Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ike advances, President Bush holds firm

Hurricane Ike ravaged eastern Cuba yesterday as its center took an east-west path approximately from Banes to Santa Cruz del Sur. Weakened, it then went over the Caribbean, continuing to the east, and is now making a second landfall in western Cuba south of Artemisa, where it will add to the damage Gustav caused to Pinar del Rio and Havana provinces. Four deaths were reported. The only good news is that Ike didn’t take the path originally forecast, which at one point looked like it would follow Cuba’s central highway from Las Tunas to Havana, and the city of Havana seems to be spared a direct hit. Still, the rain and wind in Havana (gusting to 75 mph, NOAA reported this morning) pose considerable danger.

AP’s roundup is here. A Miami Herald slideshow of wire service photos (Baracoa, Camaguey, Holguin) is here. You can follow radar images of the hurricane here.

You can also read blogger Yoani Sanchez’ description (with photos, titled “Scorched Earth”) of the damage in Pinar del Rio after a weekend trip there.

What can be done? U.S. government aid is not in the cards, and we could have a long debate on who is to blame. Americans can donate to humanitarian agencies that provide relief in Cuba (see below). And direct, family-to-family aid is possible, but is limited by U.S. economic sanctions.

Readers have commented that disaster relief is usually provided, and is best provided by large agencies with experience and logistical capacity. That’s true. But should direct family aid be precluded just because governments and big agencies may be at work?

U.S. regulations limit visits to once every three years, limit remittances to $100 per household per month, and restrict the content of gift parcels to food, medicine, medical supplies and equipment, receive-only radios, and batteries for radios. (In 2004, these items were dropped from the list of permitted items: clothing, personal hygiene items, seeds, fishing equipment, soap-making equipment, and veterinary medicine and supplies. The Federal Register notice explained that gift parcels “decrease the burden on the Cuban regime to provide for the basic needs of its people.”) On top of all that, visits, remittances, and parcels may be sent to immediate family only.

How does this affect the situation today?

It means that a Cuban American who visited his mother last year in Holguin and wants to locate her now and look after her, can’t do so because his visit was too recent, and he has to wait until 2010. It means that a woman who has heard from her brother in Ciego de Avila that his house is intact but his refrigerator is destroyed, cannot send the money to buy a new one, because it would exceed the limit on remittances. It means that in the case of a family in Pinar del Rio whose house was flattened and garden wrecked, their relatives cannot send seeds and new clothes, because those items are now banned. It means that two men in Hialeah who want to draw on their savings to go to Cuba, buy supplies however they can, and put a new roof on their aunt’s house, cannot do so. The aunt is not immediate family, and the visit is not allowed.

You get the idea.

It may be that direct family aid would address only one percent of Cubans’ needs today. But even if it reaches a small percent of Cuban familes, it would resolve the lion’s share of their needs, and it would reduce the burden on the relief agencies that are the only option for everyone else. Why stand in the way of that?

I have never been a fan of President Bush’s Cuba family sanctions. I have never bought the idea that they, as part of the larger embargo, are an expression of American solidarity with the cause of human rights in Cuba, or are going to put decisive pressure on the Havana government.

Today, the family sanctions are even harder to accept. They stand in the way of simple, effective acts of charity that people in Cuba desperately need, and don’t square with the idea of supporting civil society, the bedrock of which is the family.

Dissident leaders such as Martha Beatriz Roque, Vladimiro Roca, Oswaldo Paya, Miriam Leiva, and Oscar Espinosa Chepe – the whole spectrum – have called for a suspension of these family sanctions, as have religious leaders in Cuba (ever since they were adopted), Yoani Sanchez, and many voices in Miami, including the organizations that make up Consenso Cubano.

President Bush has rejected these appeals. If the President sees the dissidents as potential leaders of Cuba, and if he is willing to spend tens of millions to aid their cause, one would think our government would listen to them at a time like this.

How to help: Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the international aid arm of the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops, has long supported the work of Caritas, Cuba’s nationwide Catholic charity, in a variety of humanitarian tasks including disaster relief. Caritas has requested assistance to help Gustav’s victims, and CRS is receiving donations for this purpose. If you want to help CRS respond to Caritas’ appeal, you can make a donation to CRS and designate it for “Cuba hurricane relief,” the code is 2770-1284 – you can do it on-line at the CRS donation page, or by mail (Catholic Relief Services, PO Box 17090, Baltimore MD 21203-7090), or by calling 1-888-277-7575.


