Devastated by three “Category 4” Hurricanes by Sept. 2008, and then Paloma in November
Despite significant damage and a number of deaths and injuries in the US, our officials have openly expressed relief that we avoided being hit by the “storm of the century,” as Hurricanes Gustav & Ike hit the U.S. with much less force than once feared.
Cuba was not so lucky. Within one week, it was hit by both Gustav and Ike, Category 4 Hurricanes with winds of 200+ mph, accompanied by torrential rains and flooding. Both were much weakened by the time they left Cuba (Ike crisscrossed the island over 4 days, affecting all 14 provinces), after they destroyed half of Cuba’s sugar crop, some 100,000 homes, and much of the infrastructure. Cuba reported only 7 deaths, not due to a miracle, but to extensive preparations and evacuation of millions of people.
This has left Cuba devastated, including our sister cities in the province of Camaguey (Madison’s sister is Camaguey, Milwaukee’s is the port of Nuevitas). Due to the US economic blockade, it is illegal for most US citizens to send direct aid to anyone in Cuba, except through specially licensed charities. One of them, the “Wisconsin Medical Project,” is collecting tax deductible donations (which you can mail c/o the Wisconsin Coalition to Normalize Relations with Cuba, 633 W. Wisconsin Ave., Suite 1410, Milwaukee, WI 53203), to buy and send aid directly to our brothers and sisters particularly in the Camaguey area.
The U.S. Conference of Bishops, anti-Castro Cuban-American organizations in Florida, and Barack Obama has all called for President Bush to suspend parts of the US embargo, so that relatives can send unrestricted remittances and can travel to Cuba. Meanwhile Cuba asked the Bush administration to allow it to buy construction materials and generators from the US (which is illegal), and food from US suppliers subject to mutually agreeable private credit (which the US has also made illegal for Cuba only). But so far, the administration has ignored or rejected these requests, and instead offered a small amount of aid, conditioned on the U.S. sending on-site inspectors to Cuba, which no other nation has required. For more information, see: www.lawg.org and www.madisoncamaguey.org.
Update, July 22, 2009:
[Pres. Obama has since allowed Cuban-Americans to visit and send remittances to their relatives more liberally, but no other significant changes have been announced so far. -A.H.]