machado Ventura said at a speech Monday in Manhattan. ``If they really
want to help the Cuban people, why don't they lift the embargo? They try
to say that Cuba is trying to sacrifice its own people for politics when
the most politicized thing is the blockade.''
Havana has already turned down flights full of disaster relief supplies
and -- as of Monday night -- had not responded officially to the latest
offer from Washington.
''It's hard to understand -- hard -- how they put politics ahead of
suffering,'' U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said in a phone
interview with The Miami Herald on Monday. ``They said last time that
they needed building materials, so we added building materials. It's
frankly very surprising that the leadership -- whoever is making the
decisions -- is putting pride, power and their own ego ahead of the
suffering of the Cuban people.''
The diplomatic note went ignored amid several reports that Cubans
receiving cash storm aid from an exile group in Miami were being
threatened by state security.
Melba Santana, the wife of a political prisoner in Las Tunas, said that
when she attempted to distribute some money to neighbors from $300 in
storm aid sent by the Cuban American National Foundation, state security
agents threatened to criminally charge her.
''Let's see how far they are willing to take this, how far they are
willing to sacrifice people's suffering,'' Santana said in a telephone
interview. ``It was a miserable little $10 I was giving out and people
are in need.''
The most recent proposal comes on the heels of a diplomatic clash
between Havana and Washington over two powerful storms that hit the
island in as many weeks. When Hurricane Gustav slammed into western Cuba
on Aug. 30, the U.S. government offered $100,000 in aid and a disaster
assessment team, a standard initial response to natural disasters that
was widely criticized for not being generous and tied to conditions.
Cuba turned it down, saying an assessment team was an unnecessary pretext.
''We don't need experts. Our storm assessment experts are better,''
Machado said. ``They wanted to send spies so they could continue
When Ike hit the east and west coasts of Cuba destroying thousands of
buildings in its path, Washington came back with the identical aid package.
Cuba blasted it and asked for a temporary reprieve from the U.S. embargo
Washington came under heavy criticism again for insisting on the
assessment team and making such a paltry initial offer. The USAID went
back a third time, lifting the conditions and increasing the aid to $5
million in goods and cash.
The Cuban government's official response said what the nation really
needed was credits to purchase construction materials. The U.S. embargo
prohibits American companies from selling such materials to Cuba on
credit. Current law allows food and lumber sales paid upfront in cash.
USAID said $1.7 million of Washington's aid is already making its way to
Cuba through nongovernmental organizations.