Uncommon Sense said...

Amen, Phil, perfectly stated.

Unfortunately, there are too many who are unable or unwilling to break from the adherence to a policy that on the best of days, hurts Cubans. That they remain firm in this time of crisis shows how insensitive to Cubans in need.

Anonymous said...

It makes one weep out of pity and frustration. I will be helping the Dubois donation this weekend and hope more will be arranged in the next few weeks; i know it's small but every bit helps.

Please finally, irrevocably, can we put to rest the horrible lie that the embargo and restrictions hurt the government but not the Cuban people. Those who continue to support this failed policy of 50 years will have no sympathy as they remove the mirrors from their homes.

The millions to the dissidents has never been intended to infer future leadership roles, it is merely to augment instability policies directed from another country. No country in the world would countenance foreign controlled opposition, especially in time of war or threats to national security. "When the castle is besieged all dissent is treason" St Ignatius Loyola

Bush's reaction is not surprising, one does not expect a president of his caliber to seize the moment, to create new realities where none existed before, to transcend the limitations of those he is beholding to. But maybe now politics can be transformed by humanity and change will come at the grounds root level, where change always has taken place.

vaya, pobrecito Cuba

Alex said...

I couldn't agree more with you. But you know like I do that nobody in power or with influence, either here or in Cuba, gives a damn unless there's political hay to be made. It makes no sense otherwise.

There's Lincoln and Co. asking for what they know it won't happen, while plugging the channels that can bring effective person-to-person aid.

I drive trough Little Haiti every day, and today I saw the small remittance stores with signs outside advertising they are accepting clothing and food to send to Haiti. That simple act of compassion is impossible under the Bush rules.

It's hate, pure and simple.

Anonymous said...

Peters, what is your fixation with U.S. policy?

Why are all your questions always about what the U.S. should do or not do?

What about the regime's culpability in this mess?

Don't you think the Cuban people would benefit if the regime allowed international relief agencies to freely operate on the island?

Why can't Cubans be allowed to freely assemble and create support networks to care for each other in natural disasters?

Why does everything have to be run and controlled by the regime?

Who is responsible for the economic bankruptcy on the island that leaves Cubans basically defenseless, trying to survive these storms in low-quality housing?

Why is it that Cubans are denied the freedom to go to a local hardware store to buy plywood, a generator, bottled water, and other basic supplies?

Why are Cubans forced to try and recover after these disasters with poor infrastructure, inadequate sanitation, and haphazard medical care?

The list could go on and on....

I realize it's much easier to bash the U.S. than address these questions, but please, some intellectual honesty, sir.

Anonymous said...

The worst part is that it is some loud-mouthed Cubans who are the most strident against any relaxation of the sanctions or the embargo, regardless of what other Cubans, at home and abroad, think. They couldn't care less about what dissidents think, be it Martha Beatriz or even Biscet himself, if what they say goes against their evil intentions. In addition, these people use dissidents to pocket the money intended for them. What I want to know is if there is another petition circulating online, to demand the end of sanctions, not temporarily, but for good, and the end of the stupid embargo. If there is, please let us know.

How would the Havana regime react if the US decided to do away with those two: the sanctions and the embargo? I think they prefer to play the heroes and victims for political and theatrical reasons. So they would probably be shocked if the embargo were to be lifted, along with the money and travel restrictions.

Anonymous said...

Peters cannot address those questions because then he would lose his visa and then he wouldn't be able to take congressional staff members to Cuba to point out the evils of US policy and then his grant money and subsidies from Sherritt would dry up and he would be out of business. It's how Cuba corrupts otherwise honest people.

Anonymous said...

Anon - intellectual honesty starts at home, sir

Your implication is that the system is making things worse in times of these natural disasters; I assume you use Katrina as the standard for that assumption.

Here's a news flash for you -- Cuba is a third world country going through tremendous economic difficulties, in part due to America policies which you seem not to realize or recognize.

When realities you don't like to hear are brought to your attention you call it bashing.

Inadequate sanitation and haphazard medical care? Talk about intellectual dishonesty, again you demonstrate you know not what you speak of.

Anonymous said...

always comes back to the issue of the U.S. doesn't it? Katrina, U.S. policy, blah blah blah -- just like the regime flunkies in Havana...

Phil Peters said...

Anon, I’m glad you asked. I write about US policy because I’m American and I don’t think our government’s policies make much sense. If you assume that because I write about US policy, I therefore approve of Cuban policy, you’re wrong. I think Cuba’s economic conditions are caused far, far more by the socialist model than by US sanctions; I think that’s pretty obvious to everyone. I’m more interested in writing about whether and how that model might be adapted. If all this is a problem, you might look for a blog with a different fixation. (Or start your own!) Regarding the current situation, yes I agree that there are things the Cuban government could do right now, and I agree with most of the premises in your questions. What’s more, I hope Cuban authorities will work with the US government to find a way to make the US offer work, and on the micro side, they could cut the markups in the state’s retail stores that sell tools and building supplies and household goods. But regardless of what Cuba’s government does, or what it has done for 50 years, we can do things that result in effective relief to Cubans who need help now, including getting out of the way of Cuban Americans who want to help their families directly.

Anonymous said...

"Cuba is a third world country"

anon 8:08, that's precisely the point the poster is making you dunce. Cuba only became a "third world country" when Castro took over.

Anonymous said...

Paul, great posting, putting the wingnuts in their place

Anonymous said...

anon. 7:41

you are idoiot, Clearly Castro has made Cuba "poorer" than it might haver been under more open system

Cuba would be "developing country" "3rd world" regardless - given its size, place in global economy, and historical relationship with colonization .

I mean even PR, with its strong ties to US (ie. its a terrority) has some indicators that make it look more 3rd world , e.g. - high inequality, big urban-rural split,

To think Cuba would magically be 1st world if Castro would not have taken power is stupid and feeble.

AT most, cuba would have thriving tourism industry (w/out castro) and 2nd home communitites. Common cubans, in such a system, would also be slaves , this time of 1st world rednecks from N. Florida.

Cuba would look more like DR or Jaimica, - those don't look like 1st world countries to me.

I know, its hard for you: being that Neo-cons think knowledge of history, country and cultural "clouds the mind".

Anonymous said...

anon -- correct re appraisal of cuba as third world or developing.

To the person who said Cuba only became a third world country after Castro -- if you don't know what you're talking about don't bother wasting our time. Please explain how Cuba wasn't a third world before Castro? Havana maybe, but that was not representative of the rest of Cuba. The people of the countryside were in a feudal state, more than 55 per cent of the population worked less than 9 months of the year. They worked the sugar harvest and nothing else. Anyone who even suggests that Cuba wasn't a third world country before Castro should get on another forum, maybe the flat earth society one. Cuba was a colony, in all but name, to the United States, with he human right indicators of a third world country. But these gusanos refuse to take off their rose glasses.

On a more serious note, Phil -- I understand your perspective but it's hard to comprehend how anyone can separate Cuba's move toward orthodox Soviet socialism outside the context of American policy. While there are so many root problems with the current economic system in Cuba, little movement can be achieved until American policy changes; no society i know of has been able to make substantial changes while under national security threat; particularly one that is so one sided as Cuba's reality with the world's most powerful nation.
It is up to the United States to first change and end its threats and wars against Cuba; then let's see where Cuban society goes. I'm sure you've heard so many Cuba's rue their inability to make Cuba's society as they would want, but can't when so many resources are directed to deal with the American embargo, propaganda war, military threats and acts of terrorism.
What is so disingenuous (this is not directed at you) is those anti-Castro types who blame everything on one side with no knowledge or appreciation of how America's bullying has influence Cuban society.

Also Phil, I'd be interested to know your opinion on American's war of terrorism against Cuba since the early days of the revolution and the affect it has had on Cuba's civil rights restrictions and the move to the Soviets. (Look at how one terrorist attack has affected American society; could you imagine if 100,000 Americans were killed, a number proportionate to how many Cubans have been killed by acts of terrorism from the US)
No country in the world would have acted differently under to combat those acts of terrorism to ensure the safety of its citizens or itself. And remember, Cuba has never had the American option -- invade another country -- to consider as a way to ending those terrorist attacks.

Anonymous said...

holy cow, the loony Left full mooners are out. I especially love the line about calling someone an "idoiot"

Anonymous said...

jose, boy are you easily impressed.

by the way, who's Paul?